The approach I take coming into Extension has been more entrepreneurial, it's just what I know. It's odd to me that many of our titles are "Professor." Yes, we do teach and profess but most of the education we offer is non-credit in the form of workshops and seminars. Often times we don't teach at all, but we lead by organizing small to large events with multitudes of speakers that increase the knowledge and understanding of our clients (that's the goal anyways). And we call them clients, not students. Of course it is fitting, we don't have classrooms and regular students that must attend for a letter grade. We have geographic regions, regular people, and their needs. In business school I learned the difference between clients and customers (you can insert "students" for customers here):
Earlier this month, Beth Kuhel wrote about how Google is setting the standard for attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent. I believe it's critical for Extension professionals to examine and understand Google's hiring practices and standards because we need 21st Century Extension professionals to carry on Extension's great legacy over the next 100 years. Extension needs top talent that embraces change and enjoys the challenge of working in a dynamic environment where everything isn’t predictable. Extension needs more innovators, edglings, and those flexible enough in their approach to solve problems and work with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Sound scary? Face it, the workplace culture that the baby boomers created will not be the workplace of the future.
Last week at USU Extension's Annual Conference I had the opportunity to give a presentation entitled, "Fixing Extension by Utilizing Innovative Technology," with two other colleagues whom I look up to and respect a great deal. While we focused on positive solutions to the relevancy gap Extension faces and how we can close it using various mobile and web apps...I still managed to offend a few colleagues. On the anonymous evaluation sheets I got back, my favorite quote was:
Can you imagine writing a blog when you worked for Nike or Coke & saying the company "is broken?" You would be fired.
In response, "Yes, I can certainly imagine doing something like this." If something is broken, I'm going to say it...and I'm going to give my input on how to fix it. I might even try to rally support. I just can't accept the status quo. I just can't let the Emperor parade on by without exclaiming, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" Nevertheless I appreciate the feedback, no matter how much I disagree, my intention is to be completely respectful to everyone.
During the presentation I rattled off a list of some of the tools I use to be an effective 21st Century Extension Professional. Did I provide a handout, no. If it's important to you, write it down. I'd rather save a tree than print off a useless handout that will never get used. I did promise to provide a the list, so here it is:
Recently Facebook announced that it's acquiring WhatsApp, a small tech company with a little more than 50 employees and barely making $300 Million in revenues for...drumroll...$19 Billion. The sum is only 13 times Facebook’s entire 2013 net income and more than twice Facebook’s 2013 gross revenues.
But what does Facebook's acquisition have to do with the Cooperative Extension System? There happens to be a leadership lesson we can learn here: Move fast to avoid irrelevancy.
Last month I had the opportunity to teach LEGO robotics platforms at the National Youth Summit on Robotics in Chevy Chase, MD. The summit was held at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center for youth from across the country.
It was a tremendous opportunity to be involved in the planning process and make it happen for so many young leaders.
"When is the best time to plant a tree?" I'm sure was a common question for county agents back when people used to visit their local Extension office. The answer according to an old proverb answers, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
Now I'll ask, "When is the best time to fix Extension?" The best time was 20 years ago, but the second-best time is now. Extension professionals could have been early adopters of the Internet back when it was commercialized in the 1990's - but we didn't. And Extension could have jumped all over social media in 2004 - but we didn't. What could we do right now that we're not?
The past several months I've been serving on the Visioning Committee for the future of the Cooperative Extension System in Utah. The diverse committee has spent a great deal of time working on root definitions that will guide us for the next 100 years. We're also working on a list of improvements that we will recommend to the VP of Extension. Everything is on the table. We're taking input from everyone as we work transparently to improve and refine the way we serve and educate.
Participating in this committee has been a tremendous learning experience for me. I'd like to share what I've learned about the process of sharing ideas.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Utah Farm Bureau's Young Farmer & Rancher Leadership Conference in Logan, Utah. It's always a pleasure to be amongst the great people who make it possible for us to eat.
At the request of several people at the conference, here my slides and notes for my keynote and workshop.
Thank you for reading my simple blog. May you have a Merry Christmas remembering the reason for this joyous season.
I absolutely believe Extension is Broken. I'm not a negative guy, I'm an opportunist. Look, if we weren't underperforming, we would not be underfunded. My car in high school was broken, but it still ran. It was a fun process learning how to fix it and get it to running efficiently. The good news is that broken stuff presents tremendous opportunities for people like you and me.
In this series of How to Fix Extension blog posts, I've had the opportunity to share and discuss a handful of things that I think we should change in the Cooperative Extension system. One fundamental thing that I've been reminded of is: attitude.