Playing the Infinite Game in Academia

The Infinity Game by Simon Simon Sinek

As academics, we often find ourselves juggling multiple responsibilities, from teaching and research to service and personal commitments. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands and lose sight of the bigger picture. However, adopting a long-term perspective and playing the “infinite game” can help us navigate the challenges and find fulfillment in our careers and lives. In his book, “The Infinite Game,” Simon Sinek introduces the concept of finite and infinite games and how they apply to business and leadership. This blog post explores how these principles can be applied to the life of an academic.

Summary of the Book:
In “The Infinite Game,” Sinek distinguishes between two types of games: finite and infinite. Finite games have clear rules, known players, and a definite end, while infinite games have no fixed rules, unknown players, and no clear endpoint. He argues that business and life are infinite games and that adopting an infinite mindset is crucial for long-term success and fulfillment. The book outlines five essential practices for playing the infinite game: advancing a Just Cause, building trusting teams, studying worthy rivals, demonstrating existential flexibility, and having the courage to lead.

Key Points:

  • Advance a Just Cause: Find a purpose that inspires and guides your actions.

A Just Cause is a vision of a future state that does not yet exist, one that is so appealing that people are willing to make sacrifices in order to help advance toward that vision. It should be inclusive, service-oriented, resilient, and idealistic. As an academic, your Just Cause could be to make a significant contribution to your field, to inspire and mentor the next generation of scholars, or to use your research to address pressing societal issues.

  • Build Trusting Teams: Foster strong relationships and trust among colleagues.

Trust is the foundation of any high-performing team. In academia, building trust with your colleagues, collaborators, and students is essential for creating a positive and productive work environment. This means being reliable, transparent, and supportive, and creating a culture where people feel safe to take risks and share ideas. Trusting teams are more resilient, adaptable, and innovative, and are better equipped to handle the challenges and uncertainties of academic life.

  • Study Worthy Rivals: Learn from and be inspired by others in your field.

In the infinite game, a worthy rival is someone who can help you improve and push you to be your best. In academia, this could be a respected researcher in your field, a colleague with complementary skills, or even a competing research group. By studying and learning from your worthy rivals, you can gain new insights, challenge your assumptions, and identify areas for growth and improvement. This doesn’t mean copying or undermining your rivals, but rather using them as a source of inspiration and motivation to continually raise your own standards.

  • Demonstrate Existential Flexibility: Be adaptable and open to change.

In an infinite game, change is constant and unpredictable. As an academic, demonstrating existential flexibility means being open to new ideas, approaches, and opportunities, even if they challenge your existing beliefs or practices. It means being willing to pivot when necessary, to take risks and experiment with new ways of doing things. This could involve exploring new research directions, collaborating with people from different disciplines, or embracing new teaching methods and technologies. By being adaptable and flexible, you can stay relevant and effective in a constantly changing academic landscape.

  • Have the Courage to Lead: Take responsibility and make tough decisions.

Playing the infinite game requires courage and leadership. As an academic, this means being willing to take on leadership roles and responsibilities, even when it’s challenging or uncomfortable. It means making tough decisions and standing up for what you believe in, even if it’s unpopular or goes against the status quo. This could involve advocating for change within your department or institution, speaking out on important issues, or taking a stand for academic freedom and integrity. By having the courage to lead, you can inspire others and make a meaningful impact in your field and beyond.

Application to the Life of an Academic:
As an academic, adopting an infinite mindset can help you navigate the challenges and uncertainties of your career. By identifying your Just Cause, whether it’s advancing knowledge in your field, mentoring students, or making a positive impact on society, you can find a sense of purpose and direction. Building trusting relationships with colleagues, collaborators, and students can create a supportive network and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation. Studying worthy rivals, such as respected researchers in your field, can provide inspiration and motivation to continually improve and grow. Demonstrating existential flexibility, such as being open to new research directions or teaching methods, can help you adapt to changing circumstances and seize new opportunities. Finally, having the courage to lead, whether it’s taking on a leadership role in your department or speaking out on important issues, can help you make a meaningful impact and inspire others.

Personal Thoughts:
While I’ve been in academia for over 26 years, I have only recently realized firsthand the importance of adopting a long-term perspective and playing the infinite game. It’s easy to get caught up in the publish-or-perish mentality and focus solely on short-term goals, such as securing grants or publishing papers. However, I have found that by focusing on my Just Cause of developing better clinicians (physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, psychologists, etc.), I am able to find a sense of purpose and fulfillment in my work. Building strong relationships with my colleagues and students has also been crucial for creating a supportive and collaborative environment. I have also learned the importance of being adaptable and open to change, as the academic landscape is constantly evolving. Finally, I have learned that having the courage to lead and speak out on important issues can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding. Like I said, I’m still learning this but isn’t that how things are… learning is a journey and not a destination.

Action Steps:

  • Identify your Just Cause and use it to guide your actions and decisions.
    Example: If your Just Cause is to make a significant contribution to your field, let this guide your research agenda, collaborations, and priorities. Regularly assess whether your actions align with this cause and make adjustments as needed.
  • Invest time and effort in building strong relationships with colleagues and students.
    Example: Make an effort to get to know your colleagues and students on a personal level. Organize social events, participate in departmental activities, and create opportunities for informal interactions. Be a mentor and advocate for your students, and support your colleagues in their professional growth.
  • Seek out and learn from worthy rivals in your field.
    Example: Attend conferences and workshops where you can engage with researchers whose work you admire or who are doing innovative work in your field. Read their publications, invite them to speak at your institution, and look for opportunities to collaborate or exchange ideas.
  • Embrace change and be open to new opportunities and directions.
    Example: When faced with a new research opportunity or teaching assignment that pushes you out of your comfort zone, embrace the challenge as a chance to learn and grow. Be open to feedback and new perspectives, and be willing to adapt your approach when necessary.
  • Take on leadership roles and speak out on important issues, even when it’s challenging.
    Example: Volunteer to serve on departmental or university committees, and use these roles to advocate for positive change and support your colleagues and students. If you see an issue that needs to be addressed, such as a lack of diversity or a need for better support for junior faculty, speak up and work with others to find solutions.
  • Continuously reflect on your progress and seek opportunities for growth.
    Example: Regularly assess your strengths and weaknesses as an academic, and seek out opportunities to build new skills and knowledge. Attend workshops and training sessions, seek feedback from colleagues and mentors, and set goals for your professional development.
  • Prioritize work-life balance and self-care.
    Example: Set boundaries around your work time and prioritize activities that promote your physical and mental well-being. Make time for hobbies, exercise, and social connections outside of work, and don’t hesitate to seek support when needed.

By taking these action steps and applying the principles of the infinite game to your academic career, you can build a fulfilling and impactful career that advances your Just Cause and makes a positive difference in your field and beyond.

Creating Margin in Your Life as an Academic

“Margin” by Richard A. Swenson, MD

As academics in medical education and beyond, we often find ourselves in a unique position where our work hours are not clearly defined. With contracts that require us to work until the job is done, the line between our professional and personal lives can easily blur, especially when the job parameters are vague. This is especially true for those involved in research, educational leadership, or newer faculty members striving to establish their practice as educational practitioners. The constant pressure to perform and excel can take a toll on our well-being and family life.

“Extroverts usually don’t understand introverts and try to push them into situations where they simply don’t wish to be.”
 Dr. Richard Swenson

In his book “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives,” Dr. Richard A. Swenson addresses the importance of creating margin in our lives to overcome the pain caused by progress. He argues that progress has been one of the major causes of wrecked lives, resulting in problems, stress, and overload in people’s social, emotional, and spiritual lives.

Key points from the book:

  • Margin grants freedom, permits rest, and is the opposite of overload: In our fast-paced lives, we often feel overwhelmed and burdened by the constant demands on our time and energy. By creating margin, we allow ourselves the freedom to breathe, relax, and recover from the stresses of daily life. Margin is the antithesis of overload, providing us with the space to recharge and refocus.
  • Emotional margin requires cultivating healthy relationships, giving of oneself, and practicing grace, faith, hope, and love: Building and maintaining strong, supportive relationships is crucial for emotional well-being. This involves investing time and effort in connecting with others, being generous with our resources and emotions, and extending grace and understanding to those around us. By nurturing our faith, hope, and love, we create a solid foundation for emotional resilience.
  • Physical margin is gained by taking personal responsibility, changing lifestyle habits, and valuing sleep, nutrition, and exercise: Our physical health is a critical component of overall well-being. To create physical margin, we must take ownership of our health, making conscious choices to adopt healthy lifestyle habits. This includes prioritizing quality sleep, consuming a balanced and nutritious diet, and engaging in regular physical activity.
  • Time margin is a legitimate requirement from God, used for physical work, conversing, serving, resting, and praying: Time is a precious resource, and creating margin in our schedules allows us to allocate our time in a way that aligns with our values and beliefs. By setting aside time for physical work, meaningful conversations, serving others, rest, and spiritual practices like prayer, we honor God and create a sense of balance in our lives.
  • Financial margin allows us to serve God’s purposes and prevents nervousness, discontent, and greed: Managing our finances with wisdom and intentionality is essential for creating financial margin. By living within our means, avoiding excessive debt, and being generous with our resources, we can reduce financial stress and focus on using our money to serve God’s purposes. This helps prevent the negative emotions often associated with financial strain, such as nervousness, discontent, and greed.

Application to academics:
As academics, we can benefit greatly from applying the principles of margin to our lives. By creating emotional, physical, time, and financial margins, we can reduce stress, improve our well-being, and foster better relationships with our colleagues, students, and families. When we operate at a sustainable 85% capacity, we allow room for our brains to think clearly and creatively, ultimately enhancing our performance as educational practitioners and researchers.

Action steps for academics:

  1. Set clear boundaries between work and personal life, and stick to them: Establish specific work hours and communicate them to your colleagues and students. Be firm in maintaining these boundaries, resisting the temptation to constantly check emails or engage in work-related activities outside of designated hours. This will help you create a clear separation between your professional and personal life, allowing you to fully engage in each domain without feeling overwhelmed or guilty.
  2. Prioritize self-care by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, proper nutrition, and sufficient sleep: Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your daily routine. Schedule regular exercise sessions, whether it’s a morning jog, a lunchtime yoga class, or an evening gym session. Plan and prepare nutritious meals and snacks to fuel your body and brain throughout the day. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Remember, taking care of your physical health is essential for maintaining the energy and focus needed to excel in your academic pursuits.
  3. Cultivate meaningful relationships with colleagues, students, and family members, and invest time in nurturing these connections: Building strong, supportive relationships is crucial for both personal and professional success. Make an effort to connect with your colleagues beyond the scope of work, perhaps by organizing social gatherings or participating in team-building activities. Foster positive relationships with your students by showing genuine interest in their academic and personal growth, and being available for guidance and support when needed. Prioritize quality time with family and friends, actively engaging in activities and conversations that strengthen your bonds.
  4. Practice mindfulness and incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine to manage stress and maintain emotional well-being: Incorporate mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, into your daily routine to help manage stress and promote emotional balance. Take short breaks throughout the day to practice these techniques, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time. Consider exploring other relaxation methods, such as progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery, to find what works best for you. By regularly engaging in these practices, you’ll be better equipped to handle the emotional challenges that come with academic life.
  5. Be intentional with your time management, allocating time for work, rest, and personal pursuits: Create a structured schedule that allows for dedicated work time, as well as periods for rest, relaxation, and personal interests. Use time-blocking techniques to allocate specific hours for different tasks, such as research, teaching preparation, grading, and administrative duties. Be sure to include breaks and buffer time in your schedule to account for unexpected interruptions or delays. By being intentional with your time management, you’ll be able to maximize your productivity while still maintaining a healthy balance.
  6. Develop a financial plan that allows for margin and reduces financial stress: Take control of your finances by creating a budget that accounts for your income, essential expenses, and savings goals. Look for ways to reduce unnecessary spending and prioritize your financial obligations. Consider setting aside a portion of your income each month as a buffer against unexpected expenses or emergencies. If you’re facing significant debt, develop a plan to pay it off gradually, and avoid taking on new debt whenever possible. By being proactive in managing your finances, you’ll create a sense of financial margin that reduces stress and allows for greater peace of mind.
  7. Regularly assess your commitments and priorities, and make adjustments as needed to maintain a healthy balance: Periodically review your professional and personal commitments to ensure they align with your values and goals. Be honest with yourself about what truly matters, and be willing to let go of activities or obligations that no longer serve you. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stretched too thin, don’t hesitate to make changes to your schedule or responsibilities. This may involve delegating tasks, saying no to certain requests, or renegotiating your workload with your superiors. Remember, maintaining a healthy balance is an ongoing process that requires regular evaluation and adjustment.

As academics, we face unique challenges in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. By applying the principles from “Margin” by Dr. Richard A. Swenson, we can create the necessary emotional, physical, time, and financial margins to enhance our personal well-being and professional performance. I highly recommend reading the book and incorporating its lessons into your life. Remember, taking your personal wellness seriously is crucial for long-term success and fulfillment in your academic career.

Mastering the First 90 Days: An Academic’s Guide to Successful Transitions

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins

As an academic leader and problem solver, transitioning into a new role or taking on a new challenge can be daunting. Michael Watkins’ book, “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter,” offers invaluable insights that can be applied to the unique challenges faced by academics. The book outlines ten key principles for a successful transition, which can be adapted to the academic context.

  • Prepare Yourself: Take the time to reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Assess your problem-solving preferences and consider how they align with the demands of your new role.
  • Accelerate Your Learning: Define your learning agenda and identify the best sources of insight. Reach out to colleagues, mentors, and key stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
  • Match Strategy to Situation: Use the STARS model (Start-up, Turnaround, Accelerated growth, Realignment, and Sustaining success) to accurately diagnose your situation and develop a tailored strategy that maximizes your impact.
  • Negotiate Success: Clarify expectations with your superiors and stakeholders, and secure the resources and support you need to succeed.
  • Secure Early Wins: Identify opportunities to create value and build momentum in your first 90 days. Focus on high-priority initiatives that align with your long-term goals.
  • Achieve Alignment: Identify potential misalignments between strategy, structure, systems, and skills. Develop a plan to address these issues and ensure everyone is working towards the same objectives.
  • Build Your Team: Assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and take steps to align and mobilize them around your goals.
  • Create Alliances: Identify supporters, opponents, and persuadables, and develop strategies to win them over. Invest time and energy into building a robust network of allies.
  • Manage Yourself: Prioritize self-care, set realistic expectations, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Develop personal disciplines and build a support system to stay focused on your goals.
  • Accelerate Everyone: Help your team members accelerate their own transitions and develop their skills. Create a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

    Success and failure in the first 90 days often hinges on your ability to accurately diagnose your situation.

    Michael Watkins

    Applying these principles to the academic leader:

    As an academic leader, you can apply these principles to navigate the unique challenges of your role. Start by preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for the transition, and take the time to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Accelerate your learning by reaching out to colleagues and mentors, and use the STARS model to develop a tailored strategy that aligns with your institution’s goals.

    Negotiate success by clarifying expectations with your superiors and securing the resources you need to succeed. Focus on securing early wins that demonstrate your value and build momentum. Achieve alignment by identifying potential misalignments and developing a plan to address them.

    Build a strong team by assessing your team members’ strengths and weaknesses, and take steps to align and mobilize them around your goals. Create alliances by identifying key stakeholders and developing strategies to win their support.

    Finally, manage yourself by prioritizing self-care, setting realistic expectations, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Help your team members accelerate their own transitions and develop their skills, creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

    Action steps for the reader:

    1. Conduct a self-assessment: Reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Consider how your problem-solving preferences align with the demands of your new role.
    2. Develop a learning agenda: Identify the key areas you need to learn about in your new role, and seek out the best sources of insight, such as colleagues, mentors, and key stakeholders.
    3. Diagnose your situation: Use the STARS model to accurately assess your situation and develop a tailored strategy that maximizes your impact.
    4. Clarify expectations: Have open and honest conversations with your superiors and stakeholders to clarify expectations and secure the resources and support you need to succeed.
    5. Identify early wins: Look for opportunities to create value and build momentum in your first 90 days. Focus on high-priority initiatives that align with your long-term goals.
    6. Address misalignments: Identify potential misalignments between strategy, structure, systems, and skills. Develop a plan to address these issues and ensure everyone is working towards the same objectives.
    7. Assess your team: Evaluate your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and take steps to align and mobilize them around your goals.
    8. Build alliances: Identify supporters, opponents, and persuadables, and develop strategies to win them over. Invest time and energy into building a robust network of allies.
    9. Prioritize self-care: Make time for self-care, set realistic expectations, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Develop personal disciplines and build a support system to stay focused on your goals.
    10. Foster a learning culture: Help your team members accelerate their own transitions and develop their skills. Create a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

    By applying these principles and taking actionable steps, academic leaders and problem solvers can master the art of successful transitions, enhance their professional success, and contribute to their personal growth and well-being.

    An Academic’s Perspective on FISH!

    Fish!: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Ludin, Paul and Christensen

    As an academic, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind of teaching, research, and administrative tasks. However, the principles outlined in the book “FISH!” by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen offer a fresh perspective on how academics can approach their professional and personal lives to create a more positive and fulfilling environment. By applying the key concepts of choosing your attitude, playing, making their day, and being present, academics can transform their workplace and personal lives, leading to increased job satisfaction, improved relationships, and a more rewarding career.

    “First, by accepting that you choose your attitude, you demonstrate a level of personal accountability and proactivity”
    Stephen C. Lundin

    Summary of the Book
    “FISH!” tells the story of Mary Jane, a newly promoted manager facing the challenge of leading a team known for its negative attitude and poor performance. Through a chance encounter at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Mary Jane learns the four key principles that have transformed the fish market into a vibrant and successful workplace. These principles are: Choose Your Attitude, Play, Make Their Day, and Be Present. By applying these concepts to her team, Mary Jane witnesses a remarkable transformation in their attitudes, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

    Summary of the Key Points

    1. Choose Your Attitude: Regardless of the circumstances, individuals have the power to choose their attitude and approach to work and life.
    2. Play: Incorporating play and creativity into daily tasks can make work more enjoyable, leading to increased engagement and productivity.
    3. Make Their Day: By focusing on positively impacting others, whether colleagues, students, or loved ones, individuals can create a more supportive and uplifting environment.
    4. Be Present: Fully engaging in the present moment and giving undivided attention to others fosters stronger relationships and improved communication.

    Application of the Key Points to the Life of an Academic
    As an academic, I find the FISH! philosophy particularly relevant to our unique challenges and responsibilities. By consciously choosing a positive attitude, we can approach our teaching, research, and interactions with colleagues and students with enthusiasm and optimism. This not only improves our own experience but also creates a more engaging and supportive learning environment for our students.

    Incorporating play and creativity into our teaching methods and research projects can help break the monotony and spark innovation. Encouraging our students to approach learning with a sense of curiosity and fun can lead to deeper engagement and better outcomes.

    In our interactions with colleagues, students, and staff, focusing on making their day can foster a more collaborative and supportive academic community. Simple acts of kindness, recognition, and encouragement can go a long way in creating a positive work environment.

    Finally, being present is crucial in the academic setting. By giving our full attention to our students during lectures, office hours, and mentoring sessions, we demonstrate our commitment to their learning and growth. Similarly, being present in our research and collaborations with colleagues can lead to more meaningful and productive outcomes.

    My thoughts
    I believe that applying the FISH! Philosophy in my role as an academic can greatly improve my professional and personal life. By making a conscious effort to choose a positive attitude, even in the face of challenges like heavy workloads or difficult student interactions, I can maintain a sense of perspective and focus on opportunities for growth and improvement. Incorporating elements of play into my teaching and research can reenergize me when the work starts to feel mundane. Always looking for ways to positively impact my students, colleagues, and loved ones gives me a sense of purpose. And by reminding myself to be present in each interaction or task, I can experience a deeper level of connection and fulfillment in my work. Overall, the FISH! Philosophy provides a roadmap for creating a more joyful, engaged, and impactful academic life.

    Action Steps and Next Steps

    1. Start each day by consciously choosing a positive attitude and setting an intention for the day.
    2. Identify opportunities to incorporate play and creativity into your teaching, research, and interactions with others.
    3. Look for ways to make someone’s day, whether through a kind word, a helpful gesture, or public recognition of their achievements.
    4. Practice being fully present in your interactions with students, colleagues, and loved ones by minimizing distractions and giving them your undivided attention.
    5. Regularly reflect on your progress in applying the FISH! Philosophy and make adjustments as needed.
    6. Share the FISH! Philosophy with colleagues and encourage them to adopt these principles in their own professional and personal lives.
    7. Continuously seek out new opportunities to apply the FISH! Philosophy in different aspects of your academic life, such as in committee work, community outreach, or professional development.

    By consistently applying the principles of the FISH! Philosophy, academics can create a more positive, engaging, and fulfilling work environment for themselves and those around them. The ripple effect of these actions can lead to a more vibrant and supportive academic community, ultimately benefiting students, colleagues, and the institution as a whole.

    Embracing the Scientist Mindset: How Rethinking Can Elevate Academics

    As academics, we pride ourselves on our intellect, knowledge, and ability to think critically. We spend years honing our expertise in our chosen fields of study. However, one of the most valuable mindsets we can cultivate is the willingness and ability to rethink our assumptions, approaches, and beliefs. Adam Grant’s book “Think Again” provides powerful insights into the importance of rethinking and how to develop this crucial skill.

    “We laugh at people who still use Windows 95, yet we still cling to opinions that we formed in 1995.”
    ― Adam M. Grant

    In academia, we often fall into the traps of thinking like “preachers, prosecutors, or politicians,” as Grant describes. We cling to our ideas and theories, preaching their validity and prosecuting those who challenge them. We may even take politically convenient stances, rather than following the evidence wherever it leads. However, to truly advance knowledge and understanding, we must strive to think like scientists.

    The scientist mindset involves actively seeking out information that contradicts our beliefs, humbly acknowledging our blindspots, and revising our views based on new data. It means treating our opinions as hypotheses to be tested, rather than immutable truths. This approach is essential for academics because the nature of knowledge is constantly evolving, and what we consider “facts” today may be disproven or refined tomorrow.

    One of the biggest obstacles to rethinking in academia is our attachment to our identities and reputations as experts. Admitting we were wrong can feel like a threat to our credibility and sense of self. However, as Grant points out, “Confident humility is a corrective lens: it enables us to overcome those weaknesses.” True expertise lies not in clinging to outdated ideas but in the ability to adapt and grow with new information.

    Personally, I have found great value in embracing a rethinking mindset. It’s ok, and even beneficial, to change our minds when presented with compelling evidence. As scientists, we should encourage the formulation of hypotheses, testing, refining, and retesting – applying this same rigorous process to our teaching methods, research approaches, and theoretical frameworks.

    One aspect of the book that resonated deeply with me is the idea that it’s better to be wrong early and learn from mistakes than to stubbornly cling to incorrect beliefs. Learning from errors is far more valuable than maintaining a flawless but stagnant record. As academics, we should foster an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth, not sources of shame or embarrassment.

    To cultivate a rethinking culture in academia, we must build “challenge networks” – groups of colleagues, students, and experts who will respectfully but firmly question our assumptions and push us to consider alternative perspectives. We should also strive to embody the traits of “confident humility,” maintaining confidence in our ability to uncover truth while remaining open to revising our methods and conclusions.

    Ultimately, embracing a rethinking mindset is not a sign of weakness but a strength. It demonstrates intellectual honesty, curiosity, and a commitment to the relentless pursuit of knowledge. As academics, we have a responsibility to model this approach, not just within our research but in our teaching and mentorship of the next generation of thinkers and leaders.

    So, let us challenge ourselves to rethink our ways of thinking, to approach our work with the open-minded curiosity of scientists, and to create environments where rethinking is not just accepted but celebrated. By doing so, we can elevate the quality of our scholarship, push the boundaries of our disciplines, and inspire those around us to embrace lifelong learning and growth.

    Action Items to Develop a Rethinking Mindset:

    1. Conduct a “rethinking audit” – Identify areas where you may be stubbornly holding onto beliefs, methods or approaches without enough evidence. Openly discuss these with colleagues.
    2. Build your “challenge network” – Actively seek out people who will constructively question your thinking and push you to consider other perspectives. Value disagreement.
    3. Practice “confident humility” – Be confident in your ability to uncover truth, while staying humble about your current knowledge and open to updating your views.
    4. Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities – When you realize you were wrong about something, celebrate it as a chance to gain new insights rather than a failure.
    5. Model rethinking for your students – Openly discuss times when you have changed your mind based on new information. Encourage them to challenge assumptions.


    Rethinking is not just a skill for academics – it’s an ethical obligation. By clinging too tightly to our current beliefs, we obstruct progress and the advancement of knowledge. We have a responsibility to relentlessly question, test, update and refine our understanding of the world.

    So I challenge you: reflect deeply on your mindset and approach. Are you truly exhibiting the openness and curiosity of a scientist? Or have you fallen into patterns of preaching, prosecuting and politicking?

    The path to greater wisdom and insight begins by admitting “I don’t know” and developing the humble confidence to rethink everything. It’s an ongoing process of growth, one that demonstrates true leadership in academia.

    Embrace rethinking not just as an intellectual exercise, but as a way of being and relating to the world. Model it for your colleagues, students and mentees. Our disciplines, institutions and society will be elevated when we fully embody the mindset of a scientist – curiously and optimistically pursuing truth, no matter how unconventional or disruptive it may be.

    Are you ready to boldly rethink your way of thinking? The quest for knowledge depends on it.

    Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

    The Power of Checklists in Academia: Lessons from The Checklist Manifesto

    Based on The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, MD

    In his book “The Checklist Manifesto,” Atul Gawande explores the transformative power of checklists in various fields, from aviation and construction to healthcare and beyond. Gawande argues that checklists are essential tools for managing complexity, reducing errors, and improving outcomes in high-stakes situations. By breaking down complex tasks into simple, actionable steps, checklists provide a safety net that helps professionals stay focused and avoid overlooking critical details.

    Checklists in Healthcare and Other Fields:
    One of the most compelling examples of checklist effectiveness comes from the healthcare industry. Gawande, a surgeon himself, shares how implementing a simple surgical checklist dramatically reduced complications and deaths in hospitals around the world. The checklist included basic steps like confirming patient identity, marking the surgical site, and ensuring the availability of necessary equipment and blood products. By following this checklist, surgical teams were able to catch potential errors and improve communication, leading to better patient outcomes.

    In aviation, checklists have been a cornerstone of safety and efficiency for decades. Pilots rely on checklists to ensure that every critical step is completed before takeoff, during flight, and upon landing. These checklists cover everything from pre-flight inspections to emergency procedures, helping pilots navigate complex situations and respond effectively to unexpected challenges.

    The construction industry also benefits from the use of checklists. With countless moving parts and interdependent tasks, building projects are inherently complex and prone to errors. Checklists help construction teams coordinate their efforts, ensure that necessary materials and equipment are available, and verify that each stage of the project is completed to specification. By using checklists, construction professionals can minimize delays, reduce rework, and deliver high-quality results on time and within budget.

    “The biggest cause of serious error in [the business of medicine] is a failure of communication”
    ― Atul Gawande

    Applying Checklists in Academia:
    As academics, we can learn valuable lessons from the success of checklists in other fields and apply them to our own work. Here are some key principles for developing and using checklists in academia:

    1. Embrace the power of checklists
      Gawande argues that checklists are essential tools for managing complexity and preventing errors. In academia, we face numerous complex tasks, such as designing curricula, conducting research, and mentoring students. By creating checklists for these tasks, we can ensure that we don’t miss crucial steps and maintain a high standard of performance.
    2. Identify the “killer items”
      When creating a checklist, focus on the most critical steps that are often overlooked or forgotten. In academia, these might include checking for plagiarism, ensuring data accuracy, or following ethical guidelines. By prioritizing these “killer items,” we can minimize the risk of serious errors and maintain the integrity of our work.
    3. Keep it simple and focused
      Effective checklists are concise and easy to use, even in high-pressure situations. Aim for checklists that are no longer than 5-9 items and can fit on a single page. Use clear, simple language and avoid clutter or unnecessary details. In academia, this might mean creating separate checklists for different aspects of a project, such as data collection, analysis, and writing.
    4. Test and refine your checklists
      Checklists should be tested in real-world situations and refined based on feedback and experience. In academia, this might involve piloting a checklist with a small group of colleagues or students before implementing it more widely. Be open to feedback and willing to make changes to improve the effectiveness of your checklists.
    5. Foster a culture of teamwork and discipline
      Checklists are most effective when they are used within a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility. In academia, this means encouraging open communication, valuing input from all team members, and creating an environment where people feel empowered to speak up when they notice errors or opportunities for improvement.
    6. Apply checklists beyond work
      The principles of checklist design and use can also be applied to our personal lives. Whether it’s managing a household, planning a vacation, or pursuing a personal goal, checklists can help us stay organized, focused, and on track. By bringing the same level of discipline and attention to detail to our personal lives, we can achieve greater balance and satisfaction.

    In conclusion, the lessons from “The Checklist Manifesto” offer a powerful framework for improving our performance and reducing errors in academia. By learning from the success of checklists in healthcare, aviation, construction, and other fields, we can adapt this simple but effective tool to enhance our teaching, research, and personal lives. By embracing the power of checklists, focusing on the most critical steps, keeping it simple, testing and refining our approach, and fostering a culture of teamwork and discipline, we can unlock new levels of excellence and contribute to a culture of continuous improvement and lifelong learning.

    Applying Improv Principles for Professional Growth

    Unlocking Academic Potential

    As an educator, I’m always searching for techniques to enhance my performance in the classroom and better engage with students. Reading Dan Diggles’ book “Improv for Actors” sparked insights into how the fundamental principles of improv can be creatively adapted and applied to the realm of academic professional development.

    “There are three rules to good improvisation.
    Say the first thing that comes into your head
    Say, ‘Yes! And …’ to all your partner’s offers
    Make your partner look good.

    – Dan Diggles

    While Diggles’ book is primarily geared towards actors, the core tenets he outlines have surprising relevance and value for academics looking to grow as educators and professionals. The three key rules of improv he presents are: 1) Say “Yes, and…”, 2) Say the first thing that comes to mind, and 3) Make your partner look good. Embracing these mindsets can be game-changing in an academic context.

    Saying “Yes, and…” is about building upon ideas rather than blocking them. In an educational setting, this translates to validating students’ contributions and using them as launching points for deeper exploration, nurturing an environment of collaboration and collective knowledge-building. But this principle can also be powerfully applied to interactions with colleagues. Imagine if in faculty meetings or collaborative projects, we actively sought to build on each other’s ideas rather than tearing them down. Practicing “Yes, and…” with fellow academics, even in informal improv exercises, can ingrain this habit of affirmative and generative communication.

    The “say the first thing” rule is about trusting our instincts and believing that our unique experiences have gifted us with valuable perspectives to contribute. As instructors, this could mean allowing for more extemporaneity, weaving in personal stories, and letting our individual viewpoints enrich our teaching. However, it’s crucial to clarify that this doesn’t mean blurting out incorrect information or unsubstantiated opinions. Rather, it’s about tapping into relevant anecdotes and examples that can illuminate the material, while still ensuring factual accuracy. Practicing storytelling exercises can help academics become more adept at this kind of engaging, off-the-cuff communication.

    Making your partner look good is an act of generosity and support. In teaching, this means keeping students’ growth and success at the heart of our efforts, providing the scaffolding and opportunities for them to stretch themselves and shine. But this ethic of lifting up others can also revolutionize our professional relationships. Imagine a departmental culture where everyone is committed to making their colleagues look good – sharing resources, offering constructive feedback, celebrating each other’s wins. Academics can hone this skill through improv exercises like “Expert’s Game” (where the goal is to make your partner seem like an expert in whatever subject they’re speaking about), and then carry that spirit of support into their daily professional interactions.

    Some specific action items academics can take to apply improv principles to their professional development:

    1. Organize improv workshops or regular improv practice sessions with colleagues to build “Yes, and…” muscles and develop comfort with spontaneity.
    2. Start faculty meetings or collaborative sessions with short improv games to set a tone of building on each other’s ideas.
    3. Challenge yourself to include at least one relevant personal anecdote or illustrative example in each lecture to make content more relatable and engaging for students.
    4. When giving feedback on a colleague’s work, make a conscious effort to find ways to build on their ideas before offering critique.
    5. Initiate a departmental practice of publicly celebrating each other’s professional accomplishments and milestones.
    6. Incorporate “make your partner look good” exercises into student training to foster a culture of lifting each other up.

    Disclaimer: While improv techniques can add spontaneity and engagement to teaching, it’s important to underscore that educators should never sacrifice accuracy for improvisation. Extemporaneous stories and examples should always be in service of clarifying course content, not contradicting or replacing it.

    By thoughtfully applying improv principles to an academic setting, educators can become more dynamic, supportive, and innovative – not just in their teaching but in all aspects of their professional lives. While Diggles may not have had academia in mind when penning his book, the insights within can nonetheless help academics unleash their full creative and collaborative potential, while still maintaining the rigor and precision essential to scholarly work.

    Improv for Actors by Dan Diggles

    An Academic’s Perspective on Applying the Principles of Essentialism

    As an academic who has navigated the path from instructor to assistant professor and now associate professor, I know firsthand the challenges of trying to do it all. In my early years, I adopted an attitude of attempting to please everyone and say yes to every opportunity, believing that this approach would strengthen my case for promotion. However, I quickly discovered that this mindset led to burnout and compromised the quality of my work across the board. It was only when I encountered Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” that I found a framework for focusing on what truly matters and letting go of the rest. By embracing the principles of Essentialism, I have been able to not only enhance my professional impact but also find greater fulfillment and balance in my personal life.

    “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”
    ― Greg McKeown

    Key Principles of Essentialism:
    McKeown structures his book around four key principles: Essence, Explore, Eliminate, and Execute. The Essence principle is about getting clear on what really matters and setting a high bar for what you consider essential. Explore is about taking time to discern the vital few from the trivial many. Eliminate is the practice of cutting out the non-essentials and learning to say no gracefully. Finally, Execute is about making the doing of the essential things as effortless as possible by establishing routines and boundaries. Together, these principles provide a roadmap for focusing on what’s truly important and letting go of the rest.

    …Applied to Academics:
    At its core, Essentialism is about discerning the vital few from the trivial many. McKeown argues that “only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” For academics, this means:

    • Critically evaluating where you can have the greatest impact. Which research questions, teaching approaches, or service roles align most with your strengths, expertise, and values?
      Action Item: Make a list of your current projects and commitments. Star the top 3-5 that are most essential to your goals and values.
    • Challenging deeply ingrained assumptions like “I have to do it all,” “Everything is equally important,” or “I should be able to do both this and that.” Replace them with an Essentialist mindset: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.”
      Action Item: Write down the non-Essentialist beliefs that most often drive your behavior. Then craft replacement statements that reflect an Essentialist mindset.
    • Getting comfortable with trade-offs and strategically eliminating the non-essential. Artfully decline tangential commitments to free yourself to pursue the work that will make the biggest difference.
      Action Item: Practice saying no to requests that don’t align with your essential priorities. Have go-to phrases ready like, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m heads down on X project right now and won’t be able to take this on.”
    • Setting boundaries and building buffers against the constant onslaught of demands. Tactics like scheduling blocks of uninterrupted focus time, establishing email response “office hours,” and proactively communicating policies to students and colleagues can all help you take back control of your schedule.
      Action Item: Block out non-negotiable focus time on your calendar for your essential priorities. Communicate boundaries to others as needed.
    • Constantly asking “What is essential?” to progressively strip away the non-essential and hone in on your unique contribution.
      Action Item: Make “What is essential?” your mantra. Regularly prune your projects and commitments to make sure you’re investing in the vital few.

    The Essentialism Challenge:
    Now that you’ve gotten a taste of what it means to be an Essentialist, I challenge you to put these principles into practice. Start small by picking just one of the action items above to implement this week. Maybe it’s making that list of your current commitments and starring the essential ones. Maybe it’s blocking out two hours of undisturbed focus time for that research project you’ve been trying to move forward. Whatever you choose, commit to taking one concrete step towards Essentialism. As you start to see the benefits of this approach – more progress on things that matter, more breathing room in your schedule, a greater sense of purpose – let that momentum carry you forward. Keep asking, “What is essential?” and enjoy the power that comes from doing less, but better.

    Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown