Stanley Cup Red Wings Penguins Hockey

No NHL team has repeated as Stanley Cup Champions since the 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings. Can the Chicago Blackhawks do it this year?

If you consider the “four major sports” in the U.S. to be NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB, then the longest time has elapsed between back-to-back champions in the NHL. Consider: the last time it happened there was ’97-’98 (Red Wings). In MLB, it was ’98, ’99, and ’00 (Yankees). In the NFL, it was ’04-’05 (Patriots). In the NBA? Well, we’re in the middle of one right now (Heat). The NHL playoffs are a grind — it’s where you see casual fans become more hardcore fans — and it’s probably the hardest sport to repeat as champion in (only two times since ’98 has last year’s winner even been in the Cup Finals). While there are numerous theories as to the toughness of repeating, here’s a conventional one:

“The shortened summer is probably the most difficult to overcome,” said Toronto Maple Leafs centre Dave Bolland, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Blackhawks and returns for the first time to play Chicago on Saturday. “It’s a lot of fun when you win. You have a lot of festivities to celebrate. You want to hang out with everybody and celebrate. But before you know it you have to get back to work and get back to training and do your thing.”
The Blackhawks open against the Blues – who won 52 games in the regular season, tied for second-best in the Western Conference, but also lost their final six games of the regular season – and will be going for their third title since 2010 if they get that far. In 2011, the last time they tried to go back-to-back, they lost in the first round to the Canucks on this OT game-winner from Alex Burrows:
Should be noted they finished 8th in the Western Conference during the regular season (the Canucks finished first), and they still took them to seven games despite the “Hangover Hawks” label (for winning the Cup the year before and losing a couple of key pieces). The Canucks ended up getting to the Cup Finals and taking that seven games before losing to Boston.
If you go back to 2008, here’s what happened to each champion the next year:
2008 Champs: Red Wings. Next year, they lost in the Cup Finals to the Penguins.
2009 Champs: Penguins. Next year, they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the eastern semis.
2010 Champs: Blackhawks. This is detailed above.
2011 Champs: Bruins. The next year, they lost to the Capitals in the first round.
2012 Champs: Kings. The next year, they lost in the conference finals to the Blackhawks.
2013 Champs: Blackhawks. TBD.
We’ve seen last year’s champs get bounced in basically every round of the following year’s playoffs; the point is, it’s a grind, and most NHL series tend to go 6-7 games (something like 25 percent go to Game 7), so there’s wear and tear and injury. Making a run might be slightly easier in a sport like the NBA, where your first-round opponent could be a four-game dispatch, or the NFL, where having a bye (which can actually hurt you quite a bit) means you only need to win 2 games to reach the Super Bowl. Nothing is easy, per se — these are still top athletes grinding it out in pursuit of a championship. (I’ve used the word “grind” a lot in this post. Odd.) Can the Blackhawks repeat? Obviously it’s going to be a tough road for them — even if they get past the Blues, they draw COL/MIN and then, probably, Anaheim or someone from the top of the bracket (and that’s just to escape the West!). They could do it, but it’s tough — and whether that’s because of injury, wear-and-tear, salary cap, quicker player development or whatever, we can’t be sure. Truth is, it’s probably a different reason each year.
Maddie

“Remember that I’m doing you a favor:” The Maddie Yates YouTube suicide note

Maddie Yates, a high school student in Louisville, KY, posted a video to YouTube on Monday around 6pm. It was, essentially, a suicide note; she killed herself minutes later, apparently. In the “world of social media” (which makes me sound like I’m 57), teens started circulating the video on Monday night/Tuesday morning. On YouTube, it reached about 10K views before it was taken down around 4:30pm on Tuesday. Access to YouTube and Twitter was shut down by the schools in the area for a while, and it became a moderately national story.

Here’s some backstory to Yates’ video and suicide; it appears she may have been (at least partially) distraught over the anniversary of her friend committing suicide. Her friend’s name was Brianna Berrier; you can read her obituary here. (Apparently she committed suicide after a fight with her mother.)

The Maddie Yates video, as noted above, is taken down from YouTube (with good measure), but the full text is below, via BuzzFeed:

I know it’s not OK for me to be doing this, but I just can’t do this anymore. It feels like I’m being swallowed whole into myself. It physically hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad that I throw up, and sometimes I just get panic attacks. I know this is selfish. You know, the doctor prescribed Prozac for depression and anxiety, but those are just fancy words for “selfish.” I know that I’m going to hurt everyone who loves me, and I really do love them too. But I’ve been like this for so long, and there’s still a chance that the worst day might still be coming. And I just don’t see how this is a bad idea because it’s like someone’s on the 12th floor, and the room behind them is on fire. And they’re standing on the window ledge and they have a choice whether or not to jump and get away from the fire or just stay and die a slow, excruciating death. It feels like that.

But I don’t want anyone to feel like it was their fault. This was my decision, not yours. I’m the one who messed up, not you. There’s nothing, literally nothing that you could have done; you’ve all tried so hard to help me. And I tried too. I guess it’s like I don’t mean to be over dramatic, but it’s like there’s a demon inside of me [inaudible].

You can’t help me. You’ve tried. And I’m sorry. I really don’t mean to hurt anyone. Remember that I’m doing you a favor. Remember how bad of a person I really am. I say awful things. Even if I don’t mean them, I say them. You don’t even want to know the things that I think; I am not a good person. I’m doing literally the whole world a favor. But I love you, and I’m sorry. And I really, really love you.

I don’t even begin to understand the idea behind suicide. I’ve been extremely depressed in my life many a time (I feel like everyone has, even if they’re reluctant to admit it), and I’ve never actively considered that ending my life would be the best answer. That said, I’m sure there are situations where, contextually, that does seem the way to go. I think life is hard, but one of the bigger secrets to it — secret because people don’t seem to understand/embrace it enough — is that you’re ultimately not measured by how things are when everything is successful and great (because anyone can look awesome in that context), but rather how you respond to challenge and adversity. So the simple idea of continuing onward has a lot of power (at least to me).

I guess the broader thing I’d say — and you see this with school shootings too — is that no one really lives in a vacuum. You can be anti-social, sure, but if you’re a human being, two people had to produce you (even if they’re now estranged from you), and there have to be some people around you — be that school, a job, even your next-door neighbors. Whatever it is, it’s very hard for a human being to go through life with no interaction with anyone else. So try to be empathetic when you meet others. That seems like a small, trite thing to say — and in a way, it is — but you have no idea what other people around you are going through in their own lives at the moment (oftentimes, you don’t know what your own siblings are doing at the moment, if you really think about it). People hurt and something pretty simple — like caring, taking an interest, etc. — can begin to reverse the trajectory. It’s sometimes too easy to say “Oh well, that’s a life lesson” or “Thoughts and prayers” and go on with your own life. Realize that, just by being nice and taking an interest, you might be able to help someone else. That’s powerful stuff. I fail at it all the time, but I try to keep it in mind whenever I have new interactions.

Here’s another good article on the Maddie Yates situation.

And here are a couple of reactions from Twitter:

Cool, Entrepreneurial Idea:

I Always Wondered Why People Do This Too:

Apparently from a friend of hers:

And please note, this is her final tweet before tweeting out the YouTube video:

Fisher

Robert William Fisher has been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list since 2002, yet might be living in his home state. Can we catch him?

Victor Manuel Gerena has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list longer than anyone — 30 years! — but in all likelihood he’s either deceased or living a semi-quality life in Cuba, so the chances of apprehension may not be that great. William Bradford Bishop just got added to the list, but he’s 77 and likely somewhere in Europe, so again, apprehension may be a long-shot. (But then again, both Whitey Bulger and El Chapo have been caught in the past three or so years, so never say never.)

Robert William Fisher — case details here — has been on the 10 Most Wanted list since June of 2002; so in about two months, he’ll be at the 12-year mark. He essentially hasn’t been seen since 2001, a few days after murdering his entire family and then blowing up their house in Scottsdale, AZ. The book on him from law enforcement has always been that he’s an avid outdoorsman and could be living in the mountains somewhere or in a trailer-type situation; in fact, there’s been over 1,000 leads on him since he made the top 10 list — and in 2012, authorities thought he might have been living in Payson, AZ (the same spot where he left the family car and dog after the murders, back in 2001). So far, though, he hasn’t been apprehended.

Fisher would only be about 53 right now, making him one of the younger bucks on the FBI’s list, and he’s described as “physically fit.” While he is thought to have ties to New Mexico and Florida, authorities seem to present the idea that he’s somewhere in the American Southwest — by contrast, most of the rest of the list (including Jason Derek Brown, whose crime also took place in Phoenix) is likely living in other countries right now. (Fisher, of course, could be living abroad as well. There’s also several theories about his potential suicide, but no one has ever found a body.)

There was a potential tie in 2012 to this stalker of remote Utah cabins, but that didn’t appear to ultimately be a viable lead. Here are the basic physical descriptions:

The 6-foot, 190-pound fugitive, has a gold crown on his upper left bicuspid tooth. He sometimes walks with an exaggerated erect posture because of back problems. He also chews tobacco.

One of the craziest things about the FBI list — has, and always will be — is how easy it is to avoid detection if you basically keep your head down and don’t contact loved ones. This was Fisher’s first crime (that we know of, at least). He had reputable jobs beforehand. There’s nothing to indicate he knew how to enter an underground world/network of fake IDs, etc. If he’s still alive and running, he just knows how to hide in plain sight (or, you know, the mountains of northern Arizona). The good news for Phoenix residents/America/true crime followers is that being on the 10 Most Wanted list has about a 90 percent capture rate, so Fisher may get caught eventually.

If you want even deeper context on Fisher’s story, go here or here. Here’s the trailer for that Where is Fisher? film, which regularly gets knocked as being rushed (but containing some new information and theories):

Fisher does have sisters and a semi-troubled past, as outlined here.

And the FBI hasn’t given up at all, even releasing a podcast this month with the lead case agent. Here’s an article about said lead case agent, Robert/Bob Caldwell, and one key element that anyone in the AZ/NM/FL area should note:

“If he’s in a relationship right now, he’s controlling that woman,” Caldwell said. “He’s going to be dictating everything that happens, he’s very arrogant, very cocky. The characteristics of his aren’t going to change and hopefully that will draw people to him and take a little closer look at him and say, ‘Oh yeah, I recognize that guy now.’”

 

 

Werk

Let’s compare the 10 largest occupations in America in 1999 and 2013, shall we? (Pause for sigh.)

Before, we’ve talked about where jobs might be come 2022 — so eight years or so from now. But what’s happened to jobs in the past decade or so? Well, check out this chart, courtesy of Pew:

Occupy

Here’s the original post. There are a couple of important caveats: (1) figures were not adjusted for inflation, so comparing 1999 to 2014 is obviously a bit different than the numbers presented above and (2) because of the changes in the way jobs are sometimes titled/called, the figures are not exact. Still, though, we can pull a few things out:

1. Among the 10 largest occupations as of May 2013, the highest average salary is registered nurses, at about $68,910. The next highest is secretaries and administrative assistants, at about $34,000. Back in 1999, there were two professions over a $40,000 annual number — nurses again, and then general/operations managers (more on them in a second).

2. The 14-year jump in nurse salaries is pretty insane; their average was $44,000 in 1999 and is $68,000 now. You see the same trend in this broad “general/operations manager” category — their salaries double, to over $115,000 annually, but their numbers declined (i.e. they are not a top-10 largest occupation anymore, so they’re not reflected on the 2013 numbers).

3. Now here’s the issue: if you look just at average salary, retail seems to be a good thing — it went from about $19,000 to about $25,000 in 14 years. Food prep/service went from about $13,000 to about $18,000 in the same span — so on surface, it seems like things are trending up, right? Actually, not so much. Consider:

On the other hand, combined food preparation and serving workers (a category that includes fast-food workers) numbered more than 3 million in 2013, versus 1.95 million in 1999; their average pay rose less than 40%, in nominal terms, over that time. (None of the OES pay figures are adjusted for inflation.)

Now think about that for a second: if you assume about 127.3 million people are working in the U.S., that means that 2.3% of the country is working in food prep, give or take. 20% of the country is working across 10 professions where only two of them are netting more than $40K a year. Inequality does exist, for sure. Heck, Princeton and Northwestern professors are combining to argue the U.S. is an oligarchy, not actually a democracy.

This all ties back to the minimum wage, which is a divisive issue from AP Economics right on through adulthood. Many believe that most of that chunk of people working in food service/retail is/are high-school kids. That’s partially true, but you’re seeing more and more middle-aged workers in that field too:

If you were to raise the minimum wage to $10.10/hour (current proposal), that would affect about 13 million Americans who currently work, but make lower than that figure (or between that figure and the current figure). The flip side argument you hear is that raising the minimum wage creates more space underneath it (bear with me, I’m not that good at economics) whereby people can hire illegal/cheap/etc. labor at the old rate because they don’t want to pay $10.10/hour.

America is a tremendous country on almost every conceivable front, especially when it comes to having a good, potentially prosperous life … but these charts above and some of this context are showing a gradual shift to a country dominated by poorer professions (or people not working at all/leaving the labor force), and that’s troubling.

Blue

Could you apply blue ocean marketing/consumer-type strategies to the idea of leadership?

You might have heard of “blue ocean strategy.” It’s a very b-school term in some ways, but basically it means this: rather than going head-to-head with your competitors on everything, carve out “blue oceans” of untapped market space. It’s all documented in this 2005 book and via this website. Some popular examples include Southwest Airlines — which basically made affordable travel more reputable — and Home Depot — which moved the idea of a lumberyard to a shopping center with DIY capabilities (i.e. housewives now want to go to a lumber yard, which is a new market space). Apple would be another major example: the iPhone, iPad and iPod essentially carved out new market space for the overall brand.

So, when you conventionally talk about blue ocean strategy, you’re talking about (a) customer acquisition and (b) markets/marketing, so ultimately you’re discussing (c) the bottom line. But could you take the same concepts and, instead of applying them to revenue stream and P&L, actually apply them to ideas around leadership and employee engagement?

Purportedly, you can. And here’s how:

The underlying insight is that leadership, in essence, can be thought of as a service that people in an organization “buy” or “don’t buy.” Every leader in that sense has customers: the bosses to whom the leader must deliver performance, and the followers who need the leader’s guidance and support to achieve. When people value your leadership practices, they in effect buy your leadership. They’re inspired to excel and act with commitment. But when employees don’t buy your leadership, they disengage, becoming noncustomers of your leadership. Once we started thinking about leadership in this way, we began to see that the concepts and frameworks we were developing to create new demand by converting noncustomers into customers could be adapted to help leaders convert disengaged employees into engaged ones.

The core tenets of how you do this are fairly basic on surface — you connect work back to acts and activities, you tie work to the market realities, and you attempt to distribute leadership at the different levels, for example. The biggest ideas behind applying Blue Ocean to leadership involve looking at your leadership more realistically: what actions are they doing most of the time, and are those actions providing value to other constituencies (i.e. customers, direct reports, bosses)? Most of the studies that the Blue Ocean has done has found something depressing, but not surprising: essentially, 20-40 percent of a manager’s time is used on activities that really benefit no one else (not even their boss!). So essentially, managers are doing work nearly half the time that serves no one in particular.

A lot of fixing this requires things that are hard in mid-size to large-size companies: notably, you need strong, effective communication channels, and you need everyone to calm down, stop worrying about the day-to-day, and instead look at the big picture for a day or two. In fact, in Blue Ocean leadership applications, the mantra for senior managers is “Shift from the day-to-day to the big picture.” Hmm. You see a lot of the same problems in this space that you see with job descriptions: job descriptions are often recycled, even though the person that most recently had the job may have brought some new value-adds to it (or, on the flip side, exposed that certain traits needed to be there for sure). If you just keep recycling the job description, then 2-3 hires hence, it’s a fuddled mess. Similarly, if you just keep recycling the same idea of what a leader should be doing in your org — without stopping and thinking “Hey, have needs changed at all in the past year or two?” — then it becomes a mess as well. I’m not advocating doing this every week (you could, although realistically, very few people would have time for that). But doing it once every 18 months seems reasonable, and seems like a good idea in terms of your overall direction.

Here’s the overall summary of the Blue Ocean leadership best-case scenario:

The Leadership Canvases give people a concrete, visual framework in which they can surface and discuss the improvements leaders need to make. The fairness of the process makes the implementation and monitoring of those changes far easier than in traditional top-down approaches. Moreover, blue ocean leadership achieves a transformation with less time and effort, because leaders are not trying to alter who they are and break the habits of a lifetime. They are simply changing the tasks they carry out. Better yet, one of the strengths of blue ocean leadership is its scalability. You don’t have to wait for your company’s top leadership to launch this process. Whatever management level you belong to, you can awaken the sleeping potential of your people by taking them through the four steps.

That last part is dicey at hierarchy-centric places: change from the middle isn’t always valued in such an environment.

My dad’s birthday was this past Saturday, and I was actually having a convo with him about all this on his birthday, in part because I’m rolling off a full-time, two-year grad program and looking for a job, so I’m encountering all these realities in new ways. He was telling me a story of one of his friends, now retired, who was a product manager at IBM for a number of years. Later in his career (late 50s and beyond), top dogs came to him and said, “You need to cut 10 to 12 percent from your budget.” The only way he could do it was to fire people, including people that hung out with his wife and him, had dinner with them, etc. He did it. Three years later, IBM came and said the same thing. He did it again. Two years after that, they came back and said the same thing; this time, he took early retirement even though he wasn’t 100 percent ready. He couldn’t deal with it anymore. I’m not using that example to call out IBM — other companies do the same thing. What I am calling out is that the prevailing mentality in business is often “products and P&L matter, whereas people are interchangeable.” I understand this, and logically, it makes some sense. As millennials flood the job market and presumably look for “experiences” rather than “careers,” hiring managers will feel this way even more. It’s hard to prioritize the idea of “Blue Ocean” — so successful in customer acquisition — as a leadership strategy, because, well, if the people are interchangeable, why apply the Blue Ocean resources to that side? Why not apply them just to the revenue-facing side? Well, the answer is: you become a great company by helping make your employees great (and thus tying them to you), and that helps you avoid the problems that other, potential competitors, are facing.

So in an ironic way, then, using something like Blue Ocean Leadership is a blue ocean strategy in and of itself: you’re essentially creating a new market that your competitors might not be doing. If you’re developing your people better, that is a strategic edge.

 

 

download

Is anyone these days doing the trailer better than David Fincher-associated projects?

A trailer is probably 2:30 in length, give or take, but a good one is an art form, and a great one is amazing (and may have a positive affect on your revenue stream). Amazon Prime Video added a trailer function to its app on Roku, and I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve decided to watch (or summarily dismissed) via just that function alone. When I worked at ESPN, I always was in awe of the producers/editors/producer-editor combos that could make really cool-looking game teases (NBA, NFL, etc.), because those are essentially trailers, and, really guys, since I’m just blabbering now, it’s an art form.

I remember walking to the subway for work a few years ago and absently-minded flipping through stuff on my phone (because that’s how young, unaffected urbanites deal with their mornings) and finding this trailer and literally being awed:

“Goddamn,” I thought out loud, avoiding passing pedestrians. “Who the hell is that covering Radiohead?”

Turns out it’s actually this:

But the point is, that Social Network trailer was stunning. I doubt I’m alone here, since it has north of eight million views on YouTube. Then I thought about some of the other cool trailers I’ve seen in my life, including this one back in my adolescent years:

The voice-over in that one is a bit of a “whoa, this is from the 1990s” thing, but it tells an interesting story.

The two are tied together by what? Easy: David Fincher.

Here’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:

Here’s House of Cards, Season 1:

And here’s the new one for Gone Girl, which features a haunting cover of “She:”

These are all David Fincher-associated projects. His trailers are now legendary for their patented style:

At long last we have a glimpse of David Fincher’s latest film—Gone Girl, based onGillian Flynn’s best-selling novel—and it’s a masterclass in the Fincher trailer formula: take a famous song, commission a slightly counterintuitive cover, set it to scenes of gritty drama and mystery, and watch the masses soak it up in rapt attention.

Not all Fincher’s projects hit – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo should have been much bigger than it was, and House of Cards Season 2 was generally considered uneven — but the trailers/teasers associated with his work are stunning. There’s limited consensus on “the greatest trailer of all-time,” although it may well be Alien (see below), but many do consider The Social Network to be up there.

This is all a shame, because Fincher just punted on a Steve Jobs biopic written by Aaron Sorkin — with, potentially, Christian Bale as Steve Jobs. (He likely would have been better than Ashton Kutcher was.) If Fincher and his team were able to do a trailer like the “Creep” one for a movie about Mark Zuckerberg, imagine the trailer for a potential Steve Jobs movie in the hands of Fincher. Alas, ’tis not to be.

I neglected to include the Fight Club trailer earlier, so there it is:

Fincher’s trailers evolved to the “counter-intuitive cover of a song over shots of action promising a mature, complex movie” idea only in the past half-decade or so, but his trailers before that were still interesting — although they tended to involve dialogue and one-off shots more than the underlying music.

TFA

I was a corps member, then I worked at, Teach for America. Here are a couple of pro/con thoughts.

Quickly before I get going: Justin Meli, in the video above (which has been put on The Atlantic and other places), was actually my roommate during Teach for America’s Summer Institute in Houston, TX back in summer 2003. (Moody Towers, y’all. I think we were 9th floor.) He’s a good kid and a good teacher, if you were wondering.

I did Teach for America for two years — 2003 to 2005, in Houston. I taught second and third grade. I also just worked a part-time job for Teach for America across the last eight to ten weeks, helping with logistics for the Delta Summer Institute in Cleveland, MS. These are a couple of observations I have from my time in different roles; all of it should be taken with a grain of salt since I’m one person and these correlate with my experiences, not necessarily the broader experiences of everyone. My sister-in-law, for example, has been doing it for about five-six years in DC. Her experience is even going to be different than the below; it impacts everyone in a different way, much like any type of work. Plus, I was a corps member about 10 years ago. The organization has evolved (revolved?) since then in terms of how it approaches new teachers and manages them.

Pro: It will change how you think about the world. Teach for America recruits from elite universities, predominantly. While they have a strong focus on diversity — possibly stronger than any other organization I’ve ever been involved with — it’s still true that elite universities tend to attract a certain kind of student. To take that type of student — possibly from an affluent background and an “upper middle class” existence, provided you believe that still exists — and expose them to how a public school works, how their students experience and respond to challenge, and what context and knowledge they enter your classroom with? That’s important. It’s important as hell, because if nothing else it develops empathy towards what could probably be called “the real America.” (Duke and Harvard are great places, but they are not “the real America.”) Maybe I shouldn’t have said “think about the world” — maybe I should have said “think about the U.S.” — but regardless, it’s an important step in one’s life if they have the opportunity to do it.

Con: The training is probably too short. You hear this criticism a lot about TFA, and there are two sides to this issue. (1) is that many have succeeded doing TFA and even stayed in the classroom, so clearly those five-six weeks of training work in some contexts. (2) is that, well, it’s ludicrous to think anyone can become a master of anything in five weeks. They don’t necessarily expect you to become “a master,” but it is a tough period with a lot going on that many are experiencing right after another emotional wrecking ball — that being the end of college. When I was working with Delta Institute recently on how they structure the training that leads to the summer (i.e. training the summer staff), I found that there were a lot of interesting conversations around race, identity, diversity, and leadership. Those were all awesome (and things I would love to do on a daily basis), but there sometimes wasn’t enough actual deep diving into “What am I going to do when someone is floundering majorly?” Believe me: everyone flounders majorly in the summer training. I certainly did, and even Justin Meli, immortalized on YouTube above, did as well. When they work with summer staff, sometimes it’s too much of an umbrella view and not enough of a specific, problem-by-problem view.

Pro: It does help solve a problem. America’s public schools are not great. Putting quality, success-oriented people in them can only help, no?

Con: It’s a Band-Aid. This is maybe where I started to lose it on TFA in this latest go-round. At one of the Delta Institute conferences, we were in Memphis, and on Saturday, we did our staff trainings at a middle school in a poorer area. I spent a while talking to the head janitor of the school, who had come to open the place on a Saturday at 7am for us. His name was Mr. Rodgers, but he went by “Hard Hat,” on account of the hard hat he wore around while doing his daily responsibilities. He was a cool-as-all-hell dude and was explaining how many challenges the school had in connecting with the community, how many challenges the kids had with the state testing, and some of the ways he thought it could be better (more community events, more chances to connect the learning back to the real life of that community). Then he basically summarized people’s problems with TFA in a nutshell: “… and then these teachers in here, then they’re off to bigger and better things…” Yep. The ironic thing was (a) he was talking to someone, i.e. me, who left after two years and (b) his school actually had two teachers that had been there longer than five years, which is better than a lot of TFA placement sites. The idea of “One day, all children” (TFA’s main slogan/motto/idea) can work with good teachers impacting classes for 1-3 years at a time, but for it to fully work, it requires systemic change, and TFA can’t provide that. The corps members, by and large, won’t stay long enough (something like 10-20 percent do, but that’s broadly not a lot).

Pro: Commitment to diversity. Probably the strongest I’ve ever seen. They have it in their mission statement and they live it out. It’s impressive — and I don’t just mean “hiring minorities or protected classes.” I mean actually thinking about what your specific context and journey means to the work you’re doing. You almost never see that in other organizations.

Con: It became too big as an organization. This is a huge one. It became like a Fortune 500 company, which makes sense from an organizational structure perspective, but can lose sight of the work. The place is awash in acronyms (I was a “PTIE,” which I think means “part-time Institute Employee,” but no one really knew, so I called myself a little scamp). You can read some of the criticisms of a former manager (much higher than I ever was/will be) here, but understand this if nothing else: there are a ton of people who go straight from 2-3 years of teaching in the corps to working on the full-time staff. If you do that, you have no context around how another organization might work/function, or best practices therein. Now … there are many people who end up as lifers at a place (less so than in previous generations), but being a TFA lifer — or even a TFA 10-year-er — is a different ballgame in terms of the culture around it. They are hiring, and that’s great, but keeping the same people within the system isn’t necessarily benefiting the systemic change they ultimately want to accomplish. Also, having something like 6,500 employees (I could be off on that number) isn’t lean, and at that point it becomes harder to accomplish things. There are too many flagpoles to run stuff up. I heard that from probably 10-12 people on summer staff or full-time staff with Delta. The other problem here is that as orgs become too big, and training for specific roles becomes less (or the role’s context isn’t 100 percent defined), you start to get into that bad manager space. You also start to get into that “poor communications” space. I felt both of those on part-time staff. (I also saw excellent managers and pretty strong communications.)

Pro: It’s a great resume builder. People broadly respect it in other walks of life, so it can help you move into something where you can benefit education from the outside. There are a few TFA alum politicians now, for example, and several in a TFA alum business school group on LinkedIn.

Con: It’s a great resume builder. Remember Hard Hat from above? When we were talking, I was thinking about a girl I had worked with in a TFA context before. She did the corps for two years — just like I did — and then used it to get into a top graduate school. As she was nearing the date of her thesis/final project and wasn’t done, she told her professors at graduate school that she needed to go back and work with TFA because of the important nature of the work, so she got an extension on the thesis stuff. That’s playing the system at both ends, in some respects; having an attachment to TFA allows you to do that among professors / other communities, and that’s not necessarily good. To clarify, one of the problems I have with the girl in the story vs. Hard Hat’s re-telling of his community is that the girl in the story will consistently tell people how committed to education she is (that’s not her graduate degree). If you’re truly committed to education, you’ll go teach, do it for several years, get a certification, become a principal, and run a school. Tons of my TFA friends have done just that — heck, one of my roommates from the corps is a principal right now in Houston. That’s real commitment, and I’ll be the first to say I didn’t have it in terms of the educational equality side of TFA. To use TFA when you need it sets back the mission, though.

Pro: Smart people coming together to tackle problems. Hell, that’s the dream for any organization, right?

Con: In-group/out-group bias. I came across a ton of people while working with Delta Institute who told me they viewed certain position clusters almost akin to high school cliques, and you do see that in day-to-day work there — “Do you know Laura, (insert acronym here), (insert region of America here)? Give her a call. She’ll help” — which isn’t necessarily different than any other organization anywhere, but can feel like TFA got too big, and the silos started rising up. The place is supposed to be based on a concept for all, but the day-to-day execution of many teams can feel very cliquey and “Oh, you’re not part of this”-driven. I felt that way often, and I’ll be the first to admit — I was good, but by no means amazing, at the job I was doing. When I was a corps member, it felt like they would talk about the value of people and deliver on that; as a part-time staff member, it felt like the talk of the value of people was just that: talk. I would assume that shift (or at least that shift being perceptible to at least one person) happened as the organization grew in size and stature, but again, I may be wrong there.

Overall, do I think it’s a positive thing? Sure. I do. But do I think it’s having the same growing pains and mission drift as any larger and growing organization? Of course. It’s trying to tackle a major, society-shifting issue — that’s different than making set-top boxes, for example — and that’s going to be hard.