June 5, 2020 – Working Apart Together

Today, June 5th, is National Doughnut Day. However, it’s not really about the doughnut. It is a day that honors the women from the Salvation Army who served on the front lines of World War I. The Salvation Army “lassies” made home cooked meals, including doughnuts, for the soldiers fighting in Europe. The doughnuts were made in hot oil inside the metal helmets of the soldiers. The “lassies” were the only women who served on the front lines except for military personnel. So, as you run to Dunkin’ for that celebratory doughnut today, remember it’s not really about the doughnut.

Working together apart

Recently I helped out a friend who is a columnist on workplace management issues in a business journal. She had received a question from a reader about how to maintain esprit de corps on a team that pre-COVID-19 worked together face-to-face in the same space. Now, of course, post-COVID-19, they are trying to figure out how to work together apart. The question asked how to restore the sense of esprit de corps that now seemed missing. It was a really good question. I decided to share my response to it here because it applies to a wide variety of businesses and organizations facing similar issues at this time. I hope it is useful to you as well.

The “esprit de corps” of a team is an intangible part of team culture. It is, like so many other effective work processes and elements of culture, dependent on the relationships between team members. In the good ol’ “normal times” (pre-COVID-19) those relationships were established and tended to on a daily basis through real-time, in-person, same shared space interaction. Therefore, when you got into team meetings, there was not a need to do as much relationship building because it was being handled outside the meetings. The strengths of Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, Skype, and the other virtual meeting utilities is that we can still have real-time, in person interactions. However, what is missing is the same sense of shared space and physical presence, as well as the opportunity and time to build and tend to relationships outside the meeting space. 

So, what can you do about that since the virtual work environment is likely here to stay for quite some time?

  1. Slow down – allow extra time in your meetings for people to simply hang and chat if they wish. For example, start meetings 15 minutes early for people to gather and chat and/or keep the virtual room open for 15 minutes after the meeting. My spouse, who teaches online Spanish courses to groups of adults, has found it amazingly effective to allow her students this time to connect with one another. She has seen friendships continue to grow and a clear sense of group cohesion emerge. Alternatively, build into your meeting schedule some semi-structured interaction (see items #3 and #4 below). 
  2. At the same time, be sensitive to the length of the actual work portion of the meeting and remain open to the possibility of disruptions. Remember that you may have employees working at home but now they are also childcare providers and substitute teachers. If children do intrude in the meeting, keep a sense of humor and be gentle. Avoid shaming anyone with comments, eyerolls, or body language. Make your actual business meetings as long as they need to be. Generally, I do not have meetings longer than 2 hours in length. I prefer to keep them much shorter if possible. If you can make the meetings easier and friendlier to attend for those employees who are managing caregiving or teaching at home, it will benefit the whole team. 
  3. Introduce a “conversation starter” for use in the hang out times, until people begin to feel comfortable connecting on their own in the virtual space. For example, I facilitate a weekly group comprised of people from Hawai`i to New York, Ontario to Southern California, who did not know one another until I brought them together. In the first meeting of the group I introduced this conversation starter, taken from the conversation game Vertellis: What was the best compliment you ever received? During the first two or three weeks I introduced the question, but then participants began to offer conversation starters. Now, we don’t really need them, but people still like to do them, so we have one each week. It is a simple way of getting to know one another better. 
  4. Release your inner silly person. These are extraordinary times. Everyone knows that everyone else on the video conference is sitting there in their pajama bottoms, golf shorts, and, god forbid, underwear anyway, right? In this small way, everyone has already released their inner silly person in secret. Let’s take it up a notch by doing something silly together: for example, have everyone wear the same colors on a call; have everyone show up wearing their favorite hat and briefly explain why it is; set aside time for people to share “knock knock” jokes in the chat area; have everyone bring their favorite coffee or tea mug and explain why it is their favorite; and, have everyone use an alias on the video conference – the name of a famous person they admire, an actor, a well-known person in your field, etc. Here’s one I have used in at least two different groups. I ask members go to the website Public Radio Name Generator and generate their own favorite public radio name. Once in the Zoom conference (which is my preferred platform) they change their names to their public radio names. We go by them for the duration of that meeting.

COVID-19 has been an unprecedented disruption to how we do business and work together. I do not believe it will be easy to move into the emerging new normal. We have to dare to be different. Several of my clients are reporting to me that they are actually beginning to feel energized as a result of the lockdowns. They are creating, innovating, and learning new ways of doing their pre-COVID-19 work that they never would have or could have considered before. Frankly, we will be sleepwalking into disaster if we simply try to apply the “best practices” and “the way we do things around here” from the past in the new normal to come. I hope these suggestions will help you not only create a greater sense of “esprit de corps” among your team but also create an upgraded culture of innovation.

devin stone commentary

I stumbled across this guy, Devin Stone, earlier today. I found myself fascinated by his YouTube commentary on the events that took place earlier this week at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. After listening to it, I did some research. He is a trial attorney in DC and also has a company, Legal Eagle, that helps people survive law school. The commentary that caught my attention is below. It is about 18 minutes long but I found it really interesting and I hope you will as well.

for your reflection

With appreciation to Hope Crenshaw of Teen Health Mississippi for drawing my attention to this bit of poetry of hope. Learn more here about the poem and its the author, Leslie Dwight.

spanish classes filling up…but there is still space!

Clemencia Vargas, my spouse, is still receiving registrations for ¡Charlemos con Clemencia!, Spanish classes taught in the communicative style. Classes begin for the Summer session on June 15. About half the available seats filled up in less than a week but there is still room now. If you’ve been following this blog even sporadically over the past three months you’ve probably met Clemencia here already. Her website now includes some testimonials so you can get a sense of how her students feel about her classes. The Summer session will include students from Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Maryland. If you have a couple of extra minutes today, we invite you to watch this video about the benefits of learning Spanish.

Follow up…

Yesterday I encouraged you to consider a contribution to Teen Health Mississippi to help with the organization’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for youth. However, I did not include information on how to donate. Doh! Here now is a link to Teen Health Mississippi’s donation page. You can use the comment box to designate your gift to the Emergency Relief Fund for youth. Thanks!

Chickenman – Episode 49

The Wonderful Weekend White Winged Warrior is still suffering from amnesia and the delusion that he is, in fact, a real chicken. His efforts to lay an egg in the Policie Commissioner’s office have, so far, been unproductive…thankfully!

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep working for justice, peace, and health for all.


Day 77 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

I have learned that I am full of drivel – enough to fill 77 daily blogs. In this period I have written more blogs than I did in the previous seven years. Since March 16th I’ve written nearly 90,000 words for this blog. By comparison, my doctoral dissertation was a mere 65,000 words.

Sunday, May 31, 2020 – Live to Blog with No Regrets and a New Focus

I can’t believe I’ve made it! No, not that we are still sheltering-in-place for 77 days. Frankly, I expected that. My personal epidemiologist (Clemencia) has repeatedly warned me this was going to be bad – really bad – and that we needed to get ourselves prepared mentally and physically for the long haul. What I can’t believe is that I made it through 77 consecutive blogs.

Looking Back…

When I started writing this blog series, I thought it was going to be for 14 days. That’s how long we thought the sheltering-in-place was going to last. I don’t know what the reality of being locked down has to do with quantum theory but it does seem to have messed with my sense of time. On the one hand, it doesn’t actually seem like it has been 77 days. On the other hand, it sometimes feels like it has been an eternity. All in all, the evidence around me, provided by the changing of the season, tells me it has been a significant period of time.

So what have I learned along the way?

I have learned that I am full of drivel – enough to fill 77 daily blogs. In this period I have written more blogs than I did in the previous seven years. Since March 16th I’ve written nearly 90,000 words for this blog. By comparison, my doctoral dissertation was a mere 65,000 words.

I’ve redisovered my love of writing. All of my life I’ve had to write – curriculum, reports, proposals, papers, dissertations, more proposals, more reports, blah-blah-blah, yada yada, ad nauseam. When I wrote my dissertation it felt like I had nothing else left to give. Ever since then writing has been even more onerous. In writing this daily drivel blog I’ve found joy again in the word play, creativity, and silliness that comes with writing what I want.

It’s been a great exercise for my brain. It has pushed me to creative experimentaion, especially when I have seemed to be running low. There were many days when I didn’t think I had anything in me to write. On those days, I’d just start writing, stream of consciousness, to see what came out. Sometimes it was weird as heck, but it made me smile, giggle, and sometimes laugh. So I’d just go with it. I have come to love the challenge of creating something out of nothing every single day.

My writing is more interesting and at its best when I don’t try to write for others. Truly, I started this COVID-19 blog because I needed to do something to manage my own pandemic anxiety. I decided to write for myself – as in a journal – whatever was coming up for me. I was surprised to find people reading the blog and responding to it. Some people tell me it is the first thing they read when they get up in the morning (it is automatically sent each day at 8:00 AM Eastern). Some people come to my website to read it, others just read it in the format in which it appears in email. I’m stunned and humbled to realize how many people are actually reading this drivel blog.

I can sometimes put into words what others think and feel but cannot articulate. I did not fully appreciate until now what an important thing that is. I’m honored to be able to do that. I’m even more honored when my voice has given permission to or empowered others to use their voices.

I’ve learned much more about how to use Word Press, which is where my blog and the Tenacious Change LLC website are housed. I would not say that I’ve been expert at it but I can do most things now without first watching a tutorial or Googling it.

I don’t want to stop. I really don’t. I’m having too much fun. I’ve realized that I could be immensely happy doing nothing but writing a daily blog and then calling it a day. Unfortunately, I can’t do it that way. I still have to work for a living…a lot…but…

Looking Forward…

Still, I’m not going to stop, though it will be a little bit different than it has been. Here’s what to expect.

First, here is a sneak peek at the new name and new masthead you will see at the top of tomorrow’s blog:

Second, I am going to do my best to write a daily blog, even if it is just a few lines. Since I will continue working from home for the foreseeable future, it will be easier to carve out a few minutes to tap out a posting. However, if I miss a day here or there, be sure to check back.

Third, the The Daily Drivel will retain some things I think are important and that I enjoy. For example:

  • The blog will continue to be a retrospective, like a journal. No breaking news here. The news will have already been broken, but I may have opinions about it.
  • Stories of COVID-19, under this or a new title, will now become a section of the blog that I will write as needed.
  • Chickenman will continue. There were approximately 100 original episodes of Chickenman and we are only about halfway through.
  • Winthrop Dykstra-Baum will appear occasionally because I just can’t rid of him. I expect he and I will continue to irritate one another occasionally.
  • Bert Left and Ernie Right…well, they may reconstitute themselves if I decide to do another experiment in non-stop sock wearting.
  • For better or worse, my occasional rants will continue because, more than anything else, this blog is still a means for me to stay sane in the midst of an increasingly insane world. Letting off steam here helps me maintain some perspective.
  • Stories of my life – past and present – will appear because the process of writing tends to remind me of stories and then I just tell them. I really can’t help myself, actually.
  • Cartoons and drawings from my friend Jeff Logan will also continue for as long as he is willing to let me publish them. (Hint, hint, Jeff.)

What will be new in The Daily Drivel will be occasional essays (which, of course, are just calmer rants), a little more integration of my professional life and work, and odd bits of trivia. Trivia has always fascinated me but not the kind of useful trivia you’d want to know for a game like Trivial Pursuit or trivia night at your local pub. I really enjoy totally useless, weird trivia which, when you throw it into a conversation, people look at you funny and say, “Huh?!?” Then they go silent because they really don’t know what to say or maybe they are just wondering if it is safe to be near you.

I would also like The Daily Drivel to be a place where we can have some open, honest dialogue about things that are important but not easy to discuss. I’m not exactly sure how to make this happen, but it is something I am going to work on. I may not always get it right, but I’m going to try. I am open to your suggestions.

In the end, what I want this blog to be is a place to have a dual purpose. I want it to be a place where people can come each day to have some fun to start their day or to end it. And I also want people to learn, to grow, and to feel motivated and encouraged to join me in making this world we share a better place for ALL of us. What greater good can we do together than this?

See you tomorrow!

Chickenman – Episode 44

Chickenman is hot on the trail of the Mayor’s favorite kite – the one with the rocket ship on it. Along the way, Chickenman is mistaken for an elephant.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and please keep meeting me here.


Day 52 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

She found one student, let’s call him Pirate Juan, who knew the game and was willing to participate in an hour long tutorial. Clemencia and Pirate Juan would play, the others would observe, and then give it try. That was weeks ago now.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020 – Live to Blog from a Battle Zone


Today is the day it always happens. My loving, caring, pacifist spouse turns into the commander of a fleet of battleships. She takes no prisoners in a fiercely contested battle that rages over Zoom.

The Saga of Battleship Wednesday

As the dawn breaks Admiral Clemencia Vargas stands on the deck looking up into a foreboding sky. She shrugs, turns away, and steels herself for the calamity that lies ahead. In only a few hours she will launch her Zoom meeting controls, take command of a novice but dedicated crew, and lead them into the fray. Who will emerge victorious? What will be the toll on ships… and language?

Battleship (Batalla Naval) game board image by Marco Verch.

Yes, it’s Battleship Wednesday in our house! Each Wednesday, at 4:00 PM Eastern, Clemencia gathers a group of her students to play Batalla Naval (Battleship) in Spanish via Zoom. You know how it’s played, right?

Well, if you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. It all started because Clemencia was using occasional Batalla Naval exercises to teach her students vocabulary. However, there were several students who had never played Battleship. They just couldn’t seem to grasp the concept – even when the classes were still meeting in person way, way back in February. When the classes moved to Zoom, Clemencia wanted to still find a way to use Batalla Naval activities. She decided to have a Battleship tutorial.

She found one student, let’s call him Pirate Juan, who knew the game and was willing to participate in an hour long tutorial. Clemencia and Pirate Juan would play, the others would observe, and then give it try. That was weeks ago now.

Batalla Naval has turned into its own thing. Each week Clemencia produces a battleship grid on paper and distributes it to the students. As the Zoom meeting begins, the students take sides with her against Pirate Juan. (This week, though, for the first time, Pirate Juan had two students who defected to his team.) As the battle begins, so does the noise. I’m two rooms away and still I know when Clemencia’s fleet takes a hit and when they have a successful strike. There are roars of laughter, groans of dismay, and incesssant chatter with and among the students. Last week there were 14 who played. Even veterans of Batalla Naval are showing up now and re-enlisting to play.

Batalla Naval – Clothing & Colors

The grids Clemencia creates have Spanish terms on the left side and across the top. (See two of her recent game grids in the images.) First, the students and Pirate Juan place (draw) their ships on the top part of the grid (Mi ropa or Mis verbos). Each team, in turn, gets to “bomb” the others ships. They do this by indicating, in Spanish, where their bombs are being dropped on their opponents grid by calling out an item and a color (e.g, “La camisa es azul” – the shirt is blue). Where those two items intersect on the grid is where their bomb lands. Teams keep track of where their opponent’s bombs hit on their grid (top) and where they are dropping bombs on the other’s grid (bottom).

Batalla naval – Pronouns & Irregular Verbs

While the game etiquette does not suppress the noise of war, it does require opponents to truthfully report out to the other the result of their bombing – agua (water), tocado (hit), or, finally, hundido (sink).

In addition, Pirate Juan has to agree not to look at the other team’s collaborative Batalla Naval grid on Zoom. At first he didn’t have to. He was cleaning up each week. Recently, though, the tide has turned and now Pirate Juan has been getting thrashed. Perhaps this is why he has lured away a couple of others to be his crew. Dastardly Pirate Juan! You will pay for this treachery!

Batalla Naval Wednesday has taken on a life of its own now. It is the 7th Spanish class of the week for Clemencia. It is so popular I can only imagine – and fear – it will grow into other days and times of the week. So be it! I’ll just steer clear. Bert Left, Ernie Right, Winthrop Dijkstra-Baum and I will enjoy it from afar. Beto and Enrique prefer to be near the action.

Nonprofits in Crisis: A Wide Angle View

Madeleine McGee is the President of TogetherSC, South Carolina’s association for nonprofit organizations which is 800 members strong. Madeleine and TogetherSC inspired Forrest Alton, Cayci Banks, Charles Weathers, Patrick Jinks, and me to collaborate to produce the Leading Through Crisis blog and video series. In this video, Madeleine, while addressing some specific issues in South Carolina, also takes a wide-angle lens to the challenge of leading through crisis.

Getting to Transformational Change

My friend Elayne Greeley, whom I met through our common affiliation with Tamarack Institute, has a very unique gift. She is able to translate high level concepts into easy to understand, sensemaking graphics and images. Here is one of her pieces that breaks down challenges often facing community partnership efforts. It reminds us that transformational change is not something we can do all at once. When it is broken down into smaller manageable pieces, we get there faster than we could have ever imagined possible. Thanks Elayne for your good thinking, your good work, and for allowing me to share some of it here!

By Elayne Greeley, with appreciation to the Partnership Brokers Association

The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: As an introvert the idea of being stuck in my home for the foreseeable future wasn’t entirely unwelcome – I had great plans for how to use this time! Sadly it is not going as planned…

The Adventures of Chickenman

Now that he has exited the Chicken Cave, Chickenman (Benton Harbor) finds himself locked in the dark, official looking halls of Midland City City Hall. How is he to get out?

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing you mask, and keep using your imagination for good!


Day 49 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

The experiment that came to mind was: How long can I wear the same clothes without laundering them? Clemencia didn’t think that was an appropriate home experment…except for a junior high boy who was a gueva.

Sunday, May 3, 2020 – Live to Blog in the Midst of a Rebellion


When you least expect it those closest to you suddenly turn on you. Isn’t that the way it goes? You prioritize them, you love them, and you care for them (okay, maybe you don’t launder them). One day you turn around and there they are – Bert Left and Ernie Right – staging a rebellion.

The Sock Rebellion

On March 16th I put Bert Left and Ernie Right on when I got dressed in the morning. I had returned the night before from Mississippi, my last work related trip to date. Governor Larry Hogan had issued a state of emergency order on March 5th and by the 16th he was strongly advising people at highest risk (like Clemencia and me) to stay at home for 14 days. We were compliant and believed it would only be those two weeks. Seemed like a great time for a homegrown experiment to me!

The experiment that came to mind was: How long can I wear the same clothes without laundering them? Clemencia didn’t think that was an appropriate home experment…except for a junior high boy who was a gueva. After we discussed it for a while, I did what I knew I was destined to do: give in…and then find another way to do it. The answer appeared on my feet.

Bert and Ernie are wool socks. Bert resides on my left foot; Ernie on my right. After 49 days it is almost challenging to confuse them now. They remain unlaundered but, that’s okay, they hang out all night on the deck, pinned to the back of my Amish Made Poly Adirondack chair.

Over the past 49 days, the personalities of Bert and Ernie have begun to emerge. Honestly, it’s been a contentious relationship from the beginning. At first, they tried to keep everything secret from me by mumbling to each other so I couldn’t understand them. Eventually they began to speak to me and even argue with me. Now, it seems, everything is an argument.

  • Bert: Hey, bonehead!
  • Me: Are you talkin’ to me?
  • Ernie: Who else around here is a bonehead…besides, you answered didn’t you…bonehead?
  • Me: What do you want?
  • Ernie: We got rights, you know.
  • Bert: Yeah, rights! We got those!
  • Me: I’m not sure I understand. You are wool socks. You shouldn’t be alive and you definitely should not be speaking.
  • Bert: That’s what you think, bonehead. We’ve picked up enough of your DNA that we could reconstitute it and, guess what, now we’re alive…and we can talk!
  • Ernie: Yeah, we can talk! Tell him, Bert!
  • Bert: We can talk, we can think, “cogito ergo sum,” as Descartes would say.
  • Me: Really? You’re going to quote René Descartes at me?
  • Ernie: Yeah, bonehead! You’re not the only one that studied philosophy. “We think, therefore we are.”
  • Me: Well, I don’t think YOU think very clearly.
  • Bert: US? What about you, bonehead? You’re the stable genius that came up with the idea of wearing us without washing us for 49 days. See, we can even count!
  • Me: Well, it’s worked hasn’t it? Not only are you doing fine but, look at you, you’re alive…or at least you “think” you are alive.
  • Bert: That’s right…and that’s the issue. We are alive and, you know what, we can’t get COVID-19 so we want to get out. We’re tired of walking the same trail and the same sidewalk. We’re tired of being confined to the deck at night. We’re tired of living in your smelly shoes. We want to see a movie, go out for dinner, and even go dancing. We can’t get sick, why should we be made to suffer?
  • Me: Wow! You two sound like some Stupid People and Ignorant People I see in the news these days!
  • Ernie: Watch it, bonehead! Don’t call us Stupid or Ignorant.
  • Me: ME? What about you? You’re always calling me “bonehead.”
  • Bert: We’re only speaking truth, man. You’re name calling!
  • Me: Oh, brother!…Look, let’s get back to your demand to go out. I’ve got a simple answer: No.
  • Bert: What do you mean, bonehead? It’s our constitutional right!
  • Me: Wait a minute…you don’t have any constitutional right when it puts me and other people at risk.
  • Ernie: Yes, we do! We’re alive. We live in the United States. We have constitutional rights. USA! USA!
  • Me: Okay, let’s “say” our constitutional rights allow us to do any stupid thing we want to do. And, let’s say that I want to put you two on and walk on burning coals. Does that work for you?
  • Ernie and Bert: No way, bonehead!
  • Bert: That could kill us!
  • Me: Exactly! My rights end when they infringe upon your rights…and vice versa. When I have more to lose than you, then you need to consider whether it is in the greater good to assert your rights. Likewise, when you have more to lose than me, I need to reconsider asserting my rights.
  • Ernie: What a crock!
  • Bert: A crock of crap! My rights are my rights, not yours! USA! USA!
  • Me: Fine. Go out. Take in a movie, get a pizza, have fun! I’m not going to stop you. But…how are you going to get there? You need my feet to move you.
  • Bert and Ernie (silence, as they stare at each other and search for words, then): We’ll get back to you on that.
  • Me: I’m sure you will.

The Doodles & Art of Jeff Logan

I met Jeff Logan in September 2009 attending our first class in the PhD in Organizational Leadership program at Eastern University. The first small group I was assigned to in the first class included Jeff and me. In that small group I learned a fascinating fact from him about Ghengis Khan but that story is for another time. More importantly, I learned I was in the presence of an amazing, diversely talented person. He is an academic, a linguist, a minister, a humorist, and an artist. His medium is pen and ink cartoons which he shares on his Instagram site. Through the Eastern University program we became, and remain, friends and colleagues. Jeff has given me permission to post some of his cartoons here. This week I’m going to feature two of them, but I’m also going to try to share one a day going forward. Some will be related to COVID-19 and some will just relate to life in general. Jeff tells me he is a regular reader of this blog, which embarrases me a bit because I think my humor pales in comparison to his. Thank you, Jeff! Stay safe, be well, and keep drawing please!

Jeff writes: I have always enjoyed the diversity of my local Walmart – seeing the different takes on masks has been inspiring for stepping up my own mask game!!
Jeff writes: Quick evening doodle while making some notes for a video in my anthropology classes.

The Adventures of Chickenman – Episode 17

Benton Harbor (our Fantastic Fearless Feathered Fighter) appears at a “father and son” banquet in Midland City…with his mother. What could go wrong?

Sharing a Guilty Pleasure

Local news bloopers are a guilty pleasure of mine. Each month a number of different YouTube sites post the best of previous month’s outtakes and bloopers from local television news from around the world. The April 2020 bloopers were particularly good because so many local news reporters and anchors were trying to do their reports and programs from home because of the sheltering-in-place orders. As a result, there is a treasure trove of very funny bloopers and outtakes that will help us remember…more fondly…the otherwise horrific month that April 2020 was. Here is my favorite:

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep your socks in the house, please.