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Recycling Plant & Recycling a Plant (Part 1)

Part 1: Recycling Plant

What’s the difference between a recycling plant and recycling a plant? Just to clarify, I am not speaking about agriculture here; in my urban Chicagoland jungle, plant means industry. As is my nature, after moving to a new location, I frenetically bushwhack through metropolitan mulch. I dodge chain restaurants like weeds (aside from Chipotle) and sniff out those hidden flowers that flash the true colors of the city.

My recent harried wanderings have delivered me to this recycling riddle comparing a recycling plant and recycling an (industrial) plant. This first post introduces the recycling plant with my commentary progressing soon on the interwebs.

During my first month blustering around the windy city, I have happened upon various hidden gems of the visual, theatrical, and edible persuasions. All were stunning or enlightening with the exception of an unfortunate goat tostada from La Basura Bodega that seemed to enlighten nothing but my septic system.

A rapid run bike through of my few weeks here would reveal adventures including but not limited to:

1)  Watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan

2)  Doing headstands in my office where I work for the Governor of Illinois

3)  Driving an entirely electric car from Nissan at sunset along the lake

4)  Going out for pizza with the Governor

5)  Assembling a bicycle (with help) and then biking 20 miles roundtrip to Chicago’s Desi corridor for delicious delicacies from Pakistan and India

6)  Hula hooping with 500+ people and professional fire dancers/drummers during a Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam. Click here and here for stunning pictures.

7)  Attending and participating in various art and performance installations around the city

8)  Blasting Kanye/Jay-Z while driving a government car around Illinois to report on hearings

9)  Mingling with glitterati at a wine and hors d’oeuvre reception at the Chicago Yacht Club

10) Exploding over bike handlebars and onto pavement after losing a battle with a curb

Yet this week may take the cake (or flan depending on where you are).  Last Thursday in a nostalgic reminder of the pleasures of elementary school, I took a field trip during work. No need to forge any parental permission slips, though. It was a sanctioned tour of Recycling Services, a private company that exists as the largest recycling service in Chicago.

My tour was a refreshing reminder that matter does not simply disappear after you flush the toilet or drag a trash bag to the curb. My enthusiasm waxed as I watched in graphic, gory detail the process of collecting, sorting, sanitizing, and monetizing our recycling goods. I saw employees meticulously extract waste materials from accelerating conveyor belts and shred materials before compressing and packaging the scraps. The tour culminated with a delicious feast of wine, cheese, shrimp, and gourmet hamburgers after which I was sure to recycle and compost my utensils and food.

It was an impressive display in a city that proactively sustains recycling infrastructure. It even allays conservative or libertarian environmental skepticism because it succeeds through capitalistic, free market participation. This for-profit recycling plant wants to make money. It makes money by increasing recycling. It’s a win-win.

In a recessionary world of big industry that wants to Thank You for Smoking, it’s exciting to see this type of plant thriving. As the owner explained, “Paper is booming in the capital markets”. It’s almost enough to make me print this blog out and recycle the paper. But not quite. Yet how does one go further and actually recycle an industrial plant. Stay tuned…

The adventure continues in Part 2: Recycling a Plant, available by clicking here.

Features Political Competence

Leadership in an Academic Setting

The challenges of 21st century higher education are unprecedented.  In the wake of the recent economic crisis, universities have had to cut programs, eliminate entire academic departments, trim organizational layers, centralize administrative functions, and  move seriously toward distance learning as a core pedagogical technology. In this arena where hard decisions are being made on a daily basis, senior administrators and faculty members need to develop the necessary skills to get things done.

In this context, the core model of what the university is about is sometimes challenged. While it’s easy to maintain that the core values are identifiable and consensual and easy to make a gesture toward excellence in teaching, research, and outreach, the specific priorities that underline each of these are constantly debated.

Now that we’ve moved into a zero-sum age and that hard decisions have to be made, hidden agendas come to the surface. Turf becomes a battleground and a bit of justified paranoia spills into the air. As higher education redefines itself, units within academic settings, universities, colleges, etc. find themselves taking defensive positions.

As we struggle toward cost-reduction, elimination of overlap, and survival in the competitive environment—tensions between the two key components, i.e. administration and faculty, have become more intense than ever before. As leaders put together strategic plans focusing on the future, they face new and complex challenges in implementing those plans. While the writing is on the wall and change is inevitable, the leadership challenge is to know how to move ahead without throwing out the baby with the bath water.

In this context, at all levels of higher education, leadership must show two competencies. First academic leaders need the political competence to make sure they’ve mobilized support for their agenda. Next, they need the managerial competence to make sure that they can go the distance. These competencies are comprised of specific skills that are essential to moving higher education forward.

Leadership training in higher education, as it has been for a long time in the private sector, is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

This past year my colleagues and I at Bacharach Leadership Group were given an opportunity by Mary Opperman, Cornell University’s head of Human Resources, to develop Cornell’s high-potentials.

The challenge was clear. How do you take a group of individuals who know their system well and are familiar with the business of higher education and train them in leadership by incorporating their experiences and giving them a systemic appreciation of strategic, tactical, and operational skills to move agendas ahead.

Over a seven-month period, we met nine times as and we focused on a integrated set of skills including the skills for mobilization, the skills for negotiations, the skills for sustaining momentum, and the skills for coaching. The class also took a battery of online courses provided eCornell. The training aimed at assisting Cornell’s high-potentials to become truly entrepreneurial leaders within the university.

In many ways, the higher education setting is more complex than the private sector. In an academic setting, the contingencies are numerous, the constituents varied, the agendas open and hidden, the politics complex, and the management and structure is often unclear, making it a difficult maze for both administrative and academic leaders.

The program we developed for Cornell wasn’t a typical leadership program. It wasn’t based on charisma. It wasn’t based on broad notions of transformational and transactional leadership. It was based on the reality that it’s difficult to get something done in loose organizations like academic institutions. And indeed, if something is to get done, we need leaders that are both capable of getting people on their side and keeping them on their side.


A Peculiar Silence in Tel Aviv

As is often the case in July, I find myself sitting in my favorite cafe, MIA, in the Neve Tzedek in south Tel Aviv area.

It’s a neighborhood that has, in the last 15 years, evolved from forgotten little houses to resurrected restorations. With book stores, cafes, restaurants, and boutique stores. It’s where, on a Friday morning, or a Saturday afternoon, suburban couples come to, drift around, and have a cup of coffee.

Just a few years ago all conversations were about politics, peace negotiations, and the hope and lack of hope  in the Middle East. Now, even in the context of a nuclear Iran, there is a peculiar silence–a sense that people just don’t really want to talk about what’s happening around them.

It’s not necessarily an ostrich mentality nor is it necessarily a widespread indifference, but rather a type of political burnout–something that’s most apparent among the moderates.

For many years you would sit in any cafe and people would talk about the ‘mazaf,’ or the ‘situation’–a catchall word to describe the political security and social turmoil that is embedded within the country.

A number of years ago this was a focus of discussion in all homes. Today, it seems the energy has been depleted and discussions seem to wander away from anything relating to national politics.  Speak to any moderate and they’ll tell you, “I don’t listen to the news, it’s the same thing over and over again.”

Two days ago I had occasion to sit with a widow who lost her son in one of the wars and when the conversations turned to something of political substance, her response was simply, “What’s there to talk about? Nothing ever changes.”

When I spoke to a well known artists, he could talk about his art, an upcoming exhibit in Dublin, and his grandchildren in Los Angeles, but he echoed the same line when the conversation bent towards politics: “I don’t listen to the news, why bother?”

This mindset has shifted my little coffee shop from being a place on intense conversations to a place where people go after yoga lessons or a forum to discuss an upcoming trip to Bulgaria or a sailing expedition to Crete. Just about anything that allows them an escape from the ‘mazaf,’ the situation.

As moderates become more and more silent and go on more and more trips and take more and more yoga lessons the world is shifting.

Yoga classes might be increasing, but political involvement is decreasing.

Still, how different is this from any other place around the world? Have of all us moderates become exhausted?