the wisdom of weeds

Looking closely was both the problem and the solution.

I walk through my front yard at least a couple times a day but I don’t really see it.

When I get the newspaper in the morning, or pull the car in and lock the gate at night, I notice the cactus and the ocotillo, framed by San Jacinto Peak in the background. I see the birds fly into the olive tree. I may even catch the moment at dusk when the lights come on next to the path from the driveway to the front door.

These are big picture views. That’s my lens. Big and beautiful. I’m a big picture thinker.

The Problem

My wife is a gardener and a landscaper. She loves the details. She knows the names of things.

This past weekend I wanted to take a break from work and spend some time with her. When I looked up from the crossword she was headed outside to prune the orange tree. I asked how I could help. She got a glint in her eye. “Well,” she said, “Have you noticed the weeds in front since it rained?”

I hadn’t.

Now I looked. Really looked.

Everywhere I turned, wisps and tufts of green peeked between the rocks.

It sucked. In that moment our beautiful front yard became an abandoned lot.

The Solution

I believe in turning into the skid and answering the call for adventure. When we deny reality, we suffer. When we lean away from the hill that scares us, our skis run and we lose control.

Now that I’d seen the weeds I couldn’t unsee them. The question was what to do about them.

Weeding isn’t rocket science. But there were so many… and using environmentally unfriendly, cancer-causing chemicals was out of the question.

Our learning is most valuable when we apply it. As I surveyed the yard I remembered what I learned about setting goals from reading Emily Balcetis’ Clearer Closer Better. Breaking a big goal into segments makes it more likely that you’ll complete it. Don’t think about running the whole marathon. Get to the next landmark.

Looking at the yard all at once made me want to give up before I started. The project would be easier to complete if I focused on a specific chunk and then moved the goal posts. I zoomed in on a section between my neighbor’s wall and our driveway.

I grabbed a bucket and sat down to work.

Process Over Results

When I was in Tibet I talked with a monk who was cleaning the monastery.

“David,” he said, “I used to clean because I wanted a clean space. But cleaning was hard and I had to wait for the result. Now, I clean because I like to clean. It is easy and I enjoy the process.” He smiled. “And when I finish, I still enjoy the result.”


I haven’t done the dishes the same way since.

Yes, I wanted the weeds out of my yard, and I wanted to make my wife happy, but I also didn’t want to be pissed for two hours thinking about everything else I wasn’t doing.

When the work is just about the work, everything else stops. You get into a state of flow and you lose the sense of work itself. That’s when the fun begins.

What I Learned

Here are the top 10 things I learned on the job:

  1. There are three distinct types of weeds that were growing in that section of my yard: grassy, leafy, and sneaky purple fuckers
  2. The sneaky purple fuckers actually managed to mimic the color of the rocks around them. I didn’t see them right away so I had to retrace my steps and give them an unkind nickname
  3. Some weeds had flowers on top. I found this arrogant (“Look at me, I’m a weed with a pretty yellow hat!”) and I took special pleasure in uprooting them
  4. Propaganda is a truly effective way to justify killing. When I personalized the weeds (see #3) it became easier to characterize them as jerks (the fact that I humanized them to dehumanize them = your daily dose of irony)
  5. Different weeds have different roots, so I developed techniques like “the Rottweiler Shake” to bring them up quickly without leaving part of the root underground
  6. The best tool for most weeding is your bare hand
  7. Sunscreen is a gift from the gods in these punctured-ozone times. You should reapply
  8. People driving by your house in a community where lots of people visit on vacation sometimes do double-takes when they see a middle-aged white guy sitting on the ground picking weeds without a pickup truck in sight
  9. A fun way to scare the hell out of your neighbor Phil when you smell him smoking cigarettes is by standing up suddenly to stretch and saying, “Hi, Phil!” over the wall right next to where he’s replacing a windshield wiper
  10. Pulling weeds for a couple hours in the desert can alter your fingerprint to the point where your fancy MacPro doesn’t know who you are anymore and demands a password instead of touch recognition

The Results Are In

… and the weeds are out. While I was thinking all those thoughts, I was constantly pulling weeds. Turning over rocks. Scooting over to the next section. Pulling more weeds. Letting my eyes go soft so that anything green (or purple!) jumped out at me. And pulling more weeds, until the whole yard appeared beautiful to me, both for what I could see and for what I could no longer see.

My wife came out to say hi just as I was finishing up.

“Wow!” she said. “You have the patience of a saint.”

Nah. Just the love of a good woman, the cleaning ethic of a Tibetan monk, and a front yard that is momentarily weed-free.



too many cooks

Building a successful team is an art.

25 years ago I worked with the best coaches in the world to build a program that creates championship teams. What better place to savor success and learn bitter lessons than the kitchen?

6’x4’ oil painting on canvas, Too Many Cooks by Adam Stone, July 19, 2000.

Participants in Too Many Cooks learn the processes and practices of successful teams. Then they apply what they learn in the kitchen under the guidance of our executive chef. The immediate result is a gourmet meal. The lasting impact is a sustainable network of relationships that achieve increasingly high levels of performance.

Teams are appealing, but they’re not for everyone. Have a look at the lists below. There’s no shame in taking a different approach; just don’t call it a team if it’s not, because your people will know and they won’t like it.

If you think you’re ready to build a team, or if you want to take the team you already have to the next level, let’s talk.


  • Teams have clear goals and rules to play by.
  • You know where you stand on a team. Your job is important and suited to your abilities.
  • Everyone’s clear on whether the team succeeds.


  • Recruiting, building, and managing a team requires vision, skill, and patience.
  • Teams are harder to lead than working groups and direct reports.
  • Individual team members are valuable because they see things from different perspectives, so diversity, divergence, and even conflict are important features – if the team has a structure for communicating, mediating, and making decisions. If there is no “container” for these creative collaborations, the fire that illuminates may burn everything down.

Teams are strong. They get things done. And winning as a team is one of the great joys in life. But it’s not enough to want it. You have to do some very specific work to create and lead a team. Every successful team goes through phases of planning and growth. The good news is that we understand how to design for team success. If you’re ready, let’s get started.

Declare your digital interdependence

Going online these days is like walking through a trade show in an office building full of corporate lobbies. While you’re trying to decide where to do your business – Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon – banner ads and pop ups constantly compete for your attention.

You can’t read two paragraphs before something blocks your view and you have to find the tiny icon to close the window but then the phone glitches or the video moves and now you’re on another URL which shifts your search history algorithm…

I’ve heard it said that the internet is basically a series of agreements between individuals and software about how we communicate.

Well, I didn’t agree to this.

Understanding Social Contracts

Once upon a time, you could tell a student: “I know that your teacher is a difficult person to deal with, but if you can just keep your head down, pass, and graduate, your life will be at least as good as your parents’.”

Today that statement is not supported by the facts.

A social contract is created when an individual gives up some personal freedoms in exchange for maintaining the greater good of social order. Apart from preventing anarchy, the benefits of “taking one for the team” can include:

  • economic stability
  • protection from invasion
  • large-scale public works
  • public health

Social contracts aren’t always complicated or controversial. Stopping at a red light may add a couple minutes to your commute, but it’s a small price to pay for not getting t-boned or run over.

But what happens when a social contract is broken? What happens when:

Declaring Independence

Recently I asked a high school Open-Source Learning network what they knew about the Declaration of Independence. (NOTE: I should have been more specific, since there have been quite a few.)

Everyone recognized the phrase. A few rolled their eyes. One said: “We learned about that in American History.”

“Cool. What can you tell me about it?”

Nothing. Silence. No one could explain what it was. Or why it happened, or why it might be important to understand.

The Declaration of Independence matters. Whatever we may think of America, or its colonial history, or the destructive impact of that history, or even the way it functions today, the Declaration of Independence is an articulate, assertive example of speaking truth to power. The document is an artifact of a broken agreement.

The Problem With User Agreements

As Yale computer science professor Edward Tufte has observed, “Only drug dealers and software companies call their customers ‘users.'”

Neither drug dealers nor software companies are transparent about their practices. Both offer products and services on one-sided terms that prospective customers are unable to negotiate.

Many of us have given up on trying. If we want to use the software, we have to scroll down and click “Accept,” so we may as well get on with it.

Most people don’t know what they’re agreeing to, because most people don’t read the agreements. In 2005, PC Pitstop temporarily added a clause to their End User License Agreement that offered $1000 to anyone who read that far and contacted them. It took five months and more than 3000 sales before anyone did.

And what recourse do we have if a company breaks their own agreement, or applies their policies unevenly? How many times have individuals, groups, and even the United States Congress complained to Facebook? (*Lots.) Has Facebook addressed these concerns? (*Nope.) Has Facebook taken steps to protect individual privacy or punish those who threaten our democracy with misinformation and violence? (*Nope.)

Our Declaration of Digital Interdependence

Students and I read the original Declaration of Independence together while we watched the news. More Facebook employees stepped forward and shared documents showing that the company hosted hate speech and illegal activity that hurts individuals and our country.

Facebook knows about our pain and profits by it without regard to what we think or how we feel. That’s not cool.

And that’s not the only example of big tech taking advantage for profit.

Rather than write a cranky blog post and leave it at that, we decided to do something about it.

Our Declaration of Digital Interdependence

The first thing we did was to read and remix the original Declaration of Independence. The text was written by the influencers of the day, and it has shown some staying power, so why recreate the wheel?

We needed to update the document for our purposes, so we used an etherpad on our own server and started editing:









Once we were all satisfied, we e-signed it:




In our conversations, learners pointed out that their school email addresses all start with their ID numbers. Students don’t own those ID numbers. IDs are assigned upon enrollment and surrendered when students graduate, transfer, or get kicked out.

The data that students create doesn’t belong to them either. Someone else owns the servers, and that means someone else controls the fate of the data.

Learning management systems such as Canvas, student information systems such as Aeries, and feature suites such as Google Classroom or Microsoft 365 all profit handsomely off the content and metadata students create. Schools and districts buy this software. Teachers and students are directed to use it.

So, just like the colonists, we are leaving the nest and creating an alternative. We are building the Open-Source Learning Academy Protocol (OSLAP). OSLAP is a protocol, and not a platform, because OSLAP:

  • Reinforces Open-Source Learning Academy principles through its architecture and use.
  • Supports the philosophy and values of Open-Source Learning – starting with giving people the choice to participate.
  • Does not require anyone to pay to enter proprietary digital real estate.

OSLAP began with the culture of Open-Source Learning. We have curated on the public internet for more than ten years – always on someone else’s servers. Even though we can use online software such Blogger and other platforms without paying in currency, there is always a price, starting with our lack of informed agency. We know that somewhere out there, someone may be extracting value from our work in ways we can’t see.

Action Speaks Loudest

Last week we took an important step. After we signed our declaration, we had a meeting, and we agreed to move our data to our own servers. All of this is documented – in our data, in the recording of our conversation about our data, and ultimately in the actions we took to preserve and move our data.

Action is the ultimate authenticity. It was up to each of us to backup our blogs into .xml files that we downloaded to our machines and then uploaded to OSLAP.

Stay Tuned

I will share more about this in coming weeks. Contact Me to learn more or test-drive OSLAP with your learning community.