To #Unboundary

(n.) strategic design studio, located in Atlanta, GA, which helps companies “define their purpose and pursue significance.” [from the Unboundary web site]

(v.) to remove limits of an area, subject, or sphere of activity [adapted from Apple’s spotlight definition of “boundary”]

In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

– Eric Hoffer

As you walk into the former Atlanta-roundhouse space that is now inhabited by Unboundary, the Eric Hoffer quote greets you near the door. This is a door, in fact, that draws me in; this is a door that greeted me daily during my sabbatical (see two of many sabbatical posts here and here); this is a door that will mark my coming and going much more frequently beginning on July 15. Through this door, Hoffer reminds me that I am, indeed, in times of profound change, and he reminds us all to be learners embracing change.

During my almost twenty years as a professional educator, and certainly during my almost nine years as a school principal, I have found myself immersed in countless discussions concerning the pace and nature of change in our world. In the most recent years, I have concentrated my efforts to be one who enables and empowers schools to maintain pace with this never-ending change, so that we might help people of all ages serve and lead in our changing world.

Joining the conversations and communities on Twitter and other world-connecting blog media, I have similarly surrounded myself with hundreds and hundreds of professional educators and others who are contemplating and implementing school change so that schools remain deeply significant in an age defined by ubiquitous access to information and learn-anytime-anywhere technology. In so many conversations, both those that happen online and those that happen face-to-face, it seems that we educators are striving to unboundary the areas typically referred to as “school” and “real-life.” During her TED talk, Kiran Bir Sethi beautifully espouses the notion of blurring the lines between school and life so that students can be infected with the “I can bug” and realize their ability to make a positive difference in our world – not when they graduate to their real life, but now, because now is their real life.

On September 19, 2011, I announced that the 2011-12 academic year would be my last as principal of The Westminster Schools Junior High School. I took a leap of true faith. Then, I began to piece together and design a potential next chapter of my educational career as something akin to an innovation strategist and synergist for 21st century school change and development. In the months of October, November, December, and January, I benefited immeasurably from the wisdom, questioning, advice, and guidance of about two dozen individuals who graciously engaged me in countless conversations about how to create a job serving as a hub to the various spokes of this learning-in-the-21st-century wheel. To each and every one of you – THANK YOU! And to my wife Anne-Brown, BLESS YOU for your faith and support, and thank you for being the first and foremost of this tribe who helped me discern my next steps.

As of Tuesday, February 21, I officially have my new, dream job…my next chapter…my ideal, “plan A” role that will allow me to continue and to expand my service as an educational leader in these times of profound change. In his announcement to the Unboundary team, president and chief executive Tod Martin explained my future work in the following way:

Bo joins us in a hybrid role. He will be integrated into existing client work, particularly in workshopping, and will also play an instrumental role in expanding Unboundary into a new arena. Over the past year, you’ve heard me talk about the vision of us developing new kinds of clients — other than corporations — where our skills at transformation design would be valuable. One of the “new kinds of clients” we’ve talked about is education. Bo will help lead our efforts to build a practice and develop clients in education.

Already I am indebted to the visionary leadership of Tod Martin and to the team that he has fielded at Unboundary. So much synergy potential exists at the crossroads of corporate leadership and educational innovation, and I believe that Unboundary works at this exciting crossroads. Likewise, I am forever grateful to Westminster for eliciting and developing in me the vision and the skills that this fine school declares for all learners in its community – to serve and lead in a changing world.

To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?
– Katharine Graham

I do love what I do, and I feel that it matters greatly. I am excited for this next chapter, to which I take a great deal of learning. Yet, I dare not consider myself learned. I am a continuous learner, and I intend to do all that I can to serve and lead in this changing world – to play my role on the team that strives to define purpose and pursue significance.

Our children – our leaders of today and tomorrow – deserve nothing less.

On the career trapeze – a leap of faith

September 19, 2011

Dear Westminster Junior High Faculty and Parents:

Last week, I submitted to Bill Clarkson my letter of resignation from the post of Junior High Principal, effective at the conclusion of the 2011-12 academic year.

While my choice has been difficult, it has been fully mine, and I now feel great peace about the decision. In all honesty, my life and career path have been well illuminated by serving in the principal role, particularly in the most recent two years. I simply know in my head and in my heart that I need a change – my journey is taking another path. I am grateful to Bill Clarkson for the encouragement and understanding he has given me both professionally and personally, and which go with me on this journey.

In my eight years as Junior High principal, I have learned that I cherish the time and involvement with faculty colleagues, students, and parents. The work surrounding educational innovation and enhancement – the people-work that finds me as a team member in the Junior High School professional learning community, as a co-facilitator of Synergy 8, and as a co-leader with the Junior High Guidance Committee – fills my soul and ignites my deepest enthusiasms as an educator and learner. Also, my connections with the Center for Teaching and the Glenn Institute stand out for me professionally. Nevertheless, I believe I can continue – even improve – my leadership in such work by focusing more specifically on these areas of education, while reducing the other administrative responsibilities that specifically come with the demands of serving as a principal at Westminster.

During my spring sabbatical, I began to explore the possibilities of such a path change, even though I did not start my sabbatical with that particular intent in mind. Additionally, my participation in the blogosphere reveals to me daily the myriad possibilities in schools.

In the coming months I will continue to explore my own learning and career path to serve education in that magical place that exists in the crossroads of what ignites one’s passions and where one can make a positive difference in the world. Like the trapeze artist we discussed at a recent faculty meeting, I must let go of my current bar to reach for the next. The timing of my leap-of-faith decision allows me to look for my next job with full integrity, and it allows for the school to maximize its potential for finding the next principal of the Junior High. I can continue for the academic year to participate in much exciting work we have before us. On every level, Westminster is thoughtfully preparing to meet the challenges of the future, growing in its commitment to honoring Jesus Christ and providing the BEST possible education for our young people.

It has been a great privilege to be a part of the Westminster Community.


Bo Adams
Principal, Junior High School


Logan Smalley (of Darius Goes West and TEDxAtlanta-RE:SOLVE) and TED recently launched TED-ED and the TED-ED Brain Trust. Because of my good fortune to serve part of my five-week sabbatical at Unboundary, I was able to participate in a conference call with Logan, as well as Tod Martin and Jenn Graham of Unboundary. Today, I made my first extended exploration of the TED-ED Brain Trust, via the Forum. WOW! Through the power of crowd-sourcing (the idea that WE are smarter than ME) and an incredible set of discussions happening on virtually countless threads – all woven together by the myriad ways that TED and education can help advance and enhance one another – the community is shaping the birth and emergence of TED-ED. Below are a teaser video and Logan’s e-mail explanation of the TED-ED Brain Trust. I am thrilled to be a participant in and contributor to this community, and I am beyond excited to add TED-ED to my daily ritual and routine of reading and research.

Dear TED-ED early registrants,

When we announced the TED-ED Brain Trust from the Long Beach stage, we expected a few hundred of you “TEDucators” to express interest in this new initiative. We hoped for 1,000. Your impassioned response to this announcement, however — your collective desire to guide TED in enriching education around the world — exceeded our wildest expectations.

In a little more than one week, over 10,000 of you — educators, students, filmmakers, animators and creative professionals from around the world — pre-registered for the TED-ED Brain Trust. We believe the collective expertise of this burgeoning community is capable of revolutionizing education.

We are so grateful for your personal interest in guiding the creation of TED-ED, and today, we are pleased to invite you to officially join the TED-ED Brain Trust.

What is the TED-ED Brain Trust?
It is an online forum where we ask you, the TED-ED community, to congregate and help shape and accelerate TED’s push into the realm of education. Your input will define this initiative’s trajectory.

We have some budding ideas of how TED content (both existing and new) can be used to enhance formal and informal learning experiences — and you can see these set out very clearly on the homepage, and in various other areas of the site. But in these early, formative stages of TED-ED, we are equally interested in hearing how you, the experts, believe TED can best serve learners around the world.

You’ll find that we’ve populated the TED-ED forum with specific questions on TED’s potential in education. On a programmatic level, finding consensus on these topics is a crucial step in the initial development of TED-ED. You will also find a free-range discussion area in the forum. We hope that you, as a community, will use this area of the TED-ED Brain Trust to express (and improve) your own ideas.

A Soft-Launch — Setting the Tone
We are opening the Brain Trust to all 10,000+ pre-registrants. When you re-register, you will likely find an open and somewhat empty forum. We ask that you swiftly employ your expertise to answer or participate wherever you feel qualified! The comments you make will not only be read by all of the incoming TED-EDsters, but they will also help set the tone of this entire endeavor.

You are the founders of TED-ED. This is your community. If you know someone whose voice needs to be heard in this forum, we encourage you to invite them to join.

We look forward to reading all of your fantastic ideas. Thank you for helping us launch the TED-ED Brain Trust.

Registration link:
(You will need to re-register to participate in the forum.)

All the best,
Logan Smalley – TED-ED Catalyst
Chris Anderson – TED Curator

Shouldn’t Practice Mimic the Game?

During my life, I have participated pretty heavily in sports. Play is fun and a great way to learn. I have dabbled in all kinds of sports. As I grew up, I played a lot of soccer. Not surprisingly, preparing to play soccer involved a great deal of playing the actual game. Sure, we drilled, but the drills were just micro-parts of the whole game. In late high school, I migrated to triathlon. While I certainly lifted weights and participated in stretching and plyometrics, most of my training involved actually doing long hours of swimming, biking, and running. Practicing was direct application and immersion in the sports. On “brick” days, I actually combined two, and sometimes all three, of the sub-sports with transitions so that practice immitated an actual triathlon. Practice was a virtual mimic of the game/event for which I was preparing. Is school, in its traditional format, a virtual mimic of the game/event for which we are preparing students?

My school’s mission states that we are preparing students for college and for life. I have a pretty good idea of what college is like. I have been to several as an undergrad, a post-grad, and a graduate student. My experiences at those colleges was fairly similar to my experiences as a student in K-12 school. The formats, structures, and cultures were similar. By “life” I think we mean “work” to a considerable degree. For many of one’s waking hours of life are spent working. During the past 20 years, I have spent my career working in schools, but I have never really worked in the “business” world. As an undergrad, I trained as an economist and as a marketing-management scientist. But that’s not the same as really living the business-world life that most of our students will enter after college. How do we know that we are preparing students for the “life” part of our mission? Are you reading as much as I am that business leaders indicate that students are not so well-prepared for the work-life realities? Could it be that the the practice is not a close enough mimic of the game? Is this why UVa Med School is striving to make practice more like the actual game?

In the past three days at Unboundary, I believe I have been given a rare gift as an educator. I have immersed myself in the “business world.” I will continue to do so for several weeks. While one, short sortee into the business world makes me no expert, I do have a new perspective than many career educators don’t really get to experience. I feel like I have been able to discern another data point on the life-education graph, and doing so allows me potentially to draw a line of better fit from school to college to life.

Moreover, in the past three days, I have seen in my mind’s eye the replaying of several influencial videos that I have written about and shared in previous blog posts. Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA video has come to mind countless times. The Buck Institute videos about project-based learning, and the ongoing conversation that Jonathan Martin and I are having, come to mind. Steve Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” – both the TED talk and the RSA video – come to mind. Kiran Bir Sethi’s Riverside School comes to mind. Edutopia’s videos on High Tech High and other immersive learning environments come to mind.

Maybe more than anything, I feel empowered to continue refining and revising the Synergy 8 course. For those who are new to this blog, Synergy 8 is a new course that Jill Gough and I co-facilitate for 8th graders at Westminster. This fall, Synergy 8 experienced it’s pilot semester. In short, the course is…

  • Based on The Falconer by Grant Lichtman
  • Non-departmentalized and integrated in nature (we combine content and skills from the various departmental domains)
  • Project-based and problem-based
  • Steeped in high-level communication and presentation
  • Focused on community issue identification and solution
  • Learner-centered

Watching a team of three Unboundary pros working on a pitch, presentation and workshop design has been like watching the game or event that we are preparing Synergy 8 students to play in our practice sessions. It has been like looking in a mirror to study our form and muscle memory. It has been like preparing for life. Not “like”…it has been preparing for life.


Time Travel & Closing the Swashbuckling Gap

For the past two mornings, I have taken my 6-year old son to school. So, of course, my 4-year old son wanted me to drive him to school one morning. Today was the morning. But my youngest doesn’t have to be at preschool until 8:45, so we played!

As I finished dressing, JT asked if we could play pirates with his Fisher-Price Imaginext. He loves to play pirates with this set of toys. At first, we were very historically pure. Then, a problem arose for JT, and he must have reasoned that Spiderman was the right tool for the issue. Without missing a beat, Spiderman entered the scene. Then, air travel became a necessity for the scenario. No problem. JT requisitioned a modern-day airplane from another Imaginext set. Of course, he saw no problem with this mix-it-up mentality.

I am a bit saddened to think that JT will experience the departmentalization of thinking when he enters “real school.” If listening to teachers and students today is any indicator, this division of cognition may be inevitable (I hope it’s not!). I repeatedly hear students utter, “This is math class. Why do we have to write?” Or, “This isn’t English class, so does spelling and grammar count?” This happens with teachers, too. “I am just reading for content. The English teachers can deal with all that comma and semicolon stuff.” Or, “I am a math teacher. I am not a writer.” How dare we impose such boundaries on the human imagination and capacities of thinking. JT is a swashbuckler who sees no problems with inserting a 1965 Chevy Impala into a pirate scene – even if the figurines don’t stand a chance of fitting in the vehicle. And he wasted no time justifying the mashup with the excuse of time travel. He just mixed up the tools that he needed to use for the scenario that his imagination was making real.

Yesterday, I spent day 2 of my sabbatical at Unboundary, where I am interning at this amazing strategic studio. At 9:15, the Traffic Director (what a cool title!) informed me that there would be a 10:30 meeting for a project team working on a pitch proposal to a company considering three bids for brand positioning. I spent the next 4.5 hours with this swashbuckling trio, and I feel like I gained an entire semester’s worth of learning in a half a work day.

Throughout the work session, the team utilized powerful brainstorming by storyboarding on a tack-board wall. Disciplines that we would separate and segregate in schools were seemlessly engaged. No one uttered stuff like, “I am not a writer, so you’ll have to take it from here.” When drawings and sketches were needed, they were added to the cards and wall. Mistakes, errors, and failures were expected and taken for granted because they were prototyping – it’s just part of real work. No one handed them a text-book-style, neat-and-clean problem to solve. They began by defining the issue to be addressed. They identified the “problem” and worked to collectively reach a workable solution to the problem. They noted extractions they would need to make from previous and existing work – other projects. No one ever said, “that will never work.” But they did push certain ideas aside and rearrange the wall when a more exciting idea emerged. They encouraged me to participate and contribute rather than just sit, observe, and listen. They treated me like a co-pilot, not just a passenger along for the ride. They made me feel like a we. There was no sage on the stage, but there were mutual guides on the side. When creative obstacles emerged, they…joked. Metaphorically, in my opinion, they were mixing it up and mashing it up like my son JT. Consequently, new insights and possibilities emerged. When they needed to…they ate. The creative brain needs food, and there were no bells signaling that it was time for lunch. But they knew they needed brain food, as well as Brain Food. When a reasonable stopping place was located, they asked for evaluation and feedback from the Executive Director of Creative Intelligence. This trusted source never said, “Good job.” His feedback was precise, specific, detailed, and thought-provoking. There was no grade, but there was loads of assessment. Self-assessment and evaluation by the team all day long, and macro-assessment from the EDCI.

While I know I am overgeneralizing, I wonder about the gap that exists between my son’s natural mode of play and the seemingly natural way to work after college. Of course, there are parts of school that model and mimic childhood play and adult work (play?). But they are not enough. Education is about drawing out what is already there. It is like a sculptor revealing what lies within the chunk of stone. School seems too industrial, too assembly line, too departmentalized. School seems too content-delivery oriented rather than reveal-what-is-already-there oriented.

This morning, I completed my second read of Seth Godin’s Tribes. On page 137 of the hardback, Godin quotes Einstein, who said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Godin continues:

Leaders create things that didn’t exist before. They do this by giving the tribe a vision of something that could happen, but hasn’t (yet). You can’t manage without knowledge. You can’t lead without imagination.

Creativity should not be segregated to art classes and fiction writing. Imagination should know no bounds. We need to unboundary the lines between departmentalized subjects. We need to combine pirate ships, Spiderman, 1965 Chevy Impalas, airplanes…English, math, science, and history. If it requires time travel, so be it. We need to lead. We need to close the swashbuckling gap.