Four biggest mistakes made by leaders of large-scale change 😬

One of my favorite things to do is speak with alumni of our Skid Row School a few months after they’ve graduated. The phone calls often go something like this:


Exchange of pleasantries.


So, Becky…the Skid Row School was great and all but…we’re kind of stuck.


Tell me more….


Having fielded dozens of these calls now I want to share with you the most common ways folks get stuck while leading large-scale change (and what you can do about them):


4. Your aim is off. Too big or too small. We recommend something in between a 5 to 10x expansion over a similar time-period from your last wave of expansion. So if it took you 3 years to get your intervention to 100 schools, in the next 3 years you could aim for being in 500 to 1,000 schools.


If this is you, you may want to proactively change your shared agreements about how much, by when. One thing that often helps is to ask for one more year. Kind of how you can buy a vowel on Wheel of Fortune. You can usually buy a year if that’s what you need.


3. Theory lock has set in. We see this all too often. You’ve chosen which “all teach, all learn” structure from our “Many Ways to Many” tool and it’s not getting you the results you’d like. Instead of getting curious that maybe there’s a better way, some people double-down on tactics that just aren’t working. Remember, the whole point to there being many ways to many is that there are…many ways to many. Not just one. For a refresher on this, check out this SSIR piece by the same name. And feel free to poke around the Many Ways to Many tool and see what it recommends for you!


2.  A commitment is missing. Having a bold, quantifiable aim is one thing. Committing (and re-committing) to that aim is a whole other. It is in the committing that the aim comes to life. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way more times than I want to share. When things ain’t right, it’s at least work asking if somewhere a commitment is missing. While you cannot control objective reality, you can definitely control your decisions and actions. My mentor Katie Hendricks likes to say, “you know what you’re committed to by the results you’re getting.” Look at the results you are getting, and that will tell you what you’re committed to. If you don’t like it, time to make a new commitment. The sooner the better!


1. There’s a subconscious sabotage effort going on. This is the #1 most common challenge that I find when I’m working with our graduates and this is why we’re insistent on combining skills for personal transformation with skills for planetary transformation in all our workshops. It’s so easy to imagine that the problem is technical or “out there” but all too often it’s personal and “in here.” There’s a lot more to say about this but I’ll sum it up with four questions:

(1) what have you not faced?
(2) what have you not felt or acknowledged?
(3) What are you holding back from saying? and
(4) What are you holding back from doing?

Believe it or not, most of the time the answer that gets someone unstuck is in one of those four questions.

I hope this is helpful. Zip me a note and let me know if this struck a nerve. I wish you all the very best in your work to make this world a better place to live. 


What’s 🆕 and 🆒 @ the Billions Institute in 2019

I hope that your year is off to a terrific start. I had a terrible cold starting Christmas Eve but you know what? It was kind of wonderful to lay low and get a lot of rest. In between the sniffles and the coughs, I enjoyed copious amounts of laid back quality time with my family, so for that I am truly grateful. Plus antibiotics when you need them. Grateful for them, too. 😉

We hit the ground running last week with 52 folks flying in from as far away as the UK for our Skid Row School for Unleashing Large-Scale Change. This was our most thorough weaving together of the skills for personal transformation with the strategies/tactics for large-scale change to date. We also rolled out some new tools to help teams more clearly pinpoint some of the organizational dilemmas they’ll need to sort out on the way to scale. They were quite useful if I do say so myself.

We’ve also landed on a beautiful new location for our trainings, the Kellogg West Conference Center on the Cal-Poly campus in Pomona, CA. Check out the view above! There’s nothing like Southern California in the winter with 70 degree weather and snow-capped mountains! AND the hotel/meals package is about $100/night LESS than our previous location. We think it’s a keeper.

One of the questions that participants leaned into last week was “what are you morally obligated to get to everyone who can possibly benefit, regardless of their ability to pay for it?”

It’s a question we ask ourselves, too.

We’ve heard from some of you that you’d love to come to the Skid Row School but you don’t have enough time (4 days) or money ($3,000). Message received.

We will still continue to offer the Skid Row School twice a year (each January and June), we will also be creating these new ways for folks to benefit from our approach for designing and leading large-scale change even if you cannot afford to come to the Skid Row School. Coming soon in 2019:

  1. The podcast. Candid conversations with our alumni about the thrill of victory and agony of defeat when it comes to leading large-scale change.

  2. The book. I’m finally going to do it! I’m gonna write a book along the lines of “How to Save the World without Losing Yourself” that captures my best thinking on how to do just that.

  3. Dig Deep/Dream Big: Introduction to Unleashing Workshop. This workshop is a high level overview of our approach (the Model for Unleashing) that we cover more in-depth at the Skid Row School.  There is an emphasis on the first two parts of the model: Dig Deep and Dream Big. Participants will explore the overlap between what the world needs most and what you were put on this planet to do. Expect to leave with a clear vision for the change you seek and actionable next steps. At $795 for two days, we’re hoping this enables more people to benefit from our approach to designing and leading large-scale change. We’ll be running this for the first time March 27th – 28th at the Kellogg West Conference Center on the Cal-Poly campus in Pomona, CA. Learn more here.

  4. Next week we’ll get back to more regular musings on designing and leading large-scale change.

    Meanwhile, I look forward to being alongside you on your journey to make the world a better place and wish you the very best for a successful and joyful 2019!



We’ve got less than 20 years to get our sh%t together


The science is in. In case you missed it, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report warning that we’ve got less than 20 years to get our sh%t together or we’re in serious trouble. It’s happening much more quickly than had been anticipated.

An Oxford scientist says we have to turn the world economy on a dime. “To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, the report said, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. It also found that, by 2050, use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40 percent today to between 1 and 7 percent. Renewable energy such as wind and solar, which make up about 20 percent of the electricity mix today, would have to increase to as much as 67 percent.” {alumni of the Skid Row School – note the “direct the rider” play here – it’s not a mystery what we need to do}.

The past few years I have been doing my best to wrap my brain around climate change and grasp the implications. While no one knows for sure what will happen, here’s the most disturbing description that I’ve found so far. It’s not for the faint hearted so read at your own risk. But it’s also really important so please read it! Bottom line is it’s hard to imagine any aspect of our lives that wouldn’t be negatively impacted if any of these come true.

The same weekend this climate report was issued, our family was delighted to host Skid Row School alum and climate change leader John Hepburn of the Sunrise Project and his lovely family for a couple days last weekend. We were their final stop on their much deserved sabbatical. Over several home cooked meals with fresh vegetables picked right from our garden, we had many conversations about where the world is headed and what we can do about it. i came away from those conversations convinced that there is much to wring our hands about and yet there is so much more that we can be doing.

Both John and I had recently read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (a book I cannot recommend highly enough for those of you who are curious about what it means to be a human being). While I believe our species is on in the midst of creating the sixth great extinction, John reassured me from his read of Sapiens that the defining characteristic of our species is our capacity to create new a story and live into it. As we believe, so it becomes. And one glimmer of good news is that it doesn’t take that many people living into the new story to change the course of history (for better or worse). While John was in Peru he studied the history of the Inca Empire. It took them 40 years to do it, but a mere 180 conquistadors from Spain ended up conquering the whole empire – one with a massive standing army of at least 100,000 soldiers. The conquistadors had a new story (that was a lie) and unfortunately the Incas bought it. It changed the course of history forever.

I know this story took place 500 years ago and in this example the colonizers won. I know that things are different now. And yet I cannot help but wonder about what new (and truthful) stories we can start telling ourselves and start living into. I wonder how many of us it takes to reach a critical mass. I wonder how I/we might shift to a regenerative (vs extractive) way of being in the world. I wonder what my/our lives might be like beyond fossil fuels? What if they’re a whole lot better than we can even imagine? What if, as Buckminster Fuller says, over the next 20 years we can solve this problem then get on with our true purpose and destiny as human beings: to solve even bigger problems than this…that’d be kind of cool right?

One way or the other….the clock is ticking. The choices we make individually and collectively might matter more now than ever before. May we all tap into our best selves for the challenges ahead!

Onward into the unknown!


p.s. If somebody sent you this email, sign-up here to receive weekly inspiration and practical pointers on leading large-scale change.

p.p.s. If you’re ever in town, please come over for dinner and we promise not to be too depressing.


Skid Row School Alumni Jennifer Blatz CEO of StriveTogether gets a much deserved shout-out from this David Brooks’ piece in the NY Times about something that’s actually working well in America. Kudos, Jennifer and thank you for some good news!!

Upcoming Events

The January 2019 Skid Row School is now full though we are accepting folks on our waitlist just in case spots open up. The next available Skid Row School is June 25th – 28th, 2019. We are also available to bring the Skid Row School to groups of grantees for foundations on a case by case basis.

Graduates of the Skid Row School are invited to apply for our large-scale change leaders fellowship. We meet three times a year for three days at a time and deeply explore the adaptive challenges almost everyone leading large-scale change faces.

The next meeting of the fellows is February 5th – 7th, 2019, and will take place outside Atlanta, Georgia.It will include a tour of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

We offer scholarships to those who need financial assistance for both our Skid Row School and our fellowship. Give a shout if that’s you.

Do you want to be on the right side of history or do you want to make history?


Our fellows met in Los Angeles last week to do some advanced explorations around integrity, justice, and self-care as leaders of large-scale change. Many of you know that we do an introductory investigation of the “hero” at the Skid Row School. The hero includes the parts of yourself that are uncomfortable with making anyone feel uncomfortable, so you take on too much and bite your tongue and nothing ever changes other than you’re on the fast track to burnout. That kind of hero that’s widespread in the social sector.

This week we looked more deeply into another way that I’ve seen large-scale change leaders burnout: the villain. The villain is really good at criticizing and assigning blame. Some of us have more access to this part of ourselves than others. Take me, for example: I have easy access to my inner-villain!  The villain has strong opinions about the way things “ought to be.” I assume many of you are asking, “what’s wrong with that?” Well, nothing if you want to be on the right side of history. It’s actually quite satisfying know you’re right and experience the surge of adrenaline that comes with a good dose of righteous indignation.

The problem is…our villains might be on the right side of history, but our challengers are the one’s who make history. Challengers create loving pressure for change by being deeply present with someone who sees or thinks differently than we do. Challengers are able to stay grounded in our own discomfort and through our full presence, ask questions like:

How are you keeping this going?
How is this costing others around you?
Are you willing to stop this now?
What truths have you not told?
What have you not been willing to face about this issue?
What boundaries have you not created or have you broken? 

Just to ground this in practical reality – imagine watching the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last week and taking on your best villain pose for how things ought to be and lecturing anyone who saw things different from how you did about just how wrong they are. You might end up being on the right side of history, but it’s unlikely that you created an authentic connection that opened up the possibility for creating something different going forward.

Another possibility in light of last week’s events would be to start wondering out loud some variations of the challenger questions above. Hmmmm….I wonder what truths have not yet been told. I wonder what we, collectively, have not been willing to face about sexual assault. I wonder what I have not faced personally about any of the trauma I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I wonder how I am contributing to keeping this whole culture going. These questions open the door for deeper personal explorations as well as increase the likelihood of a person to person dialogue that results in transformation versus being right or wrong. My invitation to you is to try some of these on for size and see how they work for you. For more on villain vs challenger, check out or sign up for our fellowship where we go deep into this kind of thing.

Big hug,


p.s. You can sign-up here to receive weekly inspiration and practical pointers on leading large-scale change.



It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to our new fellows: Mari Jones, Michelle Pledger, and Wendy Loloff-Cooper (clockwise from top left). 

Mari Jones is the Project Co-director of the Deeper Learning Hub, a national practitioner hub whose mission is to spread deeper learning practices and ensure that more students across the country are achieving deeper learning outcomes. With Michelle Pledger, she co-leads the Share Your Learning Campaign which aims to focus on spreading a small set of practices (exhibition, student-led conferences, and presentations of learning), to 5 million students by 2020.  She is also an Improvement Facilitator for the Center for Research on Equity and Innovation at High Tech High Graduate School of Education, and a course instructor for the Teaching Apprenticeship Program at High Tech High Graduate School of Education. Previously, Mari was an elementary teacher for fourteen years and has always felt that education is a form of activism, and she is passionate about promoting social change and equity by empowering youth.

 Michelle Sadrena Pledger is the Project Co-Director for the Center for Research on Equity and Innovation and teaches at High Tech High’s Graduate School of Education. With Mari Jones, she co-leads the Share Your Learning Campaign which aims to focus on spreading a small set of practices (exhibition, student-led conferences, and presentations of learning), to 5 million students by 2020. With a dual passion for education and dance, she embraces an energetic teaching and coaching style. Proficient in Spanish and conversational Japanese, Michelle enjoys international travel and leaves the country at least twice a year. As a former member of the renowned public speaking organization, Toastmaster’s International, Michelle has won numerous accolades for competitive public speaking.

 Wendy Loloff Cooper is the CEO of Generation Schools Network. She brings extensive experience in the non-profit and education sectors, especially in the areas of network and collaborative development, replication and innovative educational models. She has worked in higher education (Northwest College, Colorado Christian University & Harvard University) and co-founded the StreetSchool Network, which grew to include more than 50 schools in 27 cities under her leadership. Since taking the reins at Generation Schools, Wendy has grown the organization from serving a handful of schools each year to serving more than 60 schools in multiple states and founding a 56 district rural collaborative as a unit of change.

Welcome – we’re so glad you’re here!! 

Upcoming Events

We still have four spots open up at the October 23rd – 26th Skid Row School and we are currently accepting applications for all of our 2019 offerings.

Graduates of the Skid Row School are invited to apply for one of the seven spots available in 2019 for our fellowship. We meet three times a year for three days at a time and deeply explore the adaptive challenges almost everyone leading large-scale change faces.

The next meeting of the fellows is February 5th – 7th, 2019, and will take place outside Atlanta, Georgia.It will include a tour of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

We offer scholarships to those who need financial assistance for both our Skid Row School and our fellowship. Give a shout if that’s you.

What I’ve Been Up to Lately


I hope all of you are safe and sound in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

This month I have been deeply immersed in our work to support two clients who are advancing racial equity in the US education system: The Raikes Foundation’s Building Equitable Learning Environments Network and the Sonoma County Office of Education’s Empathy, Equity, and Engagement Project aka the “Rooster Fellowship.”

For the Raikes Foundation, I am interviewing 36 experts in the fields of equity and education to capture their best ideas about what the purpose and function of the US education system would ideally be, why it’s not currently like that, and what needs to be done to move things in the right direction. Later this year, I’ll have the privilege of facilitating key stakeholders in learning from these 36 interviews and crafting strategies for what’s next. I promise you this: I am glued to the zoom on my computer screen for every one of these interviews. I am committed to keeping an open mind and being deeply present with these luminaries as they share their wisdom and insights.

As a parent and someone who cares deeply about education and justice, I wish everyone could hear what is being shared with me. Please know there is zero debate among any of these experts I’m interviewing that our current education system is out of date and reproducing oppression, right now, at a school down the street from each of us. Their consensus on this is sobering and a real wake up call for me personally.

One of the people I will interview – haven’t quite gotten to him yet – is Jeff Duncan Andrade. In my research I discovered this keynote (also at the top of the email) he gave at the Deeper Learning conference earlier this year. I heard from friends who were in the audience that it was scheduled to last 45 minutes. It’s an hour and fifteen. I also heard – and you will see – that not a person budged from their seats the entire time. Since it was the last keynote of the conference many people missed their flights, and I don’t think a single person regretted it. Christine and I watched this together the other night the same way you would watch a TV show. Absolutely gripping and important. She sat across from me on the couch, scribbling down notes, and she doesn’t even work in the education field. It is that good. I had the thought that everyone I know needs to see this keynote. Even if you’re not in education. It’s that good.

Another big adventure I’m on: Last week I traveled to Sonoma County to kick off a second year of working with Chuck Wade, Jessica Progulske (the dynamic duo otherwise known as “Chuckica”) and Elizabeth Najmabadi, and Amanda Snook. We’re doing a “wedge and spread” initiative to improve equity and engagement. The “wedge” teams from seven of the forty districts in the county. Each team is comprised of a superintendent, a principal, a teacher, and a classified person like a school counselor or special ed teacher. Each of the seven teams will be working to measurably improve student responses – across all demographic sub-populations – to these three questions:

  1. What we worked on in class is important to me.
  2. Class today was so interesting that I didn’t want to leave.
  3. My teacher thinks I can succeed.

I don’t know about you, but as a parent I care way more about what my kids answer to those questions than I do about any test score. I want them to love their teachers, their classmates, their community, their school. I want them to love learning and love learning how to learn. Because someday they will be all grown up and inherit some really gnarly problems our generations are going to dump on them, and we will look to them to solve them. And we need all the talent of all the kids to do that. 

Here’s the kicker, though: As a result of these conversations I’m having and the work I’m doing, I’m clear that I want that for every kid, not just our own.

If I could share one big takeaway from all my work in education and equity it is this: we must show up for all the babies. Not just our own. I do believe that is the challenge in front of us and that it’s way easier said than done.

And I wonder for other large-scale change initiatives in other sectors – how much that mindset shift – from “mine/me” to “ours/we” – is essential for creating the change we seek.

Yours Truly,

P.s. If all of this interests you, you simply must subscribe to STARZ for a month and watch all 10 episodes of America to Me. Then we can talk some more. It highlights the vastly different experiences that kids have in the same school. Eye opening.

p.p.s. If somebody sent you this email, sign-up here to receive weekly inspiration and practical pointers on leading large-scale change.

Announcements & Geek Flowers

Gia Truong, CEO of Envision Education, wants to invite you to apply for the 3rd Cohort of the Deeper Learning Leadership Forum, a unique leadership development opportunity.  The DLLF is a unique and special leadership development experience, with engaging experiential learning and rich cohort relationships, as well as the powerful integration of Equity and Deeper Learning. Click this link to learn more! Applications are due Monday September 24th and are especially welcome from folks in the Ohio River Valley and anywhere east of Mississippi.

We talk a lot about “genius” at the Skid Row School and how essential aligning with it is for being able to sustainably lead large-scale change. Our inspiration in this area is Gay Hendricks, many of you are familiar with his book, The Big Leap. Next week the sequel will be published, The Joy of Genius. Gay is offering a live video seminar for those who pre-purchase the book. I’ve already pre-purchased my copy. I have a feeling this one’s gonna be really good!

Upcoming Events

We had six spots open up at the October 23rd – 26th Skid Row School and we are currently accepting applications for our January 8th – 11th, 2019 Skid Row School. Additional 2019 dates coming soon!

We also welcome leaders who want to deepen their mastery of leading large-scale change to apply for our two-year fellowship. More info and an application here.