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 Please know there is zero debate among any of these experts I’m interviewing that our current education system is out of date and reproducing oppression, right now, at a school down the street from each of us.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.

Five Tactics for Disrupting Systems


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this notion that there might be two primary ways to go about accomplishing spread/scale in the social sector: broad and deep.

When I think about broad I think about getting an intervention to everyone who might benefit as quickly as possible, and doing so as a matter of justice. I think about Rotary Clubs (among many others like the World Health Organization, the US CDC and UNICEF) pulling together to ensure that every single child on the planet receives the polio vaccine. They helped the world go from 350,000 cases of polio in 1988 to 22 in 2017. I even read that they stopped the Civil War in Sudan for four days so that every child in that country could be immunized. Now that’s getting an intervention to everyone who might benefit! If you want to read more, it’s a truly inspiring story.

Broad is often good and I think it’s often the default mindset of many foundations and non-profits seeking to scale when they come to the Skid Row School. My only caveat to going broad is be sure your intervention is truly “read for prime time” by being attentive to any unintended consequences that might actually cause harm. Otherwise – get to it!

Then there’s deep. Deep doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, especially in a culture where more + bigger + faster = better. I want to put deep out there as equally valid with broad as a scaling objective. By scaling “deep” I mean fully transforming an existing system. This is not something I have as much experience with, but my hunch is going deep and broad can be complementary strategies.

A friend at the National Equity Project recommended this article to me: “Seven Lessons for Leaders in Systems Change” written by the folks at the Center for Ecoliteracy and I’m happy to share it with you. Cliff’s notes version – the lessons are:

  1. To promote systems change, foster community and cultivate networks.
  2. Work at multiple levels of scale
  3. Make space for self-organization
  4. Seize breakthrough opportunities when they arise
  5. Facilitate – but give up the illusion that you can direct – change
  6. Assume that change is going to take time
  7. Be prepared to be surprised

Alumni of the Skid Row School will note some similarities with this and our Model for Unleashing 1.0 (yes, we have a MFU 2.0 now) in that #4 and #7 map to “play jazz” and #5 maps to “lose control.”

This week I’ve been focusing in on Lesson #5: “Facilitate – but give up the illusion that you can direct – change.”  I want to share their instructions on #5 directly:

“So what can you do? In the provocative maxim of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, “You can never direct a living system. You can only disturb it.” How do you disturb a system? By introducing information that contradicts old assumptions. By demonstrating that things people believe they can’t do are already being accomplished somewhere. By inviting new people into the conversation. By rearranging structures so that people relate in ways they’re not used to. By presenting issues from different perspectives.”

What a breath of fresh air. This is a direct challenge to all of our inner control freaks, right? It’s true – we can’t control a system, but we sure can disrupt it – and they offer five concrete tactics ready for us to try today. I can think of a lot of systems and structures that could benefit from disruption, and this is useful for everything from our current (in)justice system to our organizations, no matter how big or small.

Whether you’re wanting to create change broad or deep, or both, I’m happy to share these five tactics as inspiration and provocation. I’m curious if any of these resonate for you and how it’s working out for you as you apply them. 

Disturb on!

Upcoming Events

We are currently accepting applications for our January 8th – 11th, 2019 Skid Row School.  October 2018 is sold out but we’d be happy to put you on the waitlist just in case a spot opens up.

We also have one remaining spot for an alumni who wants to join our two-year fellowship for personal and planetary transformation this September 25th – 27th, and two spots for leaders who’d want to start Feb 5th – 7th, 2019. More info and an application here.

It’s OK To Take A Nap


I just got up from a nap. And I had a bunch of other things to tell you about, but I realized what I most want to tell you today is the subject of today’s email: it’s OK to take a nap. 

It really is. I know the world is falling apart. I know you are a critical member of an essential team doing very important things in the world. And…it’s OK to take a nap. Or go for a mid-day walk in the park. Or leave early to take your kid to soccer practice. Or whatever, so long as it’s something that nurtures you

One of my all time favorite quotes is from EB White (yeah – Charlotte’s Web dude). He said, “I arise in the morning and am torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor it. This makes it hard to plan my day.”

I totally get it, EB. Me, too. And sometimes, I notice folks get so busy saving the world that they put savoring way on the back burner. 

Here’s the deal. Summer is almost over. Pretty soon we’ll all return to the hustle and bustle of fall and get busy squirreling away nuts for the winter. So now’s your chance!

Sometime over the next week, I encourage you to give yourself the gift of at least one hour that’s luxuriously nurturing for you. 

Because, you know…we need you out there. You are saving the world. And this is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Savor on, my friends,

Announcements from Friends & Alumni

In keeping with this week’s theme, Nicole Taylor – Skid Row School alum and faculty member for our fellowship, just released her first book A Joyful Pause: 52 Ways to Love Life. I am so looking forward to receiving my copy this weekend!

Many of you met one of our fellows, Michelle Molitor, when she was on the faculty at the Skid Row School. She is the founder of The Equity Lab and they are now accepting applications for the Nexus Fellowship. Organizations are asked to identify two representatives for a year-long experience to strengthen skills in race, equity, diversity, and inclusion, especially in the k-12.

LaShawn Chatmon and Kathleen Osta from the National Equity Project wrote this thought-provoking article for Ed Week: 5 Steps for Liberating Public Education from Its Deep Racial Bias for EdWeek. Please share with your favorite educators!

The Brookings Institute is hiring four positions related to scaling – a scaling lab researcher and a scaling lab facilitator each – for their work in Côte d’Ivoire and Jordan.

Upcoming Events

We are currently accepting applications for our January 8th – 11th, 2019 Skid Row School.  October 2018 is sold out but we’d be happy to put you on the waitlist just in case a spot opens up.

We also have one remaining spot for an alumni who wants to join our two-year fellowship for personal and planetary transformation this September 25th – 27th, and two spots for leaders who’d want to start Feb 5th – 7th, 2019. More info and an application here.

What Are You Committed To?


With the school year starting up and all the new beginnings associated with it, I think this is as good a time as any to ask yourself, “What am I committed to?”

It sounds simple enough, but my experience has been that the answer to that question – and what I do about it day to day – makes a huge difference in my effectiveness as a change leader. I’ve also found that actively making a new commitment, as in, “I commit to…” is a great catalyst to jump-start something new in my life.

One of the things we do at the Skid Row School is encourage leaders to commit to bringing their aim to fruition over the next 18 to 36 months. It’s one thing to “have” an aim – it’s another thing entirely to commit to it. I notice in myself there’s an energetic shift that occurs once I commit to something, whether I scribble it into a journal, or write it in big letters on a piece of flip chart paper or say it silently to myself.

On my staycation I had some time to reflect on what I am committed to and I arrived at a new commitment that I want to share with you here. By way of background, I grew up Catholic and one of the songs that I heard in my childhood had a line that went, “The wilderness will lead you to your heart where I will speak. Integrity and justice with tenderness you shall know.” If I close my eyes I can hear my Aunt Sharon singing that verse and if my heart could speak it would say, “Yeah. That.”

To unpack that a little I will share that I very much enjoy backpacking. When I go deep in the wilderness all that seems to be left of me is my truest self. When I think of integrity I think of the practices that I learned from the Hendricks Institute – reliable tools for returning to my own sense of wholeness. When I think of justice, I think of how can I take responsibility in my day-to-day for creating a world in which everyone gets what they need. When I think of tenderness, my judgement of myself is that I fall way short. I can do the fierce Mama Bear thing, and my kids do a great job of bringing forth my tenderness, but sometimes as I navigate the world sometimes I have some sharp elbows, and I feel sad about that.

All this to say – ahem – I feel excited to share my new commitment with you: I commit to grounding my life and my work in integrity, justice, and tenderness.

Now it’s your turn – what are you committed to? Or stated another way – what are you willing to commit to now? I’d love to hear your answers.

Big love to you,


Announcements from Friends & Alumni

Our friends at the National Equity Project are hiring a Project Manager for their Chicago, IL office. For what it’s worth, if the Billions Institute fails for some reason, my plan is to show up on the doorstep of NEP and beg them to give me a job doing pretty much anything. They are the real deal and they need some help!

Basho Mosko, another dear friend and one of the inventors of the “SWITCH dance,” asked me to spread the word that FuelEd is hiring an Evaluator for their Houston office, though remote work is an option. If NEP turned me down, my next call would be to Basho. 😉

Upcoming Events

We are currently accepting applications for our January 8th – 11th, 2019 Skid Row School.  October 2018 is sold out but we’d be happy to put you on the waitlist just in case a spot opens up.

We also have one remaining spot for an alumni who wants to join our two-year fellowship for personal and planetary transformation this September 25th – 27th, and two spots for leaders who’d want to start Feb 5th – 7th, 2019. More info and an application here.

Finding Joy In Trying Times


I hope this finds you well. I am fresh off a three-day workshop with one of my mentors, Katie Hendricks and I want to share my biggest a-ha discoveries with you in case maybe you’ve been struggling with something similar.

My intention for the workshop was to explore how I might experience joy in my life given all that is going on in the world. How can I feel joy when I know that our government still hasn’t returned hundreds of children to their parents? How can I feel joy when every other time I log onto facebook I read a post from Shaun King about another innocent black man who has been shot by the police. How can I feel joy when the current administration is giving the green light to corporations to pollute our water and our air? How can I feel joy when every week or two I learn about another mass shooting? Please feel free to add your own concerns about current events here, the point is there is no shortage of injustice and suffering in our own backyard, not to mention the rest of the world. 

I want to acknowledge that the injustice and suffering that I’m noticing is not necessarily new. It just seems to be pervasive and occurring on an accelerated timeline right now.

 These injustices are not ok by me. And. And. AND. I am married to my favorite person in the whole world aka my “hot wife.” We have two radiantly beautiful and healthy children. We live in a our dream house in a vibrant medium-sized college town with mountain views out our windows. I just took a yoga class (in the middle of the work day). So on this whole other level, my immediate day-to-day life is incredibly good. I feel so grateful for all that I am so blessed to enjoy in my life, and I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile my privilege and good fortune with the unfairness and suffering that I see all around me.

Perhaps you’ve wondered this, too.

Let me break it down for you in slow motion how this pattern unfolds for me.

I read or listen to the news or scroll my facebook feed and discover some new injustice or tragedy that has taken place. This has been a daily occurrence for me for a long time.

 I feel angry. An injustice has occurred. A boundary has been crossed. “This is not ok!” I say to myself. And anger is the appropriate response to an injustice or a boundary incursion. It’s biologically adaptive and it serves the purpose of producing the energy to restore that boundary.
Unfortunately, in this case, I don’t have the power to personally right the wrong or restore the boundary. Which catapults me into a second cycle where I then get stuck: I recognize that I’m not “big enough” or “powerful enough” to right the wrong, and then I feel scared. That takes me onto the drama triangle that we teach about in the Skid Row School. I start off in the victim position where I’m “at the effect of” forces more powerful than me. Then I might head on over to the villain position where I can go into a blame and criticism spiral and get that adrenaline hit from being right and self-righteous. And it is satisfying for a minute because I’m actually pretty good at diagnosing exactly what’s wrong and who is to blame (let me know if you ever need help with that). But it’s not deeply satisfying and for sure it doesn’t make things any better. Then I hop on over to the hero position where I figure out what I can do to make things a little bit better, and to be honest, it’s rarely more than a bandaid on a sucking chest wound. Then back to victim, then villain, then hero. I have spent more time in this triangle cycle than I’d like to admit for the past year or two.

When I was exploring this at the Hendricks workshop last weekend, we played a game where we drew a random card from this Integrity Card Deck (they’re inspiring works of art that I encourage you to check out for yourself). The particular card I drew said, “I listen to others accurately, appreciatively, and to invite wonder. In what ways can I learn to speak that are free of blame and invite wonder?”

 That’s when the lightbulb went off for me. Authentic communication is my reliable pathway off the drama triangle and back into creativity. I consider it an area of genius, if I do say so myself. Think about all the life energy I’ve been wasting on that drama triangle when I could have been creating authentic connection toward supporting the “us” that will grow in momentum and power to be able to right these injustices afterall! That’s where I am choosing to put my energy going forward: authentic communications in support of growing the us that will transform the planet.

 As I made this commitment to myself, another thing came to me: “Yes to authentic communications, WHEN YOU CHOOSE TO DO SO.” Which doesn’t have to be all the time. I have been vigilant on my social media feed making sure that no unconscious systemic racism slips by without comment or sharing the news of things I believe we should be collectively alarmed about. I watch and read the news to make sure I’m up to speed on the latest bad thing that’s happened. To be honest with you, I feel exhausted from it all.

One thing Katie Hendricks taught me years ago was how absolutely essential it is to consciously choose where to place my attention. I had forgotten that lesson. I have not been mindful about what inputs I have allowed. So over the past few days, I made some decisions to limit my information overload.

Last night I deactivated my Facebook account. I unsubscribed from Hulu Live. I deleted all the apps that are a source of upset from my iphone. I decided to leave my iphone to recharge in my home office each night so it doesn’t interfere with my quality time with my family. These are small tweaks but I believe they will free up a lot of creative energy for more important things! I will still listen to NPR but as my friend Nicki said, “Observe, don’t absorb.” I want to know what’s going on without triggering myself. And I commit to directing my energy toward the actions that are most likely to create the transformation I seek – authentic communications. I will focus on small and local knowing that will all add up.

There’s so much more redistributing of resources that will be necessary to create a more just world, and…attention is a resource. A big one at that.

 I am excited to see where these new commitments take me. I look forward to many authentic conversations with you and I want you to know that I LOVE hearing from you when you respond to these letters so please keep that up!

 Christine and I will be on staycation next week and I look forward to writing again the week of August 13th. Until then – be good to yourself and don’t be a stranger!



Staff Transitions

We are absolutely delighted to welcome Selena Liu Raphael to the Billions Institute team where she will be working as our Operations Coordinator. She comes to us with two decades of experience in the Child Welfare, specifically foster care, intensive treatment foster care and adoptions in Los Angeles and New York City. She was a supervisor at Five Acres and oversaw the social workers who supported the families who were fostering or adopting children.

In addition to being incredibly efficient and adaptable, she also has fantastic insights into human development and has a deeply compassionate approach to dealing with people.

It’s not on her official bio, but you should know that she was cast on a reality show that never aired called “When Women Rule the World.” Her natural leadership skills were so solid that she ended up being “Queen for a Very Long Time” and there was no drama (which is why it never aired). We are so thrilled to enjoy her calm and grounding leadership at the Billions Institute. She and her husband, Jordan, have three beautiful children and live just three blocks away from Becky in Claremont.

Carisa Speth, who was my virtual assistant now has room for one more client. For the past year, Carisa brought order to the chaos of my schedule and handled all my travel arrangements. She freed me up to focus on the most important things. I can’t say enough good about her and lucky you if you get my old spot! She can be reached at carisanspeth@gmail.com.

Sandy Hook is Hiring!

Our friends at Sandy Hook Promise are hiring part-time/contract Trainers (aka Promise Presenters) to help them deliver their programs to Middle and High Schools in the Bay Area and San Diego. Here’s the link for the application: https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/presenterapplication

Upcoming Events

We are currently accepting applications for our January 8th – 11th, 2019 Skid Row School. October 2018 is sold out but please email jennifer@billionsinstitute.com if you’d like to be put on the wait list.

We also have one remaining spot for an alumni who wants to join our two-year fellowship this September 25th – 27th, and two spots for leaders who’d want to start Feb 5th – 7th, 2019. More info and an application here.

Small Tests Shall Set You Free


Believe it or not, this was a “thing.” 

Hey friends,

If your indoctrination about what it means to be a leader or a manager was anything remotely like mine, it’s possible that you have some notion of “needing to control others” wrapped into your self-concept.

My memory might be a little bit foggy, but I think I remember the old definition of leadership at West Point in the late 80’s being something along the lines of “getting people to do what they don’t want to do.”

At the Billions Institute we come at things from a different point of view. Our Model for Unleashing (orchestrating the loss of control of thousands of people moving in the desired direction) doesn’t ask “how can I get these people to do what I want them to do?” Rather, we start with, “how can I help all these people doing what they want to do?”

Easier said than done, but if you, like me, have a daily wrestling match with your inner control-freak, here’s one short story I offer for your consideration.

I am dating myself with this example, but back in the 1970s there was a fabulous commercial on one of the four TV stations (I’m talking before remote controls here, people) in which happy hippies picked packs of Juicy Fruit gum off a massive tree of seemingly endless packs of Juicy Fruit Gum. Think I’m making this up? See for yourself.  I mean, if only there were trees like this, right? Who’d leave their yard?

So five or six year old Becky decided, “I’m gonna grow me one of those trees.” I didn’t have a pack of Juicy Fruit, but I did have one cardboard textured piece of pink Bazooka Joe bubble gum. I dug a hole in my back yard, planted the piece of Bazooka Joe gum, covered it up with some dirt, and diligently watered it every single day, trusting in my soul that soon a bubble gum tree would emerge!

Well…a few days passed and my patience couldn’t stand it anymore. So, I dug up the gum. Then I ate it. Yup. I ate the gum. That had been buried in the yard.

So what help is that story for you and your inner control-freak?

What do you think would have happened if I had asked my parents permission to plant a Juicy Fruit tree in the back yard and they said, “Heck no, weirdo kid. That’s the most foolish thing we’ve ever heard! It’ll never work. It will be a waste of precious resources. Here’s what you need to do instead….[lecture, lecture, lecture, word, word, word, insert helicopter parenting technique here].

Probably for a couple months I would have thought with resentment, “I betcha it would have worked. Adults don’t know anything!”  Or I would have secretly done it anyway. Or I would have lost my curiosity or willingness to try things on my own and sat around like a cow waiting for instructions on age-appropriate activities.

Here’s the thing. Adults are just grown-up kids. And tapping into our curiosity and our willingness to try new things are absolutely essential building blocks for doing anything that makes any difference at all in the world. So I think the name of the game is to nurture and encourage curiosity and willingness to try new things whenever possible.

Obviously you don’t want your team to become a complete free-for-all, olly-olly-all-oxen-free utterly lacking in discipline gaggle of folks. The key to unleashing curiosity and agency while not completely losing control is three things:

  1. Aims – how much, by when?
  2. Measures – how will we know as we go?
  3. Small, rapid-cycle tests.

I want  to grow Juicy Fruit tree (aims). I will know I have one if anything remotely resembling a Juicy Fruit tree starts to grow where I planted my gum (measures). If it doesn’t work, I’ll eat the gum. (small test).

No harm, No foul. Lots of learning.

I think the ideal time frame for small tests is a week or two. I look for opportunities in team meetings to say, “You should totally try that! Do you think you could report back to us on what you learned in a week or two?” Even if they’re going down the grown-up version of the Juicy Fruit tree failure, I know that’s ok because we’ll only lose a week, but we’ll gain their growing curiosity and sense of agency. And who knows – there’s just as good a chance they’ll discover something brilliant and game-changing.

Play on!

Upcoming Events

We are currently accepting applications for our January 8th – 11th, 2019 Skid Row School. October 2018 is completely sold out but please email jennifer@billionsinstitute.com if you’d like to be put on the wait list.

We also have one remaining spot for an alumni who wants to join our two-year fellowship this September 25th – 27th, and two spots for leaders who’d want to start Feb 5th – 7th, 2019. More info and an application here.