I haven’t spent a lot of time in church, but I have spent enough time to know what kind of sermon I like and what kind of sermon I don’t.  A sermon has to have personal relevance, a clear message, and still be an engaging and living performance.  After all, if it wasn’t a performance, I could sleep in, make a nice cup o’ joe and read it in my PJs.

The Art of Instigating, by Tom Morkes, makes me feel like I’ve just come out of church.  There was personal relevance, the message was fairly simple and clear and, boy did I get a performance!  Morkes is a West Point grad and Iraq War vet and a lot of his story is couched in military terms.  Makes sense.  Write what you know.  He speaks of the enemy and battles and insurgency.  It’s exciting!  I just wonder if the portion of performance to message is a little bit off.  I feel like I got a bit too much fire and brimstone and not quite enough, “this is what I’m talking about and this is how you can make it yours.”  Likely, this is all personal preference, and even if the writing itself isn’t exactly my cup of tea, it is short (70 sparse pages) and there is enough in there to think about to make it worth the time invested.

Morkes’s message is that we need to instigate rather than follow.  We need to take the bull by the horns and create something of personal relevance and value and he provides some suggestions as to how to do that.  He’s clearly well read and is able to draw in a number of supporting quotes to highlight his message.  But he does leave me scratching my head in a couple of key places.

I am left wondering about the us vs them approach to instigators vs authority.  He says that both have value, but you can only be one or the other.  You’ve got to pick your side (and, at the end of the day, instigating is the side that you should choose).  I wonder about those of us who aren’t entrepreneurs, business owners or otherwise self-employed.  I love teaching, in part because it is almost like being self-employed, at least in my situation.  I have autonomy over how curriculum or services are delivered within the context of government curriculum, school missions, and department goals.  At the end of the day, what matters is how my students learn and, to a large degree, I am in control of that.  I can instigate and innovate in my class and in my school Learning Commons.  Even if I do have to conform, to a degree, to the demands of a greater authority.

Likewise, while I may be instigating within my class or environment, I have students under me who work within the constraints of my ideas.  To them, I am the authority, even if I try to give them as much freedom to have control of their own learning and instigate and innovate within that.  Is Morkes’s message that these students need to get out of school and be instigators of their own learning?  That would certainly work for a small handful, but…  And how does this work in the military?  Clearly, there is no better model of authority and hierarchy.  Does a soldier who is an instigator go out and start his own army?  There is a balance here, and while I understand that there are differences in perspectives between the instigator and the authority, I think that it is possible to live in a middle ground where two hats are worn, or at least changed regularly.

I enjoyed The Art of Instigating, and as I said, for the investment of money (pay what you want) and time (an hour or two), it’s a good little pep talk to get off my ass and get something done!


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