Month: November 2016

The Election of Donald Trump (and the Acquittal of O.J.)

screen-shot-2016-06-10-at-2-02-19-pmThe election of Donald Trump as President has been been a shock to many, leading to post-election analysis about how so many Americans could vote for someone so flawed and unqualified. In searching for answers, I found strange similarities to and deeper understanding from another pivotal moment in American history, the acquittal of O.J. Simpson.* Although not a perfect analogy, there are many more illuminating parallels than one might imagine, including:

  1. Part of the American Upper Class – O.J. Simpson found his way into the elite through football, winning the Heisman while at USC and an MVP award while with the Buffalo Bills, and eventually moved to Los Angeles to live among the Hollywood upper class. Donald Trump took a very different path, being born into the upper class through his inheritance and completing his status with brand recognition from his real estate empire, living in New York among the Manhattan upper class. In fact, Simpson and Trump even spent time together (as can be seen with the photo).
  2. Celebrity Status through Media – Although both Simpson and Trump were known, it was through TV and other means that they turned into household names. Simpson became a face of Hertz in a successful advertising campaign in the late 70s (becoming one of the first African-Americans to be featured in a national ad on TV) before going on to act in movies and appear in other shows. Trump’s The Apprentice, along with often being on other TV shows, dramatically increased his name recognition.
  3. Severe Character Flaws – Both Simpson and Trump share severe character flaws, including known mistreatment of women – Simpson, at a minimum, being guilty of domestic battery and Trump being caught saying lewd comments about women on tape.
  4. Moment of Reckoning – Simpson and Trump both ended up in a situation where their fates would be decided by voting; a predominantly African-America jury for Simpson and the American electorate for Trump.
  5. Groups with Grievances – Not related to the life that either Simpson or Trump led, many of the people who would vote to decide their fates had concrete grievances. For Simpson’s trial, many of the jurors were African-Americans deeply aware of the history of police violence against the African-American community. This includes Operation Hammer, gang sweeps in Los Angeles in the late 80s resulting in many arrests along with beatings and property damage to those not accused of any crimes. More importantly was the beating of Rodney King on tape, and the eventual acquittal of the police officers. For the election of Trump, it was the decline of de-industrializing America along with the lack of upper class empathy for the challenges faced, from plant closures, other job losses, and general malaise.
  6. Became a Symbol for Groups with Hardships – Strangely enough, both Simpson and Trump were able to become a symbol for dissatisfied segments of Americans that they had little to no interaction with. Simpson, living in white Hollywood, seemed to be unaware or willfully ignorant of the challenges between much of the Los Angeles African-American community and the police, and even cultivated good friendships with many of the LAPD members. Simpson was able to tap into the resentment of the police by being an African-American and having his lawyers call LAPD’s facts and integrity into question at every opportunity available. On the other hand, Trump’s business practices seemed to constantly take advantage of many Americans, whether by hiring illegal immigrants to pay below minimum wage, just not paying wages for work done (conveniently taking advantage of the fact many contractors didn’t have the money to sue for their wages), or constantly up selling a ‘get-rich’ educational investment that rarely provided much of value. However, Trump was still able to gain credibility among many Americans by constantly attacking the ‘elites’ and the media.
  7. Voting to Rebuke the Upper Class – For both Simpson and Trump, the results were at least partially intended to send a message to the upper class. The acquittal of Simpson was payback against a ‘corrupt’ LAPD that discriminated against African-Americans and Trump’s election was pushback against the ‘Hillary Clinton elites’ that included broken promises (lying), condescension (‘deplorables’), and a lack of a plan for new/replacement jobs (beyond ‘green energy’).
  8. Common Consensus Shock about Results– In both cases, the result went against conventional wisdom, as the media seemed to not understand or dismiss real grievances held. The O.J. Simpson trial was focused on Simpson and rarely framed in the context of African-American Los Angeles of the early 90s. In Trump’s election, the focus was mostly on Trump’s character flaws and controversies, instead of the challenges of de-industrializing America.

The comparison obviously has some flaws (the Rodney King beatings are not equivalent to the challenges of de-industrializing America, and Trump has not been accused of beating any of his wives), but there is a clear pattern of misunderstanding what matters. In both situations, the focus was on the individual, not the people behind making the decision, missing an opportunity to explore Simpson’s and Trump’s symbolic value to different groups. Despite being tremendously flawed symbols, Simpson and Trump were both present at the right time and were able to take advantage of deeply-held unhappiness that was not widely recognized.

As America continues to be separated, accepted wisdom will often be created based on a different set of criteria than the individuals with decision-making power. Whether it be the African-American community in Los Angeles in the 90s or de-industrializing America, hopefully we can do a better job being aware of the many challenges faced, addressing them, and thus preventing such flawed individuals from becoming powerful symbols for marginalized groups.

* ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America documentary as part of their 30 for 30 series is an excellent investigation into the O.J. Simpson phenomenon that much of this post is based on.
* Although Trump did win the election, I would be careful about overemphasizing the extent of his victory. Beyond losing the popular vote by a significant margin (to an extremely unpopular candidate), he still remains deeply unpopular in the U.S.


Leading Your Online Learning Team to Success

This post was originally written for the NovoEd blog here.

Team success is often dependent on cohesiveness and progress towards a goal. When teams meet in person, natural roles tend to emerge as teammates are able to relate to each other on an informal basis. However, virtual teams often depend more on a successful team lead to ensure success when there is not an in-person familiarity. As a virtual team lead on NovoEd, how can you effectively lead your team to the desired outcome? We have 4 tips:

1. Decide what size and type of team you are interested in

Depending on the course, focusing a team around a specified interest can help immediately by connecting with your teammates around a shared interest through the team name and/or description. When there is already a clear topic, goal, or area of interest already decided by the team lead before additional members request to join, we have seen that the team will have higher engagement.

Virtual teams function differently depending on the size. Smaller teams, for example with 3 or 4 members, are much less likely to require an active team lead as teammates are usually fairly equally active. As teams grow bigger, such as when they are 5 or more people, the team lead tends to play an increasingly important role in leading discussion and organization.

As the team lead – consider which type and size of team you prefer. What do you want to be a common area of interest for team members? Do you want a smaller, more intimate and engaged team, or a larger-sized team with more perspectives to enjoy?

2. Urge your teammates to state expectations and intentions

Once members start joining the team, introductions, both formal and informal are great starting points. For example, unusual questions and icebreakers are an excellent way to build informal trust within the team (i.e. “If you could have any wish granted, what would it be?”) Through building informal relationships with your teammates and understanding each other’s backgrounds, you and your team will be better equipped for collaboration

When in-person teams meet, such as at work, expectations have often been established (i.e. this group will meet one hour a week at this time). Online teams have have fewer established expectations – they must first be discussed. In an online learning environment like NovoEd, learners may have different intentions and goals, which can be a challenge when teammates often presume other members of the team to have the same goals and dedication.

As the team lead – consider how you want to encourage your teammates to share their expectations and a bit about themselves. What do you want your teammates to share beyond their location? What are the key things the team members should know about expectations and commitment? As the team lead, you have the unique ability to pose the first couple of questions and then let other team members continue the conversation.

3. Establish your team’s collaboration method and roles

Once your team understands the different intentions of team members and the instructions set up by the teaching team, it is then time to decide how to collaborate to work on the project at hand. If the collaboration discussion has not already begun, the team lead can be influential in starting the conversation about how the team will collaborate, whether it be using Google Docs or Hangouts. Effective teams have a clear structure to use different collaboration tools, and a good team lead will ensure this occurs.

Beyond how your team works together, it is important to clarify how team members contribute through different roles. In online and virtual teams, it can be easy lose track of different members of the team, but clear roles and responsibilities enable more accountability across the team. As team lead, you can start the discussion about roles and encourage team members to volunteer for different roles without directly assigning work to your teammates. Additionally, mixing up the responsibilities based on the project is an effective method of equally dividing up different roles.

As the team lead – it is important to ensure the team is on the same page about how your team will work together as well as how project roles and responsibilities are divided. Does your team understand how project will be accomplished? Do different members of the team understand their role and part in ensuring the project is successful?

4. Follow-up with absent teammates

Beyond setting the right tone with expectations and responsibilities, the most important role a team lead can play is encouraging teammates who fall behind. Having an occasional team member who rarely contributes may not have much of a negative impact impact, but if multiple members of the team fail to participate, the likelihood of success can drastically diminish. As team lead, you can follow-up and encourage other team members to participate what they can.

The first priority with teammates who are not actively participating is to reinforce their position as a team member and provide support. After all, if the team member joined a team, their intent was to be a part of the team, and you want to help them reach that goal! However, if a team member is currently unable to participate in the team, you can provide  them the option (through private messaging) to withdraw from the team so that they can more fully participate and learn with a new team, either in the current course offering or a future offering. Always assume positive intent when interacting with underperforming team members as one never knows what challenges they may be facing outside the course environment.

As the team lead – it is important to keep an eye out for those you can help. If someone falls behind, how can you best encourage their future participation? How can you ensure those who may not be able to participate fully in every activity to have roles in the other activities?


A successful team starts with a shared interest or goal, and is built upon trusting your teammates through understanding their expectations. Additionally, such teams will usually set clear roles and keep teammates honest. Once your team has been successful, make sure you celebrate and thank everyone for their contributions. Remember, your teammates are what make your NovoEd learning experience unique and special!