“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” – Bil Keane
Halloween is this Sunday. Christmas is just two months from today. Can you believe it? As I stare out my dining room window, I notice the trees are beginning to paint themselves with the beautiful colors of fall. The brilliant reds, gilded yellows and warming browns highlight against the faded greens. Nature’s parade of time strikes a chime, reminding us that the year’s last act is on the stage.
I love this time of year. The cool crisp autumn breeze and ever-increasing autumn nights seem to pull a thick dark relaxing blanket over the mind. Melancholy and hope dance. There is rising optimism and wistful reflection, thinking back and looking forward. We remember and we plan.
Reflecting back on the year, I know it has been challenging for all of us. There has been a lot of change. We have seen wonderful successes, painful losses, personal victories and sometimes even discouraging defeats. So much has changed since the start of the pandemic. Yet, so much is still the same. This time of the year we get to relive the delightful nostalgia of our past while reaching forward with hope to grab the future.
Can I suggest something? Stop for a few moments today and disconnect. Take a walk, maybe even in the rain, or stare out the window. Reflect on this past year, dream about the coming holidays, but don’t forget to soak in the present. The act is on stage right now. It’s beautiful. Savor it.
Thanks for all the great memories and intoxicating hope for the future.
“The more deeply one drinks of this spring, the more securely one becomes in one’s own abundant happiness, the more bountiful it becomes to relish the joy of other people.”
Have you ever entered a room where you didn’t know anyone but where everyone was excited, happy and enthusiastic and suddenly found yourself feeling the same way? Or perhaps you happened to witness a heated debate or argument and suddenly felt angry, frustrated and anxious? Maybe you are watching a movie, a show or a theatrical presentation and suddenly feel connected to the story in a visceral way, with fear, anger, disgust, sadness and joy. If so, you can thank your mirror neurons for those fun experiences. Researchers in cognitive neuroscience have been trying to figure out why we have mirror neurons and their specific benefits to us. It appears that at least for one thing, the mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy. I don’t know about you, but I’m immensely grateful to have these, and especially grateful that you have them too!
Mudita. In Spanish that word means “mute”, but in Pāli and Sanskrit it has a completely different meaning. In fact, you will find an equivalent word in many languages around the world sometimes even represented by a single character. That is, all but English. We don’t have an equivalent word. For us, it would translate to something like, “sympathetic joy”. It is the overwhelming feeling of pleasure that comes only from a vicarious delight in the well-being of others. In other words, it is feeling immense happiness for the happiness of others.
Some adversaries of mudita are jealousy, envy and derision. Mudita can heal these poisons and untap a reservoir of happiness. Many of our world religions teach the virtues of drinking in this joy. They encourage celebrating the delight and achievement of others, even when we are facing tragedy ourselves. “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” The real challenge is to cultivate mudita even in a world often full of misery.
We are wired for mudita, with our mirror neurons helping us, but do we really experience it as we should? Or do we find that we live in more of a manic state, seeking and reaping things for ourselves while missing the real treasure of joy that comes from celebrating with others? I’m definitely guilty of that. We should be in the business of the happiness of others that we may be happy too.
Mudita is flowering all around us. Let’s not miss it. Grasp the moments as they come. Absorb the incredible joy that can be ours when we step out of ourselves and rejoice at the blessings of others. I suggest we all take time this week, stop and smell the fragrance of those mudita blooms.
“I was a fixer, a builder – an inventor – ever since I can remember.” – Tom Scholz
I love this time of year. The mornings are nice and cool (11C) but can still warm up in the afternoon (32C). Our neighbors have decorated their homes with Fall and Halloween decorations. Target has a mile-long line of candy aisles and we do our best to replicate that in our home.
I confess, I have an addiction. No, not the candy, I can meter that fairly well. My real addiction is my obsession to fix things. I can’t stand it when something is broken or a system is down. It drives me crazy. I am compelled to get it working. This past weekend, my obsession was our new Tesla Solar system. It all began with our decision to get solar a year ago…
After research and talking with several solar companies, we decided on a small 8.5kW Tesla Solar plus Powerwall system. The main reason for our decision was the low cost, handsomely framed panels and the whole house backup capability. There were several good offers out there, but we were delighted when Tesla came in with the lowest price. I’m very cheap, I admit, I love a good deal. What we didn’t realize is that the way Tesla beat the market was to remove some of their overhead, mainly in the area of customer service. That translated into a lot of waiting and frustration.
Our system was finally installed last month and during commissioning, the first signs of trouble started showing up. The installers downloaded the latest software updates but were unable to get the Solar Panels to work correctly. The solar assembly was only producing 160W in full sun. They tried for hours, upgrading, rebooting and calling. They eventually gave up after showing me that the Powerwall could power our house if they cut the mains. They explained that Tesla would send out a software patch to fix the Solar panels, most likely.
I contacted our Tesla Advisor to report the problem and to see if they had an update. After several days of emailing, texting and calling, I received a note from the advisor that he would contact the electricians about the problem. I spent another week requesting updates but my Advisor had gone radio silent. It turns out that this is a common experience with Tesla. Assuming best intentions, I can only imagine that the Tesla teams are understaffed and overwhelmed. Regardless, it all results in a very frustrating experience for the consumer. I escalated and was finally told that they could schedule a service appointment on Dec. 14th. Seriously?!
We had all this gear in place. We had these beautiful solar panels, high tech Powerwalls and all the gear to drive it. But none of it was working. Tesla’s mistake was bringing all of this into my home. I can’t help myself. My addiction set in. I have to fix it. So, I did. I began poking around, measuring voltages, sniffing the system’s communication links, and researching all of the modules that make up the system.
I finally found the issue. I discovered a WiFi based metering system Tesla had used was defective. I reprogrammed and recommissioned the system. It came online and for the first time ever, we had full solar energy powering our house and charging our Powerwalls. Our home had gone green and we were 100% powered by the sun! I love making things work.
Reflecting back on this experience it occurred to me that this is a lot of what we do. In technology, we are often the Sherpas that help our business partners reach their destination. Sometimes it requires research, investigation, designing, hacking, and even reprogramming to arrive at a reliable and operative solution. All along the way, our partners are depending on us to be the experts to creatively solve problems, fix what is broken and deliver a working solution that helps them, our businesses and organizations deliver the best outcomes as we can.
Thank you all for being the fixers. You substantially make a difference to the world!
If you want the gory details on my investigation and fix you can read them here.
After research and talking with several solar companies, we decided on an 8.5kW Tesla Solar plus Powerwall+ system with their new high efficiency 425W panels. The main reason for our decision was the low cost, handsomely framed panels and the whole house backup capability. Other solar companies had good backups systems but we did not find any who would provide whole house backup. And, more importantly, we were delightfully surprised to see that Tesla came in with the best price. Having said that, we would soon discover that they seemed to have significantly reduced overhead by mostly eliminating customer service.
25 September 2021
After ordering, reviewing designs, applying for HOA and City approval, we were finally ready to get the system installed. Two different crews arrived over a span of a week to get the system installed. The panels went on first. The panel install crew was professional and friendly. However, when they left I noticed that the handsome skirts (frames) we were so excited about were only installed on the front of the house (street facing roof). It looked great but I had expected to get them on the back as well. I reported it and in just a few days a technician came out and added the skirts to the back roof panels. He explained that they usually only install the skirts on the front. So, please note, if you want skirts on all your panels, make sure you let them know in advance. Also, the skirts are only put on the left, right and bottom. There are no skirts on the top to allow heat to escape from the panels during the hot summer.
While installing the skirts for the back, I noticed one of the panel edges was sticking up about 1/2″ higher than the rest. The technician tried to fix it but he didn’t have all the tools. He only had what was needed to install the skirts. He asked me if I had a Torx T30 driver. I didn’t but he explained how I could adjust the panels myself. I picked up a T30 at our Newhall True Value store. I climbed up on the roof and found the adjustment area. I used a vice grip on the screwdriver to get enough leverage (mostly because I’m pretty weak especially when I’m up on the roof). I was able to lower the panel 1/2″ so it was flush. It looked beautiful.
A week later, another crew showed up to wire it in and commission the system. This meant a day without power, but we were prepared for that. I tried not to be a nuisance, but couldn’t help but watch and ask questions. I made sure all of the crew had plenty of bottled water, Gatorade and snacks, including ice cream candy bars since it was so hot. They installed the Powerwalls in our garage and wired in the breaker panels and Tesla Gateway by the utility meter. After everything was installed, they powered it up and began the commissioning process.
During commissioning, the first signs of trouble started showing up. The installers downloaded the latest software updates but were unable to get the Solar Panels to work correctly. The solar assembly was only producing 160W in full sun which doesn’t even show up in the app. They tried for hours, upgrading, rebooting, calling. They eventually gave up after showing me that the Powerwall could power our house if they cut the mains (based on 22% charge from the factory). They explained that Tesla would send out a software patch to fix the Solar panels, most likely.
I contacted our Tesla Advisor to report the problem and to see if they had an update. After several days of emailing, texting and calling, I received a note from the advisor that our inspection would be scheduled in 3-4 weeks and he would contact the electrician about the problem. I spent another week requesting updates but my Advisor had gone radio silent. It turns out that this is a common experience with Tesla. Assuming best intentions, I can only imagine that the advisors are understaffed and overwhelmed. Regardless, it all results in a very frustrating experience for the customer.
I did manage to finally get an update and a promise to further investigate the issue. While I waited, I decided to do some more research on the system to see if I could find the problem myself…
HIGH VOLTAGE WARNING: I need to stop here and remind everyone that these systems contain extremely high voltages and are dangerous. Hopefully it goes without saying, but please be careful if you poke around inside these electrical boxes. High voltage can be fatal.
You can connect to the Tesla Gateway by scanning the QR code inside the box. It will have your phone connect to the Gateway’s access point. You will need to stay close to the gateway if you connect this way (and browse to https://192.168.91.1). However, keep in mind that it is also connected to your home network and if you know how to find the IP address, you can point your browser to that IP and login as the Installer to see more details about the system. Your browser will likely require that you ignore the security certificate warning (more on this in the observations section below) and you will need to toggle the power switch to one of your Powerwalls but it will let you in. That is essentially their 2nd factor system to ensure you are authorized. Here is what my system looked like after installation on the main screen and on the “System” screen :
The System screen also shows details about the solar generation, Powerwalls and power usage:
Below the above list was a section for “Remote Meter” that would occasionally appear. This was particularly interesting:
Remote Meter (Vxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) CT 1 (Solar): —W
That seemed odd. Also when I clicked on the solar panel icon on the main screen, it would say “Stale Meter Data” – that had me wondering if the solar meter was the real issue.
I first disabled the Solar Assembly by clicking “Disable” on the System screen.
I opened up the Inverter, the box above the first Powerall. There is a small latch on the bottom that will unlock and let the panel swing up. I found a wooden dowel to prop it open so it would bang on my head the whole time I was investigating.
I noticed that there was a box on the right that had a “n” LED flashing. The code on the box was the same code that was listed as the “Remote meter” in the system’s display (the one showing no power). Some more research and I discovered that this module is a Neurio W2-Tesla WiFi based current reader that sends the solar power data to the Gateway.
Neurio was recently purchased by Generac but you can still find manuals and some models for sale online. This particular model, W2, has been customized for Tesla. It is designed to connect to the access point of the Tesla Gateway and send the solar power data.
CT-1 Amp Probe Wire
The Neurio has a wire plugged in to the top in the CT-1 (current transformer) port. I traced it over to the solar inverter where a clamp is wrapped around the solar inverter output AC line to measure the amperage. I re-seated that connector.
I then noticed that there was an antenna jammed below it that was tucked to the left, under the massive metal inverter shield. I turned the antenna to the right, in the open unshield space.
As soon as I did these two things, the LED “n” on the box began to change and a tune started coming out of the box. It sounded like “I am connected now”. The flashing “n” became a solid blue light.
I went back to the System screen and re-activated the Solar Assembly by clicking “Enabled”. This takes several minutes and you will see the system go through and activate the solar arrays, test relays and impedance before the assembly comes online.
As soon as the Solar Assembly came online, I started seeing kW of power show up on the Systems screen. 5800W of power was coming in, fully powering the house and charging the Powerwalls!
Not so fast…
Sadly, just two hours later my elation was destroyed. The solar energy dropped back to zero.
I checked the inverter. Sure enough, the Neurio was flashing again. I attempt the above process again, several times, but no joy this time. It would chime and go green, but then started flashing again. Based on my research, the Neurio connects to the Tesla Gateway WiFi only. The beeps and flashes indicate that it is unable to connect to the Gateway WiFi.
One thought I had was to reach out to Neurio (which is now owned by Generac) to see if they could provide the API, pinout or schematics for the W2 device so I could troubleshoot at the firmware and component level. When I contacted them, Generac replied that the serial number for my device contains proprietary firmware by Tesla that they cannot support. They recommend that I contact Tesla at: 888-518-3752. Oh well, it was worth a shot.
I love a challenge. In fact, when something isn’t working, it is almost an addiction to me. I have to figure it out and fix it! So, I had two thoughts at this point. First, I wanted to see what the Neurio was actually doing. I thought about setting up an ESP8266 to be an WiFi access point to intercept the Neurio’s communication attempts with the Gateway. But before I do that, it occured to me, I wonder what would happen if the system didn’t have a solar meter at all. In my investigation, I discovered that the solar power meter feature is often an add-on or post-install enhancement. Maybe this was more of an add-on feature than a requirement?
At the minimum, I wanted to see if there are alternatives to the Neurio in the Tesla configuration. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to edit this data. I discovered that settings could only be set during the initial setup time. That would require running the setup wizard again. I decided to be bold and fire up the installation Wizard. At the bottom of the system portal is the “Run Wizard” link. Of course, I clicked it.
WARNING: I’m fairly confident that you can completely break your Tesla Solar setup using the Wizard, maybe even disable power to your house permanently. It is intended for installers. I’m taking the risk, but you should consider this first and be cautious about proceeding. I’m also fairly confident I’m going to void something in the process, but if you put something in my house, fair game, I must hack.
The wizard is straightforward. It requires you to Stop the system, but the settings are mostly intuitive. When I arrived at the Meter screen, it had 3 different meters displayed. I apologize, I did not take screenshots but will update this blog if I capture them in the future but the screens are very basic.
Two of the sensors were for the built-in CT’s used to measure the power in the Tesla Backup Gateway (you can see them on the main bus if you open the Gateway panel – which I did).
These tested extremely fast (subsecond) were working correctly and tested “good”. The third meter, a WiFi meter, was the Solar Meter (Neurio) and it’s status was Error, unable to connect. I clicked the connect button which reported it would take 3 minutes to configure the WiFi sensor. No shock, it didn’t work. I tried it 3 more times. The “Advanced” drop down allows you to add MAC address and IP, but this didn’t help. There was a “Delete” button. I thought it might be worth a try to delete and re-add. At the bottom were options to add “WiFi” or “Wired” CTs. I tried to add the Neurio (WiFi) again, multiple times, rebooting the Neurio occasionally to see if that would help. Nothing.
Here is where something interesting happened. The Wizard would NOT let me advance because the WiFi sensor was not healthy (connected). Hum… Well, I figured I would just have to delete it to see what other screens I could find in the Wizard. I deleted the Neurio. I advanced to the next screen and was presented with a “Warning – you do not have a solar sensor selected.” Naturally, I ignored that and continued.
Commissioned! I completed the Wizard setup and the system came back online. Surprisingly, the system screen looked basically the same but the dynamic flow diagram was actually working. There were no sensor errors or warnings. Power was flowing from the Grid to the House. It was the middle of the night so I signed off and went to bed.
I know what you are thinking. This is dangerous, right? I mean, we seemed to have removed solar power observability from the platform. Will the Gateway and Inverter sill know what to do? Well, it turns out… it does!
The Power of the Sun
Next morning, I woke to discover solar generation was charging the powerwalls and our house was completely powered by the sun! I still want Telsa to fix the Neurio or, better yet, provide some hardwire CT to monitor Solar power generation. I’m assuming that the display below means that the Gateway is computing the the solar generation based on other CTs. In any case, my workaround is in place and we now have a working system again.
As I’m looking at my phone, I realize… I’m holding the power of the sun in the palm of my hand. Yes, that is a geeky Doc Ock reference. We are now powering our home with an ancient but reliable and self-regulating, thermonuclear fusion reactor… our sun.
The Return of Tesla
1 November 2021
I gave up on waiting on Tesla to respond to me about the Neurio. I figured it didn’t matter since I had a working system. A month after the install and I still didn’t have an inspection date. Then it happened. I received a text message and email from Tesla that my inspection was scheduled. There was NO DATE or TIME given. Instead of asking, I figured it didn’t matter. We would see what would happen.
The day of inspection had arrived. A surprise knock on the door and there was Ishmael from Tesla. He explained he was there to meet with the City inspector for the final inspection. I showed him the gear, the Powerwalls, the gateway and the breaker panels. He looked at me and asked, “Did the install crew not put on the warning labels?” Nope.
This was something I had noticed after the installers left. In the Tesla plans are specific instructions on where to place the red warning labels on all of the gear. It includes a helpful diagram for anyone wanting to know how to kill all power in case of emergency. I had raised this issue with my project advisor a few times, but as usual, told me he would look into it and of course, nothing happened. I explained this to Ishmael who rolled his eyes and expressed apologies and said he would need to call to get the labels or it would not pass inspection. He would wait for the delivery and get them installed and ready for the City.
Shortly after meeting Ishmael, another Tesla vehicle pulled up. I figured it was the inspection stickers, but instead, it was Rocío, a Quality Assurance technician. She told me that her job was to make sure everything was installed correctly and running. I almost hugged her! I expressed my delight and appreciation that she would check on us. I explained everything that happened including how the installers said it must have been a Tesla software bug and gave up after trying for hours to get it work. I also told her about the Neurio hack I had done to get it working. She was shocked, sympathetic and determined to fix the issue.
Naturally, Rocío attempted to reset the Neurio and discovered the same thing that I did, with the exception that she was able to get the Neurio to work if she held the connector, pressing on it in a certain way. “There is clearly something wrong with the hardware and it needs to be replaced,” she concluded. I hate to be cynical, but I was definitely thinking this new chapter in my Tesla adventure would turn into an multi-week RMA, repair order and a return visit that may get scheduled sometime next year, if I’m lucky.
To my delight, Rocío looked straight at me and said, “And we’re going to get this fixed today!” She was right! She made a phone call and 30 minutes later another Tesla van showed up with the replacement Neurio!
Rocío got it working. Less than 30 minutes later she had the entire system back online and working correctly. “That’s amazing!” I told her. She clearly saw my astonishment and said, “I used to be an installer, I know what’s needed.” Well, that was completely accurate. She didn’t stop there. She examined all the gear and climbed up on the roof to ensure all the panels were in good order.
Shortly after the good news, the warning labels arrived and were attached to the new gear, ready for the official inspection. I started passing out my sincere appreciation, candy bars, water and Gatorade to these brilliant Tesla soldiers that had come to save the day. After bidding farewell to our new friends, Rocío drove off on her shiney white stallion… uh, I mean Tesla van.
About 30 minutes later, the City Inspector arrived and after a quick survey of the installed gear with Ishmael, signed his approval. Now we are on to the Permission to Operate (PTO) by Southern California Edison.
3 November 2021
I should definitely learn to be more guarded in my optimism about this Tesla adventure. After two days of having the new Neurio re-installed, I started noticing something odd. After solar production when I would expect the Powerwalls to kick in and power the house, I would see grid power start to show up and the Powerwalls drop to zero. It would only last for a few minutes then return to normal operations. Looked at the Powerwall Monitor I set up and can even see the grid power spiking during the day when solar production was more than enough to power the house.
The grid power spikes did not exist before the new Neurio. I went out to look at the inverter. The Neurio’s purple light was mostly solid but would “flicker” blue. It was random, like a candle flame not like the error condition of the previous Neurio. It was happening constantly as I watched. When the flickering would get bad, I would see the powerwall drop to zero and grid power surge. There seemed to be a correlation. At any rate, I wasn’t going to let the flickering continue.
HIGH VOLTAGE WARNING: I need to stop here again and remind everyone that these systems contain extremely high voltages and are dangerous. Hopefully it goes without saying, but please be careful if you poke around inside these electrical boxes. High voltage can be fatal.
I powered off the Neurio by unplugging the power next to the antenna at the bottom. I noticed the antenna was once again tucked under the massive shield. I guess that was the typical install. I changed it so it was pointing away from the inverter shield and reworked the cables to plug it back in. The Neurio went through the startup (flashing, then solid green, then blue and then purple). I watched it for a while and noticed it stayed solid purple, no flickering.
I don’t know if this was a fix or a sign of things to come. Other people have reported similar problems with the Neurio, including a YouTube video on how to reset it the way I did. It is rather shocking how unreliable this little box is. I understand it is a “revenue grade” meter which is likely why Tesla is using it, allowing them to report “Solar Renewable Energy Credits” (SRECs). The Inverter itself seems to have a decent meter without the Neurio which is why my workaround hack worked while waiting for the Neurio replacement. If the reset doesn’t work, I will likely revisit my “fix.”
5 November 2021
So it has been a few days after the power cycle, antenna adjustment and rewiring. The system has been stable. There are no more unexpected grid spikes in the solar or powerwall powering phases. Fingers crossed!
I’ll keep posting updates here.
The Tesla Solar system has been an adventure for us. I don’t regret going with Tesla even though they have improvement areas, especially related to consumer experience. We love the look of the panels and the equipment. In typical Tesla fashion, the design is stunning and feels like quality. If you do select Tesla Solar, my advice is to plan on being the project manager. Stay on top of the details to keep things moving and make sure items are not dropped. And, if you are lucky, you might even get a visit from Rocío too!
While a similar adventure may not be for everyone, if you are in the market for a Solar system, I still highly recommend checking out Tesla’s options. Use this link and you can save $300 if you do order and I get a reward too: http://ts.la/jason50054
Monitoring – The Tesla App and web based portal present great animations showing the solar generation and usage. Of course, I needed a scripted way to pull this information for my own use (trending, graphing and automation). Here is a simple python module pyPowerwall to pull data from the Powerwall Gateway using your “customer” credentials: https://github.com/jasonacox/pypowerwall
Powerwall Display – I wanted to see the current solar generation and state of the Powerwall on a simple LED display. I 3D printed a case and installed the display and an ESP8266 WeMos controller. Instructions are here: https://github.com/jasonacox/Powerwall-Display
I took note of several areas of concern and improvement during my investigation and problem solving. I have recorded them here.
WPA TKIP Command Access Point – The Tesla Gateway uses this weaker method to host its WiFi access point. As I discovered the Neurio uses this same access point to send Solar Power data (if it works). WPA TKIP has been dropped due for security reasons and more modern access points use WPA2 and AES encryption (WPA2-AES).
HTTPS Security Certificate – The HTTPS certificate the Gateway uses will create a browser warning (or error) when you go to the system control portal, either via your home network or via the access point at https://192.168.91.1.
Second Factor – For setup, the user is required to toggle the switch on a Powerwall as a 2nd factor to prove authorization, which is a good thing. That works well for me since my Powerwalls are locked in my garage, but if your Powerwalls are outside next to the Gateway, an attacker on-location could easily join and toggle without you even knowing.
IoT Sensors – The main problem on my system was the Neurio W2 WiFi based sensor. This IoT device sends back power data it measure to the Gateway controller. Generally, this is an elegant way to handle transmitting sensor data between systems without having to wire things. The irony is that the Gateway and Inverter already have several wires and control signal between them. Why not add another wire and avoid any WiFi communication outages? Hopefully I will be able to replace my Neurio with a wired solution.
Solar System Plan – I asked the Tesla Advisor to provide me with the design plans developed for the City Permit. They do not provide this without asking. I am glad I asked. The plans have all the schematics for the wiring as well as the layout. I discovered several things that I wanted changed and was able to get them to update before they came onsite. If you wait until they come onsite, they may not have the materials to make the adjustment and, worse, could charge you for any changes.
I found the following github projects, references and diagrams during my investigation into my Tesla Solar Adventure. I’m pasting them all here to be helpful for anyone else experiencing the same problems. The information may not be directly related but could provide a clue.
“We were born to be free, to expand our horizons by going where we have never gone before, and not to hang out in the relative comfort and safety of the nest, the known. There is a place within us that is courageous beyond our human understanding; it yearns to explore beyond the boundaries of our daily life.” – Dennis Merritt Jones
My mom was a teacher. She taught 3rd grade most of her career. Growing up, my friends thought it was great that my mom was a teacher, but it wasn’t always great for me. Most kids got sent to the principal’s office for acting up or misbehaving. Not me! I got sent to my mother’s classroom. Corporal punishment was still in play and the principal proudly hung his “board of education” paddle on the wall of his office as a deterrent. I would have preferred a meeting with that “board” any day, if I could have avoided being sent to my mom’s classroom. I can still picture the horror on her face as the teacher explained my activity and then hearing the stern, “Just wait till we get home.”
It seemed like most of my “acting up” happened during recess and on the playground. I guess it was an irresistible smorgasbord of trouble waiting for me, but really, I just loved experimenting. I tested Newtonian physics of balls bouncing off all sorts of surfaces, including other kids. I loved exploring fencing techniques with pretend light saber sticks and branches. I even helped other kids prove or disprove their own theories. A cute little girl with glasses and a confident attitude once declared to me an axiom, “You can’t hit a person with glasses.” Much to her dismay, I was able to prove her wrong. I fully expected to be thanked if not awarded some scientific prize for my discovery, but instead, I was granted another visit to my mother’s classroom, one that had particular impact on me, literally.
Recess! What a glorious thing. There are a lot of life lessons that you can learn during recess. You also get a chance to see curious characteristics of our human traits on display. One particularly interesting observation my mom made was the power of fences. Having had the opportunity to work in many schools with different playgrounds, she noticed that when kids went out to play, if there was no fence, the kids would huddle together, close to the building or by the door. Nobody ventured out very far. When there was a fence, the kids would scatter and run all the way out to the edges, running up and down the fence line. Why is that?
For those kids, the fences created a sense of safety, confidence and certainty. With that in place, the kids used the entire space to explore, create adventures and have fun together. I believe there is a good leadership lesson here. We often talk about unleashing the potential of our team by empowering individuals to creatively solve problems, take on responsibility and innovate. A good leader can help us manage the unknowns by bringing clarity, direction, and expectations. They also promote psychological safety by establishing a culture that avoids the blame game, encourages risk and values continuous learning. Those structures help us navigate, explore and create results without fences. But that is only part of the story.
The leadership lesson here also applies to us individually. So much of our life and the world we live in has no fences. It can be intimidating. Our human tendencies, evoking survival instincts at times, will be to huddle close to what we know, where we feel safe, secure, confident and comfortable. But if we do that, we miss out on the greater prospects and the rewards that can be waiting for us. We need to take bold risks. We should gather our courage and set out on an adventure into the unknown. Experimenting, exploring, discovering, creating, solving and ultimately enjoying greater outcomes than we would otherwise.
Spend some time this week in recess! Examine your fence line. Ask yourself, what is helpful and what isn’t. Take a brave step and go beyond, explore outside the fences and enjoy our spectacular world. And, hopefully, you won’t end up in my mom’s classroom.