Thoughts on 15 years and the staying power of LENA

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Note: Terry and Judi Paul co-founded LENA in 2004. Their son, Alex, now serves as an active member of LENA’s board and champion of the mission. For more information, read about the history of LENA.

Reflecting on the past 15 years, Judi and I are struck once again by how much the team at LENA has achieved drawing from Terry’s first insights and ideas.

From a concept that was initially laughed off as impossible, LENA has become the global standard for measuring talk in early childhood, whether it be in support of research studies shaping our understanding of early language and its central role in child development or in support of high-impact programming for parents, primary caregivers, and early childhood teachers.

To highlight a few achievements:

  • LENA has over 400 research partners around the world leveraging LENA as a key tool for their work in early childhood
  • More than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles have been published that are based, in full or in part, on use of LENA technology
  • Some 50,000 LENA Days have been completed in the previous 12 months (June to June), and uploaded to LENA Online
  • We are on track to reach 10,000 children/families through community partners implementing our programs in 2019

And many more. The evidence behind the power of early talk and interaction is clear and growing more robust every day. Terry’s dream of being able to profoundly transform a child’s early language environment – changing the course of that child’s trajectory to reach their ultimate potential, is being achieved daily around world through the power of LENA.

While these are the headlines we lead with, less well known is how LENA as an organization had to be invented and reinvented to accomplish this seemingly impossible purpose. LENA is not a widget company, and it is unlike any other technology company in the world. There is no business school textbook explaining how to create and sustain an organization like LENA to achieve what it has in the last 15 years. From its successive business models, legal structure and operation, to its product offerings, development, and marketing, LENA is unquestionably unique. None of the above has ever been done before, because no one before has ever been crazy enough to try – except for the remarkable people who work for LENA.

Although a lot has changed in LENA’s 15 years, often by necessity, there are three basic principles that undergird it, drawn from Terry and Judi’s experiences and reflections: (1) everyone and everything is better when purpose-driven; (2) by not quitting and incorporating honest feedback into daily life, people and organizations can accomplish the impossible; and (3) good people make the difference, so always try to surround yourself with the hardest working, most creative, and most positive and fun individuals. From its beginning, LENA has attracted the very best people who share these principles.

Since its start from a Boulder office conference table in 2004, LENA has been blessed with a remarkable team that has accomplished amazing things. A number of the earliest employees are still with the organization while others have moved on. However, all have left their mark, propelling us forward on our mission. As new team members have joined along the way, the mix of skill sets and backgrounds embodied in the LENA team has evolved in synchrony with the organization’s needs: from fleshing out the early concepts, algorithms, and software, to completing validation studies and establishing a bedrock of underpinning research, to efficiently supporting partners across the nation and the world as we scale LENA’s reach and impact.

LENA’s unsung yet extraordinary team is what will help the organization reach its self-sustaining goal, so that the number of children whose lives are changed for the better numbers not in thousands, but in hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions, worldwide. And in doing so, LENA will succeed in making the world a better place. Judi and I are grateful and proud of all that the LENA team has accomplished in the last 15 years, and we know Terry would be as well. Yet we’re even more excited about LENA’s future – although we realize there are many more seemingly insurmountable challenges to overcome, we know that this incredible team can achieve the impossible.

Alex Paul headshot

Alex Paul

Alex Paul serves on the boards of both the LENA Foundation and the Northwestern University School of Law.

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