February 13, 2015

Would you rather look smart or be smart? #28daysofwriting

 

Reggie Watts breaks me up every time I hear the beginning of this TED Talk. It's funny because, so many times before, I've heard this kind of faux-erudite nonsense from self-proclaimed intelligentsia, in an unfunny context. It comes from people who want to look smart, instead of just being smart. Click play and read along...:

"... and that's one of the things that I enjoy most about this convention. It's not so much, as so little as to do with what everything is. (Laughter) But it is within our self-interest to understand the topography of our lives unto ourselves. (Laughter) The future states that there is no time other than the collapsation of that sensation of the mirror of the memories in which we are living. (Laughter) Common knowledge, but important nonetheless. (Laughter) As we face fear in these times, and fear is all around us, we also have anti-fear. It's hard to imagine or measure. The background radiation is simply too static to be able to be seen under the normal spectral analysis. But we feel as though there are times when a lot of us -- you know what I'm say'n? But -- you know what I'm say'n? Cuz, like, as a hip hop thing, you know what I'm say'n, TED be rock'n -- you know what I'm say'n. Like so I wrote a song, and I hope you guys dig it. It's a song about people and sasquatches -- (Laughter) -- and other French science stuff. That's French science. Okay, here we go. ♫

Watts is then just smart.

Would you rather look smart or be smart? For the past decade I've been a fiendish reader of all things simplicity, especially the art of making complex ideas simple. I've often been off the mark on that one, but not for wont of trying. I take solace from the fact that most policy on education, most curricula, most education research is written in such a way as to render its content useless for the people who need to understand it most.

One way writers aim for simplicity is to pace themselves against readability scores. Andy Maslen, copywriter genius featured in yesterday's post, has just fist-bumped himself with a lifetime best score of 98.2 for readability of some copy he wrote. The other end of the spectrum is just as amusing. Marcel Proust's Swann Way has one sentence whose score is -515.1: 

"But I had seen first one and then another of the rooms in which I had slept during my life, and in the end I would revisit them all in the long course of my waking dream: rooms in winter, where on going to bed I would at once bury my head in a nest, built up out of the most diverse materials, the corner of my pillow, the top of my blankets, a piece of a shawl, the edge of my bed, and a copy of an evening paper, all of which things I would contrive, with the infinite patience of birds building their nests, to cement into one whole; rooms where, in a keen frost, I would feel the satisfaction of being shut in from the outer world (like the sea-swallow which builds at the end of a dark tunnel and is kept warm by the surrounding earth), and where, the fire keeping in all night, I would sleep wrapped up, as it were, in a great cloak of snug and savoury air, shot with the glow of the logs which would break out again in flame: in a sort of alcove without walls, a cave of warmth dug out of the heart of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across them to strike freshly upon my face, from the corners of the room, or from parts near the window or far from the fireplace which had therefore remained cold—or rooms in summer, where I would delight to feel myself a part of the warm evening, where the moonlight striking upon the half-opened shutters would throw down to the foot of my bed its enchanted ladder; where I would fall asleep, as it might be in the open air, like a titmouse which the breeze keeps poised in the focus of a sunbeam—or sometimes the Louis XVI room, so cheerful that I could never feel really unhappy, even on my first night in it: that room where the slender columns which lightly supported its ceiling would part, ever so gracefully, to indicate where the bed was and to keep it separate; sometimes again that little room with the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent indifference of a clock that chattered on at the top of its voice as though I were not there; while a strange and pitiless mirror with square feet, which stood across one corner of the room, cleared for itself a site I had not looked to find tenanted in the quiet surroundings of my normal field of vision: that room in which my mind, forcing itself for hours on end to leave its moorings, to elongate itself upwards so as to take on the exact shape of the room, and to reach to the summit of that monstrous funnel, had passed so many anxious nights while my body lay stretched out in bed, my eyes staring upwards, my ears straining, my nostrils sniffing uneasily, and my heart beating; until custom had changed the colour of the curtains, made the clock keep quiet, brought an expression of pity to the cruel, slanting face of the glass, disguised or even completely dispelled the scent of flowering grasses, and distinctly reduced the apparent loftiness of the ceiling."

I'll admit this now. I've not read the book. Nor have I actually read the sentence that I just copied and pasted here. Why? Because it's not really the point of this post.

The point of this post is to place an intellectual earworm in your mind, ready for Monday morning, or the next time you turn finger to keyboard, pen to paper, to convince anyone to do anything. No-one cares how smart you try to show yourself to be,  how smart your strategy might look, how smart your tech programme appears to be. They care how smart all of it really is, meaning your job is to share it in as simple a way as possible.

(The readability score of this blog post, without Proust, is 80. #fistbump)

February 12, 2015

Your strategy does not interest me. Next! #28daysofwriting

Andy maslen

NoTosh doesn't just help scores of schools and private business with their strategy; we're in the process of adjusting our own course, too. What I've noticed, is that the activity known as 'wordsmithing' is normally referred to dismissively, with disdain, as something someone else will do much later on, once they "real work" of strategising is done. These leaders could not be more wrong.

Far from the afterthought or polishing to which the task is often reduced, getting the wordsmithing right as you create your strategy is vital if you want people to really believe in it.

To help me on NoTosh's own strategising I've been diving into Andy Maslen's tomes (that's his distinguished mug on the top of the post). For a copywriter extraordinaire, he tends to spend at least half his books helping the reader understand what it is they are trying to do and why the hell they're doing it. I can imagine a few strategies dying a necessarily premature death by around p.43 of most his books. 

A key point that resonates as I undertake a few schools-based strategy projects, is this one:

People want to know what's in it for them (WIIFM?).
They don't care how clever you are.
They don't care that you are proud / humble / honoured about anything.
They don't care how much excellence you promote.
People want to know what's in it for them.

He suggests a couple of writing tools that will help education strategists (any strategist, really) to convey their 'why', and in turn the WIIFM, so much more clearly:

  • KFC:
    What do you want your reader / student / parent / teacher / peer to know, how do you want them to feel about it, and what do you want them to commit to?
  • Don't use the 'F' word - use the 'B' word
    Don't list off the features of your latest product / school / initiative / programme of work / technology roll-out. Tell us the benefits in our lives. This works in the same way as I suggest people should pitch new ideas to their peers: start with a 'pain', turn the thumbscrews until we're begging for an answer, and then tell us all about how your idea is going to make our lives so much better.
  • FAB: Grab me by the ... benefits
    Features first, then tell me the general advantages of working in this way might be, and then tell me the benefits to me personally.
  • Don't assume I'm paying attention
    Too many governmental policies, school strategies and "research-based" approaches to learning simply assume that the audience should be receptive to the new idea. This is a fatal flaw, and undermines even the best ideas. Assume that your audience has plenty of other far more interesting things to be doing, and write your strategy or pitch to wrestle their attention back towards you. Try starting the strategy with the words "How" or "Now" and see how people want to take part in making it happen.

 

February 11, 2015

Working out a school's competitive position even when it's not competing #28daysofwriting

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Most schools are state schools, so the idea that leadership might spend time working out a competitive position, or value proposition, often seems absurd. Surely that is an exercise the preserve of private schools and, even more so, private business? State schools are for local kids - the value proposition is that the school is closest to your home. Period.

Steve Mouldey blogged yesterday about his own school's vision, and how it sets this state school, Hobsonville, apart from other schools in the area. In this post he cites an excerpt from Grant Lichtman's #EdJourney (pp. 92-94) where the notion of value proposition is justified on the fact that students have more mobility between education provision (other schools, homeschooling, online) than ever before. Steve talks about a notion of value proposition that I'd disagree with:

"The Value Proposition, as I understand it, is about what you actually do compared to what you say you will do (much like Espoused Theory vs Theory in Use by Chris Argyris)."

In our startup work, the value proposition is much more clearly understood as what you do compared to what your competitors say they do, or are perceived as doing, by their customers. The competitors might not actually deliver on what they say they do, but the perception of the customer is all.

For example, in my local area of Edinburgh are three primary schools:

  • the closest one to home is in a Victorian building, where school inspectors have repeatedly made the point that capital building and repair projects eat into funds that could otherwise be used for learning. I decided not to send my child there;
  • the one at the top of the hill has a fabulous reputation, thanks to the perceived quality of the high school with which it is associated. The high school changed head teacher years ago, and has been on decline since then. The primary school's inspectorate report is average. I decided not to send my children there;
  • the Catholic school is the furthest away from home. Catholic education is often perceived as a good choice - parents chose to send their children there, whereas the other state schools are often default schools, being closest to home, ergo, parents who make a choice care more about their kids' learning, ergo: the kids will be more engaged at home as well as in school. Also, on a visit to the school, this perception was reinforced during a school tour and two successful first years for our eldest. We chose to put our first kid there.

But this school's value propositions (in this case: quality of learning, getting the job of learning done, lowering cost (it's free!)) were not consistently applied. As soon as our daughter hit Primary 3, the key reason for using this school - quality of learning and getting the job done - suffered. A new teacher, needing some solid support from other teaching colleagues and the leadership team, struggled as neither was offered sufficiently. The cost of sending my kid there increased dramatically - she was unhappy, which made her mother and me devastated. The cost was not financial. The cost was emotional.

My kid no longer goes there. We've increased costs substantially, by opting out of the local education system and sending her to a school 20 minutes away. However, we are guaranteed on the value proposition of the new school - a consistently excellent education, no quibbles.

A value proposition, even if you are a state school, is a vital value to hone down, not just so that kids aren't ripped out of your school but so that everyone, including the leaders, can be held to account when kinks in the system appear. If you state that excellence in education is your value proposition, then you'd better get that nailed, all the time, every time, or perceptions will change and take a long time to bring back.

And defining a value proposition is easy - you can really only choose one top value you pursue, and a close-place second one. Beyond two core value propositions, your team will be lost and not know what they are chasing:

  • newness
    New schools can use this as a value proposition for a few months for each new school year to be introduced, to gain traction fast but, above all, to inspire distributed leadership and innovation in teaching and learning among its staff. It won't just happen - it needs stated as the value proposition by the school's founders.
  • performance
    Is your school in the top 10, top 20, top 50 of the country? Work out where the cut-off point for your excellence might be, where your performance is considered worth talking about. Equally, movement from mediocrity to excellence is worth talking about. The Bohunt School (11th best in England, from the middle ground, in six years flat) is my global fave for that kind of heroes story.
  • customisation
    Do you offer a learning experience that is genuinely student-led - can I make the kind of education I want?
  • "getting the job done"
    Do you consistently get kids what they need - not excellent, not poor, but you will get them into college / into an apprenticeship, and you fail no-one?
  • design
    Amazing facilities? Beautiful resources? Great food in the restaurant (not canteen...)?
  • brand/status
    Are you already in a position of being "the" school that people send their kids to? How do you maintain that with another value proposition that no-one else offers? This nearly always goes hand in hand with another value proposition that justifies the brand.
  • price
    Most state schools are free or near-to-free to attend. Price isn't a great VP in that case. For private schools, this is a huge consideration.
  • cost reduction
    Much like price, the cost of education is already low for most. Being geographically well-placed reduces families' costs of getting to school. Providing transport for children is another way. Providing technology is another.
  • risk reduction
    Do you reduce the risk that a child will fail, through additional support or a specific strategy?
  • accessibility
    Do you give access to activities or experiences that are normally the preserve of private schools? Or do you offer access to university early on, to students who would not normally expect that? Or do you provide access to business-building where most schools do not?
  • convenience/usability
    Are you close by, or run with flexible hours? Are you approachable for parents? Do you have facilities that help students stay in school longer? Holiday learning days?

Pic  |  Ref: Business Model Generation

February 10, 2015

Failure: When is it "a fail too far"? #28daysofwriting

At a concert in Gothenburg Concert Hall October 23, 2013, Christian Zacharias stopped playing in the middle of Haydn's Piano Concerto, interrupted by a cell phone ringing for the second time the same concert. Was he right to stop?

In this interview, that I've used in two recent keynotes on creativity and failure, Zacharias makes the point that listening to a concert is one of the rare moments in our lives where we can concentrate on just one thing, without interruption. Much like deep thinking or learning, interruptions by phone rings (or bell rings in school) are catastrophic for our projects and ideas.

In this instance, it was just too much. On the up side, Zacharias says, after such an interruption, the audience is even more attuned to what is going on, on the stage.

But not all interruptions need to be treated with the same disdain: 

I love the shrug at the end, a realisation that something simple and playful can diffuse the potential blot on a whole performance. 

In teaching, it's easy to let interruptions get in the way of our thinking. We respond with anger, frustration, telling offs... But it is the regular interruptions to our thinking - the bell, the timetable, the examination - that risk being the biggest incumbrance to sustainable levels of creativity and deep thinking of school students the world over. 

10 years ago, I might have been amongst the masses to point out that the bell, the timetable and the examination are all thrust upon me, as a teacher, and that I have no chance of controlling them merely in the name of creativity. Today, however, I know that teachers can achieve so much more if they design their way out of it. I've just come off a call with educators at Nanjing International School where, in preparing and prototyping ideas for a new strategy:

  • students have taken longer periods of time with specialists, rather than the chop-change of a regular schedule - more learning, less running around between classes;
  • homework has been replaced with home learning, based on the self-created projects students undertake during the day;
  • students develop personal projects get deep into learning outside the classroom, where there are no bells or timetables (said one kid: "When you're interested in it it's really easy!");
  • parents are sitting in with their sons and daughters during class and lunchtime, to see how they learn what they learn;
  • students are starting kernels of social entrepreneurship firms whose objective is longevity and sustainability, not short-term money-making.

All of these have come as a result of the school working as a whole, with design thinking mindsets along the way, to think differently about learning, to make learning happen from the point of view of what works for the student, more than what works for reinforcing the existing system.

Less of the status quo can only ever be a good thing...

StatusQuo

I should finish by pointing to the encore of Zacharias, where his playfulness is finally visible.

February 09, 2015

A vision statement should only ever work for your organisation #28daysofwriting

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Does your organisation have a high level vision statement? That's it. On page three of the strategy document no-one reads. The motto that makes everyone roll their eyes slightly. It probably involves something to do with excellence, being "the best", or caring, or striving, or something else with a similar drone. What if I suggested that you might come up with a vision statement that no-one else on the planet, no other organisation, could ever get away with using themselves?

Think about some of the great strategy or vision statements of our time. These ones are taken from my new book:

  • Amazon: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.
    Ford: Democratize the automobile.

  • Google: Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

  • JFK's Moon Challenge: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

  • Microsoft: A computer on every desk and in every home.

  • Disney: Be the best company in the world for all fields of family entertainment.

  • Hewlett-Packard: Be one of the best managed corporations in the world.

  • Sony: Embody changing the image of Japanese products as being of poor quality; create a pocket transistor radio.

Closer to home, I was lucky enough to hear the backstory to the vision statement of Linn, the world's best music player company (based in Glasgow, Scotland):

Linn makes anything you listen to at home sound better.

Let's break that down:

Linn makes (in our factory) anything (games, tv, iPad, MP3, streaming music) you listen to (Linn products are so good, and relatively expensive, that they are not the kinds of product that you would just "hear" in the background, while you do the hoovering) at home (not at the office, nightclub, restaurant) sound better (this is their major technological point of difference: reduction of loss from studio to ear)

It took Linn's MD Gilad Tiefenbrun and his team over 18 months to get to the point where they had this one sentence that helps any one member of staff, and their customers, understand precisely what they are getting, and how it is made. Every word counts. Together, they create something that is genuinely unique and exciting for all those involved in building, and listening to, the product.

What's your current vision, and how might you change it to make it unique?

Pic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/167418602

February 08, 2015

Unknown unknowns. #ungoogleable thinking for #28daysofwriting

Designing the unknown | Long Version (25min) from CGS Mines ParisTech on Vimeo.

In short: you don't know what you don't know. And given that you do not know you don't know it, there's no way for you to ask specific-enough a question to get a specific answer back, from Google or for a friend. It is the theory behind the much simpler concept I came up with, of "Ungoogleable Thinking". 

I write the Masters course at Charles Sturt Uni on Designing Spaces for Learning. The key concept above is  described in this video clip. It's simple, and at the same time one of the most complex concepts for my students to get their heads around.

The key point made in the video is what my team and I have tried to show through our work with schools: as you cannot seek out the answers to questions you cannot ask, you need another way to 'bump into' those unknown unknowns. The only two ways to do this are chance (have someone tell you something you didn't know - but that means a lot of teacher talk to get to a few morsels of new stuff for a whole class) or you enter into a voyage of discovery - everything else is going to be stuff you know you don't know, or that you know already. 

This is where a teacher can curate resources, and provoke learners, to such an extent that we can take a safe guess that students will bump into concepts that they didn't know they didn't know. And when this happens, the learner needs to connect this new concept to what they know before, thereby creating new understanding and knowledge. 

This means that, while useful some of the time, the traditional "understanding by design" project is unlikely to ever facilitate deeper learning of the "unknown unknown" variety. Why? Because the teacher has defined the end point and an ever-convergent route of arriving there for the students. 

In our design thinking work, we tend to look at much fuzzier problem areas, leading to multiple routes to several potential outcomes. Learning goals are not met at the end of the project, therefore - there are too many potential routes to showing understanding or problem-solving for even the most expansive rubric to be usable. Instead, success criteria are met during a much more predictable period of immersion, where the resources curated by the teacher are highly likely to help learners understand their prior knowledge (known knowns) and stuff they knew they didn't know, but can find out to help them answer key questions (known unknowns). A troubling provocation is often the launchpad for students to try and take prior knowledge and new ideas, to try and create something new. 

It is only at the point of students making their own independent synthesis of the rich information they've gleaned, that a potential disjunction might be created, a point at which the student wants to dive deeper or off at a tangent to explore a much fuzzier area of their understanding of the world. 

If ever you are seeking ways to help every student hit their zone of proximal development, then Hatchuel and Weil's C-K Theory is not a bad place to start (though you might need more than 28 minutes of reading and viewing to get it, and see how your practice might change thanks to it!).

February 07, 2015

Unplug from this. Plug back in to that #28daysofwriting

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This is Saturday's #28daysofwriting, written on Saturday February 7th, but not typed up until Monday February 9th. Why? At the weekend I make every attempt to unplug from technology. Most of my best ideas do not happen while staring at a screen, small or large, but from doing the opposite: experiencing life around me.

Stating this will annoy some of the 28 people awaiting a pitch, programme, plan, project proposal or reply. Some of them will have waited a week, as last week's trip to Canada was so intense I didn't have the energy to give them the quality of thinking and time they deserve. 

But unplugging on a regular basis, and not just splurging on an "analogue August" or "wifi-less winter" is something we should all aspire to do. Less little and often, more significant time offline and regular.

I know my own team tend to take their weekends for getting down to the beach, into a restaurant or two, or heading for brisk walks through English woods or Scottish coasts. As such, I'd never expect an email reply from them, from about midday on Friday through to mid-morning on Monday (leaving them time to prioritise first thing).

Quartz reports on an entire Connecticut-based marketing firm who had a whole-organisation offline, no device day. To be honest, I was surprised that one day offline for a team was able to make the news n the first place. But then I thought a little harder, and realised that for a whole team to decide in advance to go native (and not digitally so) was still a rare thing, even if just for one day.

The story reveals some of the reasons it might be important to take more frequent time off instead of these newsworthy splurges:

  1. Thinking benefits, not features
    “I’m having second thoughts,” a latecomer said. “I’m supposed to build a Powerpoint deck today.”

    This reveals so much. She's not supposed to be building a Powerpoint deck - it's just that this has become the usual means of trying achieve a multitude of other goals. In the creative industries it has become commonplace, mistakenly I believe, to write ideas down as Powerpoint decks. We write prose in a document, presentations on a deck. It is unlikely the Powerpoint deck was really the best way for this account director to communicate her figures, or for a creative to convey a risky idea. What else might people do in a tech-free day? I'm reminded of the gloriously analogue presentation given by Drew Buddie at one of the first London-based TeachMeets, where he extolled the virtues of stone-stacking through the use of an entire ream of 1980s printer paper.

  2. Digital snobbery
    "Disconnected from their usual feeds, two communications people walk to a bookstore to get the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Cincinnati Enquirer, documenting the three-block journey with an old-school Hi8 camcorder. On the elevator as they returned, a freelancer was arriving for the day and told the unplugged: “I’m holding. Are you jealous?”"

    This is the equivalent of the "how big / new / shiny is yours" that festoons technology use, everywhere. School systems are amongst the worst offenders. No-one outside education understands BYOD or one-to-one. No-one talks with pride of how many computers and devices their insurance company has, as a means, no less, of stating how good that company must be. And yet, that's exactly the kind of lame discussion I hear tech directors having at most meetups. I'd be more proud to come from the school that has a regular tech-free day, placing an accent on thinking first, no excuses.

  3. You're not connected. You're bored
    "In a meeting-induced boredom reflex, I pulled out my phone to check my notifications (there were very few, and none of any importance whatsoever) and immediately felt like a cad for doing so. “Our whole point was to make people feel like assholes,” Chief Creative Officer Nathan Hendricks later joked."

    Most technology use, if we were honest with ourselves (and not actually trading eight hours solid at the LSE), staves boredom, or makes more of 'down time'. Surely the oxymoron is enough - downtime is there to step your brain down for a brief moment. Boredom is there to act as the space between your ears where you can idly just think and reflect.

  4. Can you not just be present?
    "The device room wasn’t supposed to reopen until 4pm, but I am notified on a walkie-talkie that the doors have opened early because some people had to leave. This causes a bit of a reconfiguration of plans."

    If you really want to get under my skin, if you really want to have a good chance of a public shaming, leave a meeting or workshop before the due time. There are always other, more important things to do than think deeply, plan better for the future or reflect on where you've come from in your learning. Because you leave early, you will always be firefighting, coping with the latest unexpected thing. And technology is the key reason you do it. Tech can lead to everything becoming urgent and important, unless you know how to master it. And that involves taking some time out, often.

The pic on the post is mine, from Soho, London - the one place where you might get away with being both plugged in and unplugged at the same time. 

February 06, 2015

Sporf Strategy: Beware #28daysofwriting

Sporkife

I picked up this Sporf in Amsterdam Schipol airport. A spork I'd seen before, but the addition of a simple serration on the side of the fork end makes this a genuine "three-in-one" implement for eating one's full three-course takeaway meal on the plane. The sporf is no innovation; back in 1940 the "sporf" was born. It took me until 2015 to notice this one thanks to its rather pleasant design.

The sporf is a little like most strategy documents that I come across. It is one implement designed to serve a multitude of goals, but with one fatal flaw: you can only ever use one part of the sporf / strategy at any one time. With the sporf, things would get messy trying to use the spoon and knife and the same time. The knife and fork work quite well in sequence but physics prevents me using both at the same time as I can with the older technologies of knife and fork

In strategy formation, we can develop a multitude of potential purposes within one document, killer vision statement or mission. But it's important to recognise that the teams around us will only ever be able to do one thing really well at any one time. This is a lesson oft ignored by schools, in particular, as they attempt to ask educators to create an ever-more creative curriculum without having first tackled attitudes towards summative assessments throughout the year.

It is also a challenge in some of the world's most successful, but now stagnating, big businesses: they've spent decades or centuries building a reputation across a large array of devices, technologies, components or clothing, but the real strategy is working out which of the current array needs killed off to enable teams in their quest to develop something totally new, properly innovative.

It's the reason I added the "...and actually make them happen" to my "How to come up with great ideas" book. Writing a sporf strategy is easy: you just need to keep adding components. But, to actually make those strategies happen you need to thump out the timetable of development and delivery very carefully, for, no matter how talented your team, or how many bodies on the ground you have, the institution can only ever move forward on one big idea at a time.

February 05, 2015

My book is finally available on Kindle!

Book arrived

The original limited edition version of my book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, is down to its last few copies barely 10 weeks after we received crates of them. This was the full-colour 'beautiful' book that I had wanted to make, but its manufacture was incredibly (and surprisingly) complex. Once the last copies have been sold, we'll only reprint on special bulk orders of 70+ for this beautiful landscape paperback.

The zingy full-colour iBooks version lives on, of course!

In the meantime, we've been working on producing a more simple version of the book, black and white, with no pictures, for those who want to have the book on their Kindle device, and it's finally available!

"I like doing it that way" is not good enough #28daysofwriting

This morning in Edmonton I'll be giving a keynote made up almost entirely of musical metaphors for educators. I've only given the talk once, but it proved particularly powerful with my group of Swedish educators at the time, because you don't need to speak great English to understand the lessons we can learn for our own classrooms.

In the excerpt above, young pianist David Kadouch gets pushed by  pianist Daniel Baremboim. In fact, he gets a pretty hard time when he changes the dynamic - when he plays an E flat note louder than the pianissimo (super quiet) the composer asked for. When asked why he was doing it the young Kadouch replies: "Because I like it". Baremboim is not impressed:

"I'm very sorry, with all due respect, it's not good enough.

"If you had thought of a good reason... I would have said 'chapeau'. But "I like it" is not good enough.

I'm not trying to compare what you're trying to do with the way I think it should go. I'm trying to help you achieve more of what you want to achieve yourself, so that's why it's important that I know why."

Baremboim points out that, because the student has not thought of the reason he is playing something in a certain way, he cannot justify playing it that way.

When I think of teachers' practice, I hit the same kind of conversation daily. I'm no Baremboim of teaching, but I can ask "Why" to find out why a teacher thinks that planning or teaching in a certain way is the best way of achieving what they want to achieve. Knowing the why, we can then both work together to ascertain if, from the world of teaching and learning savvy that we can access, the chosen path is really the best one at all.

This is the essence of design thinking. We design (take time to consider each element of) our thinking (we actually think through for ourselves; don't just assume that the first answer is the right one). 

Alas, most days the initial response is more or less what Kadouch says: "Because I like doing it that way; Because I've always done it that way; Because I saw someone else do it that way." None of these answers is good enough.

There's no care, no design, no thinking.

Here are some simple "Whys" where "because I like it" isn't good enough. And the resultant conversation might help open up some better learning in any classroom:

  • Why do you start a lesson with a teacher's voice?
  • When people are talking why do you keep going?
  • When students are clearly producing pretty but shallow work, why do you let them give the presentation?
  • When that kid wants to make a movie again, why do you let them?
  • Why do you, and not your students, choose the resources and activities that they will undertake each and every hour they're with you?
  • Why do you assume that student-led learning of content will lead to students 'getting through' less content than if you stand and deliver it?
  • Why do you think maths students cannot undertake student-led projects as effectively as in social studies?

The full masterclass can be viewed on YouTube.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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