As a teenager I loved playing Bach on the piano, an instrument that for most of my playing time I was maybe less than loving about. It was all about first of all learning the rudiments, then adding in what you felt about it, then bringing the parts together into a whole that always felt greater than the sum of those elements I'd practiced in bar-by-bar, note-by-note detail. Today, I still play music - percussion - and it's the same process, I guess, that I describe in Bach: learn the rudiments well, pull them together bit by bit, then unleash the whole to see what it sounds like together with the band.
British Philosopher Alan Watts sums up an attitude that took me years to understand, and which underlines the attitude to life that all my colleagues sign up to. If you want to do something - defend the charged, taxi people through cities, teach children, grow wine, whatever... - then do it.
I'm working at the moment with a group of teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs in Finland, all of whom are passionate about what they do. They'd do it, I'm sure, were money no object. And because they love it, they practice it, they get good at, and so people pay them to do it so well.
Yet I've met educators on my journey who wouldn't do it, were money no object. They should go and find something else they really want to do, and not perpetuate the model in front of our children. Life is already too short to be doing something you don't want to.
The full transcription of Alan Watts' If Money Were No Object:
What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like?
Let’s suppose, I do this often in vocational guidance of students, they come to me and say, well, we’re getting out of college and we haven’t the faintest idea what we want to do.
So I always ask the question, what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?
Well, it’s so amazing, as a result of our kind of educational system crowds of students say, well, we’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers, but as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way. Or another person says well, I’d like to live an out-of-doors life and ride horses.
I say, you want to teach in a riding school? Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do?
When we finally got down to something which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that — and forget the money, because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time.
You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.
And after all, if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually turn it – you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is.
So don’t worry too much that everybody is – somebody is interested in everything, anything you can be interested in, you will find others will.
But it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending things you don’t like, doing things you don’t like and to teach your children to follow in the same track.
See what we are doing is we’re bringing up children and educating to live the same sort of lifes we are living. In order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing, so it’s all retch and no vomit — it never gets there.
And so, therefore, it’s so important to consider this question: what do I desire?
One of the schools my firm NoTosh is lucky enough to work with every week is Rosendale Primary School, in south London, UK. Its teachers, its students and its leadership team are a treat for Tom, who spends every week with them, and for Peter and me when we're lucky enough to come in as reinforcements. For nearly two years, we've worked alongside teachers and leaders there to develop thinking and strategy, as well as some damned good practice, around formative assessment, 70% negotiated timetables and design thinking in the curriculum, which now permeates their work from Reception through to the final year of school. Neil Hopkin and Kate Atkins, the Executive Head and Depute Head respectively, with their staff have developed a truly Tots to Teens strategy for their students. And they talk about it all the time on their own learning log.
To share with parents and the wider world how they do what they do and why they do it, Neil and Kate have authored a great online and paper edition book, outling How We Learn What We Learn. It's a gem, and a year-by-year manual on how to inspire creativity and excellence in learning.
Just released on YouTube is a new campaign from Belgian agency Duval Guillaume, where they changed the operation of schools for a day. Boys went to school to learn. Girls went to school to clean out the toilets and undertake other menial tasks.
It feels to me like a modern-day, marketers version of the Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes experiment from Jane Elliot in the early 1970s. She undertook an experiment in arbitrary discrimination between "underclass" brown eyed people and the upper class blue eyed people. She did it against the fallout of Martin Luther King's assassination. We need something fresh like this today to make sure that we don't tolerate the tolerated, that all girls get to school, wherever they are in the world. Our fallout is last week's shooting of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, shot because she believes girls should go to school.
Next week I'll be in Antwerp to hang out with Kris Hoet, the Director of Digital at the agency who came up with the idea. I wonder what questions educators might have about how we might harness the power of digital and the savvyness of great marketers to improve learning outcomes for more children?
This week I've been working with senior education folk in Brisbane to show, through a set of stories and discussions, how their own creative confidence is so important to bring about a sense of self-efficacy in their teachers and students. Self-efficacy is that feeling that whatever you do can have an impact on the world around you. Creative confidence is not feeling uncomfortable when people start to approach things in ways that rock the status quo.
Self efficacy is pretty much at the core of motivation to learn, the motivation to do anything! After all, we don't tend to undertake tasks that we feel we'll never manage to complete or get good at: learning Arabic, cooking a soufflé... Students in school can have self-efficacy and see how to complete the "game" of doing well at school, while others assume they'll never score highly in that game and just disengage. Some have self-efficacy in spades, and others have little.
The talk above from IDEO and d.school founder David Kelley contains a powerful trio of stories about how self-efficacy has moved on from its origins with Albert Bandura in seeing how phobics can overcome their phobias, to a set of understandings about how humans measure their progress towards goals and decide on their next steps based on those measurements, sentiments and reactions.
Kelley's bias is on creative confidence and turning the tide on the number of people who, from the moment they're institutionalised in school through to adulthood, decide to tell people "I'm not creative". His belief is that, in the same way snake phobics can be trained to get themselves out of that phobia, creative-phobics can be trained to get themselves out of that hole, too. It all starts with a basic set of assumptions and processes like design thinking that turn that scary creative journey into a familiar well-trodden path:
Much in the same way the snake phobic can see other people are not phobic, and must have found the means within themselves to be that way, we can realise that people we see as creative found a set of processes, steps and attitudes that allow them to think in that way.
Through a mutual friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook, in a very interconnected example of how the 'computer "web"' really has changed at least four lives, came this reportage in Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid, The Sun, in the 1990s. But all is not what it seems. It is, in fact, created by The Sun themselves as part of their, wait for it, education site.
So counter-intuitive is this point, that we normally end up referring to research that shows how much we can learn without being taught. Sugata Mitra's hole in the wall experiments in India are indicative of what can be achieved when children with no or little education, and no English, are given lots of content and time to grapple with it together. Within months, by coaching each other and playing, they become fluent not just in a new language, but also in the science or maths concepts they've been playing with:
Likewise, there's some compelling research showing how much more learning takes place when students work collectively in a team, coaching each other to create a team-based product of learning with individual accountability built in. The effect of cross-age or cross-ability coaching is equivalent to every student, not just the one "being coached", having one-on-one teacher coaching. There is double the amount of learning, in fact, than when the teacher is leading learning from the front (evidence from Dylan Wiliam's Embedded Formative Assessment, page/reference unknown at present time).
And there are also personal stories; not highbrow, large scale research, but it makes the point powerfully, too: we don't need to have teachers teach for learners to learn:
Last year, while sitting with Sugata in a pre-keynote speakers' room, I showed him a video I had shot in the car a few months previously. It is my daughter Catriona, sitting in her seat, singing along to the Beatles. The interesting thing is that she knows all the words to the song, verbatim, having never been taught them. Not only that, but having not had a CD player in the house since she was born, and having only just got a CD player in the new car, she had never heard this music before, either. Except for the nine months she was in the womb, when we did have a CD player in the house.
If you were to look at your school year ahead, and choose only ten things to teach, what would your top ten lecturettes be?
I'm still astonished in this day and age of podcasts, videos, uStreams and Twitter commentaries that professional presenter colleagues feel that it is reasonable to hijack, steal and resell stories or thoughts from others without giving due credit or hat-tips. Jay Cross's post has reignited my distaste of those who think nothing of charging big $s to regurgitate, without credit, what someone else spent time working out.
Each week I have to see some unmistakable McIntoshisms pass over my Twitter feed, with gushing virtual applause and retweeting, and no doubt hoots of enthusiasm in some far flung conference venue, but without the slightest nod of recognition in my direction. Tonight alone I've seen three of them pass under my nose.
I guess I should be flattered. Maybe I should be old enough and ugly enough not to care about such things. After all, ideas are six and half a penny, and it's how they're executed that matters. But when ideas are shared freely on this blog, the only payment required by the creative commons licence being a nod and a mention, it feels a little bit like someone giving a note to the beggar and asking for change. If you ever hear a talk or come to a workshop that my team or I lead, you'll be very aware of the constant verbal "linking" to people, books, videos, websites... That's because we feel it's an important part of being part of this community.
If you make your living out of helping educators, give them a real helping hand by showing them where you get your ideas, so that they can go and find more of the same for themselves. When we don't make every effort to "link" verbally in our talks, workshops and conversations, it's not just theft, it's wholly unhelpful for the learning of our peers.
I'm working on an advisory project at the moment where the team in charge is largely remote: we're all spread around the world and the people organising things spend too much time in front of Word, PowerPoint and Outlook. The result? Lots of text gets sent back and forth and that text is festooned with bullet points, numbers and linear thinking.
I first came across the antithesis to this from the creator of "the learning organisation" concept Arie de Geus' The Living Company: hexagonal thinking. Hexagonal thinking involves writing down key components of knowledge, observation and understanding on hexagons, not in lists, and then placing them in patterns that show the connections between ideas, and the connections between clusters of those ideas and other clusters. It is complexity made simple.
De Geus had found that when he and executives were trying to help insurance people better understand their complex products, the expensive computer simulations they had developed were not doing the job: staff were too busy trying to "win" the simulation that the more significant, and complex, information about the products was lost. With the introduction of hexagonal thinking those complex connections were made swiftly and deeply.
Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.
His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.
Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?
In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.