October 23, 2010

Book review: Tina Seelig's What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. A Crash Course On Making Your Way In The World

Six weeks ago I met Tina Seelig at dinner in Surgeon's Hall, Edinburgh, surrounded by some of the gruesome medical discoveries made over the past 300 years that have helped define modern medicine. If ever there was a dinnertime discussion point about how we build on prior lessons of life (and death), this was it.

We got talking about those life lessons, about how I only worked out I wanted to start my own company about 12 years later than would have been ideal, about how I'd always wanted to write a book ("well, what's the first chapter about?", she asked), and about never getting to the point where you say "I wish I had...".

Tina, in this mini shrink armchair moment, suggested I have a read of her latest book, which I bought there and then on the iPhone and delved into over the course of two evenings.

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 is a gem, and I've bought at least a dozen copies as 'prizes' for people in my seminars this past month. This "Crash course on making your place in the modern world" is a collection of life lessons, examples from Tina's teaching at Stanford University's School of Engineering, entrepreneurship center and d.school, and great techniques for bringing out the best in yourself and the teams with whom you work. Here are some of my favourite elements of the book:

  • "Best or worst" as a process of innovation (see my own experimentations with this actually working on my own blog and in the Huffington Post).
  • "Do band" culture - make innovation and actioning visible

  • Need-finding is not a given - it's a process that has to be worked upon to get good at it. (I wonder if that's why I feel that learning in schools is all too often based around "fake problems", ones that have been contrived to achieve a learning point but which haven't had enough thought given to whether there's a real, actual need that would achieve the same, but have more of a profound meaning to the learner).
  • If you throw gasoline on a log all you get is a wet log. If you throw gasoline on a small flame you get an inferno. Are you putting your energy into something that's going to pay off?
  • It's not enough to just find your passion and follow that. The sweet spot is when you find your passion in the form of a talent or skill set, find that those match your own personal interests, and then find a market that's willing to harness those skills.
  • Lao-Tzu, Chinese Taoist philosopher:
    "The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both."
  • Lucky people are never just lucky. They're acutely aware of their surroundings like a traveller in a foreign land. They then find unusual ways to recombine their findings and knowledge.
  • Stories of those who have "bad breaks" and who are able to turn those into incredibly positive opportunities (like Perry Klehbahn's SnowShoe).
  • Those who are willing to learn can turn negative situations around (e.g. Jeannie Kahwajy's research on job interview candidates who've been knocked back for a dream job and end up truly content with what they end up doing - the same happened to me, actually, when I went for a the world's worst job interview for what I thought was a dream job. When I went to Channel 4 to meet friends and drown my sorrows with some bad coffee, I ended up with an inning to the job where I ended up kicking off 4iP).
  • Paint the target around the arrow - find out what people's passions are and find ways to harness the energy around that (create jobs and opportunities around that).
  • The Rule Of Three:
    Most people can only track three (important) things at once - work out what they are for you and follow through. "Avoiding the Tyranny or 'Or'"
  • "We're encouraged to "satisfice" - to do the least amount we can do satisfy the requirements."
  • Teachers show what's required and how to get there. "Will this be on the test?". We have to find interesting ways to get over that, as it's not a life skill. Or at least recognise that it's not a life skill and give it far less attention.

It's a great book, a quick read but one you'll come back to time and time again when you're needing some clever ideas for motivating a group around a challenge, or looking for some insight in where you go next.

Buy it.


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Just bought - will get back to you on my take ;-)

I have a similar story, my school in Mexico City has been working with British Columbia schools, developing Language, Social Studies and Culture though the web, children communicate and share their knowledge, research, compare and contrast their culture and make friends. Teachers share their teaching experiences, we started by email, then chatting, developing a forum in our website, and now they start a blog.

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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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