You could create a semester long course for 1 hour every day with 20 people and not a single one of them would leave changed.
Or you could have an hour conversation with one person and it would change their life.
So if the goal is to change people, and I think it is, then let’s start there. Before we get carried away with the class and the curriculum and all of the logistics, let’s keep one person in mind. Then, let’s think about the smallest possible thing that would change their life. Start there and make it happen.
Change requires trust. But trying something new is never perfect. It’s often messy and uncertain.
When someone trusts you to try something new, there’s a good chance the trust will break. If only for a moment. Something will go wrong.
What happens next is crucial. If you work to rebuild and improve, the mutual trust will increase. If one party panics and decides they will never trust again, trust disintegrates.
The scary part is, at that moment where trust looks broken, what’s needed most is one more ounce of belief. Are you willing to give it?
Many people don’t know their purpose. It’s a daunting question, but we can all find a place to start. Say you like playing sports.
What do you like about sports? Was it the teamwork? Was it leading teammates? Is it the opportunity to teach someone?
Those are all abstractions that are more fundamental than sports. You can work in teams, lead others and teach in many contexts.
Once you settle on to one of those layers, you can peel it back again. You can continue this process and get to more fundamental values. The more you can do this, the more you can find enjoyment in everything you do. You can find ways to apply this purpose across different fields.
Your purpose is out there. It’s embedded in everything you’re doing and feeling. It’s your job to peel back the layers and find it.
The biggest obstacle is fear. I think students know what they should try next, but it’s scary. I think we all know what we should try next.
I would love to get paid to give workshops to high school students. Why aren’t I doing it? Fear. I haven’t asked anyone!
I know what I need to do. I need to start emailing people, calling people, offering to lead workshops, learning about their procurement process. But I’m scared.
When you don’t act you can’t fail. Once you start moving on an idea, you can start to hear “no.” And that’s a harsh feeling. It’s a necessary step on any journey, but it’s scary.
So when we give students more and more information, we have to ask, “is information really the problem? or is it something deeper?”
My hunch is that it’s usually fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of looking bad. Fear of having to start over. Fear of changing your worldview. They’re all valid feelings, but we have to recognize they’re in our way.
Once we recognize that, we can design approaches that explicitly solve for the problem. Rather than focusing on more content, more experts and more memorization, we can build programs that help students take steps to get through the fear barrier. Mini wins that give them belief that they can do more.
So let’s call it out. We’re all scared. Now let’s build solutions that get to the core of the problem.
Why do we have grade levels? Some students are way above level in math and below in reading. Others should be in college level computer science while someone else is doing a field experiment about biomechanics.
The whole idea of a grade level and required set of curricula seems more limiting than useful these days. When the modern workforce demands people who can make decisions and take initiative, it’s counterproductive to perpetuate a system that preaches the opposite.
Grade level doesn’t seem to influence success on projects. In Dual School we have students from freshmen in high school to sophomores in college and there is no linear relationship between grade level and how well they are performing in an idea incubator. The older students seem no more equipped to handle uncertainty, test assumptions and drive forward a project.
So what’s the point of moving them along in the system? The checks and balances are measuring different objectives. Outdated objectives. The modern economy demands more and we’re going to have to rethink a lot of we’re going to prepare students to thrive.
Certain moments are the gateway into the more complex understanding of a problem.
Light bulb moments are better described as rich learning moments. They’re not always positive. Calling it a light bulb assumes that it’s a good realization. What we’re really striving for are productive realizations.
When a student makes a phone call and they learn they’ve been making a false assumption for the last four weeks, that’s a light bulb moment. The assumption was wrong. It sucks. She’s back to square one. But it’s a transformative moment because her eyes were opened and she made a productive realization.
The moments also look like a student who is lost and not sure what to do until he has a conversation with an expert in the field. The expert connects him with a meaningful project in a matter of minutes. That connection leads to action and a high potential for impact.
Those are the moments we’re going for, also. The common thread is that the student is in the driver’s seat. They need to make the realizations for themselves. They need to have their own experience. Our job is just to create an environment where having that experience is as easy as possible.
It’s deeper than a lightbulb moment. It’s more than an idea. It’s action.
If it couldn’t fail, you lost an opportunity to learn.
Researching a topic is a good way to learn a little bit. Hosting an event about the topic is a good way to learn a lot.
Most of the time our energy is spent doing activities where we can only learn little bits: googling, writing a draft, rehearsing in our mind. In order to learn a lot, you have to take action. Action is scary precisely because you could fail. But action is where the learning leaps come from.
Publishing the blog post, doing an in person customer interview, launching a website. All these experiences provide an order of magnitude more learning than their fail-proof alternatives.
Some see life as something happening to them. Others see it as an opportunity to be seized.
I think there’s a zero to one difference between the two mindsets. We’re initially boxed into the former, and it takes a monumental experience to open our eyes to the latter.
I’m curious about what makes that shift happens. What opens our eyes to a different future. A future driven by our passion, empathy and action.
If we can make more of those moments happen, we’ll quickly be on our way to a better world.
How can you change the world if you can’t first change one person?
Sure, you can invent some widget that touches every person’s life, but is that really world-changing? I think world-changing is much more personal than writing some code, creating a typeface or inventing new technology.
I think world-changing is about looking someone in the eyes and understanding them. Pushing them to be better and supporting them on the journey. Enrolling them on a trip from which they emerge a better person. Changing one person in a way that they come back to you in five years and say “you changed my life.”
Changing the world isn’t about being a marketing whiz or a business development guru. It’s about seeing people and being generous. It’s showing up and saying “I see your problems, and I made this for you.”
The thing is, it’s way harder to change one person than it is to “change the world.” You can show up and build something big without ever facing the hard part of having empathy and taking a risk for one person.
So before we set out to change a million people, let’s pause for a second and think. How might I change one person?
One day I sliced up some vegetables. Onions, tomatoes, cucumbers. You know. The normal stuff that was in the fridge. And I put it all in a pan.
The tomatoes got soft, the onions started to caramelize but the cucumbers just started to look weird. My mom entered the kitchen and told me that cucumbers don’t taste good when you cook them like that. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to see.
It was an experiment in the purest form. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but the second I bit into a warm, mushy cucumber, I knew I would never cook them again.
Telling someone not to cook a cucumber is teaching. Cooking a cucumber and finding out for yourself is learning. I posit we need more learning in education.