What breaks your heart?

There are some questions that change the way you think about purpose. I heard a new one yesterday:

What breaks your heart?

What do you see happening in the world that you just can’t bear? That’s a good trail to follow. That’s a project worth working on.

For me, it’s seeing that people aren’t empowered to make change. It breaks my heart to know we have amazing solutions locked up in young people who don’t feel they can do anything about the problems they see. My solution is to apply ideas from entrepreneurship and design to help people take their first steps.

What breaks your heart will probably be completely different that’s why there’s hope. We all have passions and together we can amplify our impact beyond that of any individual. But the first step is to ask the question and start moving toward an answer.

Multiple choice tests

A multiple choice question has one right answer.

Good thing life isn’t a multiple choice test.

A short film I’m proud of

Yesterday, a team of three high school students and myself made a short film. We went from having nothing to a 90 second video in one day. It was a huge team effort and an important lesson in prototyping.

Once you export the video and watch it with a group, you immediately see ways to improve. Some voiceovers were louder than others, we forgot a credits page and some of the pictures were too grainy. All these errors weren’t found until we finished version one.

Had all that footage sat on a camera and never been edited, I would have nothing to show you here and I never would have learned some important lessons.

I’m proud of this work. Not because it’s perfect or groundbreaking, but because we finished it and it’s published online for the world to see. Everyone pitched in, everyone learned and we have something to show for it.

This project was a collaboration between Dual School, High Tech High and Blue Dot Education. Thanks to everyone who made it possible! 

Radical adaptability

Dual School is totally radical in a way that completely makes sense. Students decide on the curriculum. There is no agenda that was decided far in advance. The program adapts based on the needs of the individual student.

It makes sense this way. Every student is in a different place and they all need different things. There is no one size fits all solution to helping students launch their ideas. But when you explain the concept people get caught up on the lack of structure and certainty. Uncertainty runs counter to how our mental model for what education should be.

We’re pioneering a new model and it just might be crazy enough to work. And like all great changes, once you understand it, you’ll never go back.

Dream Do Learn Repeat

Four words that make a statement about the way education should be.

When we think about how school actually works, we’re left with the structure of learn, repeat, learn repeat until you finally get to do. There isn’t much dreaming in there and the doing comes much too late.

It’s subversive to tell someone to do something before they’ve learned about it. But I think that’s the way it should be. Dream of being a chef? Make eggplant parmesan. Bake some cookies. Try it out and you’ll learn from the process. Rapid learning is the way education should work.

I think the order of those four words matter. They all need to be there, and they need to be in that order. How do your experiences stack up?


Communities based on inclusion

Some might say there’s a community crisis happening in our generation. People are more disconnected than ever. Communities aren’t as strong as they once were. I think that’s all true, but I think some of it might be a growing pain as we realize our old ideas of community weren’t great and left too many people out of the conversation.

Typically community has been function of tradition and exclusion. Communities were formed around the basis of religion, class race, and other characteristics. Those distinctions still happen today, but I think we’re making progress against exclusionary forms of community.

Now those barriers are broken down, we need to find new ways to build community. How do we build a tight-knit group without making it about “us” and “them?” How do we come together without driving others away?

The old fallbacks aren’t working anymore and they shouldn’t work anymore. They’re old fashioned notions. But now we’re faced with the challenge of building a community around inclusion. How do we make it happen?

Frontloading the filter

To get the right people in the door, you have to do a lot of deliberate work. You have to set expectations, find good candidates and make sure they’re ready to take on challenges.

It’s a big investment, but it’s worth it. After it’s all done, you have an empowered group of people who don’t need much managing. This is how companies like Zappos operate. They spend lots of time interviewing and screening to make sure they’re hiring the right people. After the training process, employees are offered a few thousand dollars to quit on the spot.

Picture that. You’ve interviewed for a job, gotten trained for a couple weeks and now you could walk home with $3,000. Do you do it?

It’s a clever program and it’s intentionally designed to weed out people who aren’t committed to working at Zappos for the long haul. That’s just one example of frontloading the filter so that only the right people come in the door. It’s much easier to make the door harder to get into that it is to make people leave once they’re inside.

Don’t sugarcoat how easy the journey might be. Talk about the hard parts. Frontload the filter and you’ll have more commitment from the very start.

Teaching is not telling

If we stop thinking of teaching as telling, the world becomes a better place.

Once you realize how often people telling and teaching are the same, you see it everywhere. A problem occurs and the knee-jerk reaction is to tell people what to do. But the people who listen aren’t the problem and people who are the problem don’t listen.

Example: Someone litters on a highway. Townspeople see the litter and decide they need to make a law telling people not to litter. They make a sign and decide that littering is a $200 fine. It’s posted on the side of the highway and there is still litter up and down the road. The people respecting that sign aren’t litterbugs and the people who are litterbugs don’t care about the vague potential for punishment.

In the end, not much changes. It all stems from the fact that somewhere along the way people assumed that telling leads to learning. The better alternative is to help people learn for themselves. Real teaching happens with people. If we want to change behavior, we need to let the student guide the experience in whatever context that might be.

Bring the issue home to them so it’s personally important. Then, you’re not telling them what to do. They will be seeing for themselves and that is a lesson that does not go in one ear and out the other.

Work and the loneliness epidemic

This article has been making rounds on the internet and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. But we haven’t focused nearly as much effort on strengthening connections between people as we have on curbing tobacco use or obesity.”

I’m very interested in designing events that optimize for creating connections between strangers. I see connection as important in business and in life, but since reading this article, I’m realizing connection might be a much for crucial aspect of the wellness puzzle. Connection isn’t just important to advance your career, it’s crucial to staying healthy and happy.

It’s affirming to hear just how important connection is. But also alarming to look around a realize just how rare it is. How might you be part of the solution?

Ancient design features

Today I read this in a book about sea glass:

“In the early half of the 19th century there were numerous household cleaners available or substances needed to kill mice and a host of other pests. Unfortunately, many Americans remained illiterate at that time, so evening trips to the medicine chest resulted in a growing number of accidental poisonings.”

The American Pharmaceutical Association mandated that bottle manufacturers put the word “poison” on their bottles, but that wasn’t enough.

The solution was making textured bottles. Weirdly shaped bottles with spiky bumps and harsh lines.

Once you get over how sad it is that people consumed poison because they didn’t know how to read, you can appreciate that it was a clever use of design.

The bottles are treasured by sea glass collectors now. A relic of an ancient design feature brought about by unfortunate circumstances.