Category Archives: thomas friedman

Is a “Growth Mindset” Enough?

The world only cares about—and pays off on—what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). (2)

The quote above from a Thomas Friedman article on what Google looks for employees is one that has stuck with me.  It was a huge reason why I wrote “The Innovator’s Mindset” in the first place.

Yet this post was sparked by some conversations as well as this blog post by Adam Schoenbart comparing my book to E.D. Hirsch’s book from 1987, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know”.  Here is one of the passages from Adam’s blog:

Couros argues that “We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do” (p. 7), to which Hirsh would counter: “Our children can learn this information only by being taught it” (p. 14). What and how seem to be at odds in this dynamic. Hirsh’s views on the limited potential of students are definitely problematic, writing, “Left to itself, a child will not grow into a thriving creature” (p. 31). Really!?!

While Hirsh wants students to simply memorize 150-pages-or-so of definitive knowledge and ideas, Corous seeks to expand worldviews: “Innovation demands that our students learn the basics, but how we go about teaching them may look different than in years past. The basics are crucial, but they cannot be the only things we teach our students” (p. 163). What we teach our students is crucial to both authors as information is key in both texts.

Adam goes on to wonder what Hirsch’s viewpoints would be almost 30 years after this book where information is abundant:

Again for Hirsh, it’s about information first and foremost. With limited flexibility, he wants to tell America what to learn, to which Couros would likely respond: “You’ll learn that to truly empower people, there must be a shift from telling to listening” (p. 7). One can’t help but wonder how Hirsh’s views may have evolved in the new reality of technology and access to information.

Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” is one book that really pushed my thinking over the past few years.  The language we use when working with our students is crucial in how we help them develop.  In this post sharing 25 quotes from the book, here are some that stuck out to me:

Test scores and measures of achievement tell you where a student is, but they don’t tell you where a student could end up. – Carol Dweck

Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training. – Carol Dweck

Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard. – Carol Dweck

What did you learn today? What mistake did you make that taught you something? What did you try hard at today? – Carol Dweck

Although I am just sharing a bit of the book, these quotes scream “SCHOOL!” to me, not necessarily empowered learning.

Take the last quote shared in the group above.

What did you learn today? What mistake did you make that taught you something? What did you try hard at today? – Carol Dweck

What if it was changed to this?

What did you learn today? What ideas do you have moving forward because of what you learned? What will you create from this?

Both quotes are focused on learning, but in one case, the learning is extended.  This quote from “The Center for Accelerated Learning” shares the importance of creation for learning:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 8.00.02 PM


So let’s go back to the title of this post; Is a “Growth Mindset” Enough?

My short answer (obviously) is no.  That doesn’t mean it is irrelevant, but I see it as more of a continuum.  Knowledge and information are crucial to creation; they are not separated.  But my hope is to go beyond kids being “good at school” and the learning that we decide is important for them.

It is about going further with learning, to help kids (and ourselves) become creators, inventors, and innovators.

A simple analogy to explain mindset from my book:

Let’s take the simple example of playing the piano to compare the two ideas. With a fixed mindset, the learner doesn’t believe he or she has the ability to play the piano. With a growth mindset, the learner believes that, with hard work and practice, the opportunity to play the piano is within the realm of his or her ability. That belief leads the learner to try and, ultimately, grow.

The innovator’s mindset takes the growth mindset a step further by focusing on using one’s ability to learn to play the piano to create music.

As I go to many sessions at conferences, I often wonder if the focus is on how to help student’s become strong at “school”, or to truly empower them as learners and creators.  Do we want students to learn math or be able to do things with the math they have learned?  As Friedman states, what we do with what we know is what will separate us today in a world where information is abundant.

3 Ways to Go Beyond the Story to Help People Move Forward

Speaking has become something that I not only study, but I see as an art form.  In a great talk, people will not only feel engaged, but empowered to go do something after.  No matter what you say, it is important to think about how people feel.  Not only do I want them to be inspired and feel that they are on the right track, but it is important that they are challenged to go do something different.

Telling stories is crucial to this art form, but it needs to go beyond simply telling a story in the field of education.  It is great when people walk away with questions, but I think that providing some ideas and strategies are crucial to moving forward.

Watching some educator Ted Talks this morning, here were three things that stuck out to me.

  1. You do not need to provide “the answer”, but need to provide some answers. I have seen people walk out of a talks and say, “Wow! That was absolutely amazing!”  I then ask them, what is something that they will try because of it, and often they look perplexed not being able to think of any ideas.  The inspiration is absolutely crucial but it is also crucial that we at least give some practical ideas on not just “why” but “how”.  This does not mean people have to take exactly what someone has said in their talk and implement in their classroom or practice.  There are too many people that talk in “big ideas” but cannot make the connection to actual practice.  It is not about providing “the answer”, but some answers, to help people move forward.
  2. Take a “lawyerly approach” to your speaking. In one of my favourite Ted Talks, Dan Pink discussing the “Puzzle of Motivation”, talks about making a “case” and being “lawyerly” in what he shares. This is something that has stuck with me for years.  When I speak, before I plan a presentation, I try to list all of the arguments that may be brought up during my talk, that I may not be able to address at that moment.You will often hear people say things like, “I agree with everything you are saying, but what about…”, which in some ways, they are essentially saying, they don’t agree. What I try to do is think about the argument before it even starts.  If you aren’t able to think from the viewpoint of the people that will disagree with you, why are you there in the first place?  Think about the “holes” in your case and think about how you fill them during your talk.
  3. When telling a story, bring the end back to your beginning. This one is crucial.  Stories, as said earlier, are a great way to make an hour feel like a minute, when told in a compelling way.  But I often try to think about how a keynote or a talk becomes circular.  My statement at the beginning, is something that I will need to come back to at the end.  Setting the stage of what you are talking about is crucial, but it is imperative that we come back to this at the end so that people can see the connection to what you started off with to what you just told.  For example, this quote from a Thomas Friedman article on “How to Get a Job at Google“,  is one that I have used as a “thesis statement” in my presentations:“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).”If I state that this is what I am trying to discuss, my points, stories, and ending, should somehow come back to this.  This also connects to statement 2 on taking a “lawyerly approach” to how we share.  If we are unable to connect the dots in work that we are insanely passionate about, why would we expect our audience to do the same?

As stated earlier, stories are crucial to speaking, but they are not enough.  I want people to walk away feeling inspired, empowered, and having learned something that they can start them on their journey,  We need to go beyond simply telling a story.


(If you are interested in learning more on “becoming a better speaker”, I have been contemplating delivering a self-directed course on the topic over a 5 to 8 week period. If you are interested in this topic, I can send you more information when it is ready for release. Please feel free to share your contact details in this Google Form.)

Strength in Weakness

“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.” Malcolm Gladwell

Personally, I struggled throughout most of my time in school.  Although my early years I did very well, by the time I was in grade seven, I disconnected from the process of school, and honestly do not know if I would have actually stuck it out if it wasn’t for my love of sports.  If I wanted to play basketball and football, I would have to stick it out in school.  

I am also not one of those educators that grew up wanting to be a teacher.  I only decided after my fourth year of university that I wanted to become a teacher.  I loved kids but it was not my first choice as a profession.  Any way that I could avoid school, I would, whether that was missing classes or simply downloading the notes off of a website at the time.  I still have dreams about missing final exams and failing courses that I had no idea that I was actually taking.  This experience, I believe, gives me a certain empathy for the student that hates school, or gets sent to the office, because I was that same kid. Why would I recreate the same experiences for someone that I struggled with myself?

Yet sometimes, I have watched teachers that mastered school struggle with teaching students.  I remember one math teacher who was a genius in the subject, struggle to reach students.  You could see him wondering why kids just didn’t understand the toughest problems, as it became second nature.  His ability and interest in the subject was so advanced, that he would often struggle to understand why others didn’t have the same ability.  

In the context of change, are we more likely to hire an educator that breezed through school and loved the way it was created, or someone who struggled?  If want school to look different, someone who aced school might actually be the person that struggles with changing a structure they accelerated in, whereas someone who struggled, just might be the person who wants to challenge the way we have always done it.  I am not about absolutes, but these decisions are not as simple as the person with the best grades, is going to be the best for the position. Thomas Friedman challenges this idea in the article, “How to Get a Job at Google”:

Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.

Don’t get him wrong, Bock begins, “Good grades certainly don’t hurt.” Many jobs at Google require math, computing and coding skills, so if your good grades truly reflect skills in those areas that you can apply, it would be an advantage. But Google has its eyes on much more.

When administrators look for strengths in what sometimes might be perceived as weakness in their educators, we create an environment where educators do the same for their students. But we might need to also realize that sometimes our greatest strengths might be the thing that is holding us back.  What works and comes natural to an individual might not work for others, and in an organization that should be so learner focused, we really have to try to understand things from the viewpoint of those that we serve, not only the ideas that have been shaped from our own experiences.


Taking Notes vs. Taking a Picture of Notes; Which Wins?

Although I have seen this picture before, I saw it tweeted again recently:

Taking Notes

Although this seems like a no-brainer as a method to quickly capture information, there is also the challenge that if you want to “retain” information, writing it down is a much better method.  In an article titled, “Want to retain information? Take notes with a pen, not a laptop”, the author shares the following:

To examine the possible advantages of longhand note taking, researchers from Princeton and UCLA subjected students to several TED Talks and then – after a break featuring “distractor tasks” designed to disrupt memory – quizzed them on their recall of the content. Students were equipped with either (internet-free) laptops or paper notebooks while they watched the talks and instructed to take notes as they normally would for a class. Test questions included both factual recall (names, dates, etc.) or conceptual applications of the information.

Because the quantity and quality of notes have been previously shown to impact academic performance, students’ notes were also analyzed for both word count, and the degree to which they contained verbatim language from the talks. In general, students who take more notes fare better than those who fewer notes, but when those notes contain more verbatim overlap (the mindless dictation issue) performance suffers. As one might expects, students who watched the TED Talks equipped with laptop were able to take down more notes, since typing kicks hand-writing’s butt in terms of speed. However, the luxury of quick recording also resulted in the typed notes having significantly more verbatim overlap than the written ones, and this was reflected in test scores. While, laptop and longhand note takers both fared similarly on factual questions, those taking the tedious pen-and-paper notes had a definite edge on the conceptual questions. So while laptops allowed students to generate more notes (on average a good thing), their tendency to encourage writing down information word-for-word appeared to hinder the processing of information.

So one is easier and much less time consuming, and one seems to improve the ability to “retain” information and be able to share it back.  So which one is better for learning?

How about neither?

The ability to simply obtain information and recite it back is not necessarily learning as much as it is regurgitation.  I might better be able to retain the facts shared, but it doesn’t mean I understand them.  On the other hand, if I am taking a picture, putting it in my camera roll and doing nothing with that information, then really, what good is that?

What is important here is how you make your own connections for deep learning.  Taking a picture is obviously much less time consuming (why would not just give the information over in the first place?) than writing notes, so with the extra time, the ability to do something with the information is where the powerful opportunities for learning happen.  For example, taking this picture and writing a blog post on it, will help me more than simply retweeting the picture out in the first place.  When I speak, I try to challenge people to create something with the information I have shared, whether it is write a blog post, reflection, podcast, video, or any other type of media.  If they really want to process what I have shared, they will need to make their own connections, not the connections I have made for them.

Having easy access to the information is great, but what we do with it, is what really matters.

“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).” Thomas Friedman