Category Archives: Seth godin

Innovating Inside of the Box

I loved this post from Seth Godin’s blog:

The problem with complaining about the system

…is that the system can’t hear you. Only people can.

And the problem is that people in the system are too often swayed to believe that they have no power over the system, that they are merely victims of it, pawns, cogs in a machine bigger than themselves.

Alas, when the system can’t hear you, and those who can believe they have no power, nothing improves.

Systems don’t mistreat us, misrepresent us, waste our resources, govern poorly, support an unfair status quo and generally screw things up–people do.

If we care enough, we can make it change.

In “The Innovator’s Mindset“, one of the ideas that I have shared is the notion of “innovating inside of the box”:

Let’s not kid ourselves. In education, especially the public sector, schools are not overloaded with funding. Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are “outside of the box” but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box.

This is not limited to budgetary constraints.  It is in dealing with bad bosses, traditions that may be past their expiration date, policies that seem to trump common sense, or a myriad of other things.  We have a lot more power to create the solutions we need, than we give ourselves credit for.

This is a pretty powerful image.

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If you want to wait for others to make the changes that you see as necessary in education, you might be waiting forever.  It is crucial to do what we can within the “system” or the “box”, but it takes changing our thinking first.

When it’s time to leave…


Recently in a conversation with students in the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, one of the questions posed to me was (paraphrased), “What do you do when you work for someone that doesn’t have the vision to make the things happen in classroom that you believe are important?”

I referred to a prior post and had given four strategies in how to “lead up”:

  1. Start by asking, “We are here to do what is best for kids, right?” If you disagree with something and you believe that it is in the best interest of kids, start with the question suggested and wait for the obvious “yes” answer.  Once you start from that point, it is now your job to prove why what you are asking for is in the best interest of kids.  Prove your point like a lawyer.  But if you can’t prove that what you are asking is best for kids, maybe your boss isn’t in the wrong? Always start from that point.
  2. Ask questions more and make statements less. Covey’s notion of “seek first to understand” is crucial in all aspects of leadership.  We may be bothered with a decision and why it is made, and it is easy to tell people all of the reasons are wrong, or that your way is right, but there are many times where there are things behind the scenes that you may not know or understand.  What is crucial here is to help people explain their position and work backwards from there, as opposed to trying to bring them to your side.  Something might be brought to your attention that you had no idea was happening, but a conversation is more likely to lead to positive change than two people simply stating their sides.  You might find a middle ground that you didn’t know existed.
  3. Pick your battles wisely. Although I encourage people to ask questions and try to understand, there are times when you need to be more adamant about your position. The key here is that your voice is heard.  If you complain about every decision that is made in your organization, the voice becomes more like “noise” than anything. Sometimes we have to realize that there are some hills that we do not need to die on, in chase of a much bigger prize.
  4. Show that you see value in your leaders. This one feels hard to write for me, but there is some truth to it.  Statements like “that’s why you make the big bucks” are somewhat condescending to leaders, and create more division than cohesion.  We have to realize that we are all connected as partners in education, and just because someone is in a formal position of leadership, does not mean that they do not need to feel valued.  The higher you go up, the less you will hear compliments of your work.  It is a reality of the work.  What I am not saying is “suck up to your boss”.  All people need to feel valued, and when we look for strengths and mentorship, we are more likely to create a bond built on trust, which is helpful for people to move forward in organizations, as opposed to distrust. Do what you hope is done for you, and ignore title or position.2 People work better together when they all feel valued for their unique abilities and strengths.

Yet what if none of those strategies work?

Then maybe it is time to leave.

Now I know that this is not a cut-and-dry solution. People need to make a living, family situations might dictate staying, and there are a myriad of factors that may really put you in a tough spot where you have to leave.  But are you even looking at the option?

Here are some of the warning signs that leaving is something that could be considered:

  1. You feel that you are not growing.
  2. What was once a “passion”, has now become solely a “job”.
  3. Your lack of enthusiasm for what your career is trickling into other aspects of your life.  
  4. You just don’t want to be there.

When I have given this brutally honest advice to come people, one of the concerns that people share is that “they will feel bad for the kids.”  Our reality is that kids need great teachers everywhere, but if you are miserable doing what you do, are you at your best serving those students in the way that they need?

This isn’t quitting, but finding a new beginning.

When a once strong fire has been all but extinguished, it is crucial to look at other options.  Change can be scary, but it can be liberating as well.  As I have told audiences over and over again, change is an opportunity to do something amazing. Sometimes we need to embrace it before it is too late.

Raising the Bar of “Average”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the terms “mediocrity” and “average” lately.  In education, we often look at developing kids above “average”, in the pursuits of helping them to be successful (which can be defined in so many ways), but what does that mean.  I watched this video from Seth Godin where he connects “average” to “mediocrity”, and then goes on to state, “mediocrity is for losers.”

I am not sure I would agree with the bluntness of this statement, but I know few people who want to be considered average.

Here’s the deal…based on the meaning of “average”, we will never get away from this.  If everyone becomes awesome, then awesome becomes the new average, which then raises the bar for what “awesome” is. Maybe the goal should not be to develop students who are above “average”, but to work to the point that “average” becomes a much higher standard in education.

To do this, we are going to have to focus more on developing strengths and what they love, as opposed to what we love.

There are teachers who want so deeply for you to feel the same passion for their content area that you feel, but this doesn’t always become contagious.  I had some amazing teachers as a student who LOVED their content, but it never caught on with me.  What is important is that I don’t necessarily develop their passion for their subject, but I develop passion for something.  Seeing what “passion” can lead to, helps raise the bar for all of us.  I am reminded of this quote:


We should love what we teach and I am in no way arguing against this as passion is contagious. But kids should also have a lot of time loving what they learn, and sometimes what we love and what they love, aren’t the same.  It is important to recognize this.  It is not that we should only focus on what students are passionate about, as many have mentioned, school should also expose learners to things that they might not have found on their own.  Yet we need to be explicit in making time to developing student passions and interests.  This will raise “average” for all of us and will move us closer to making the students that are  the”outliers” to becoming the norm.

Creating the Future

“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.” —Seth Godin

Things I have been thinking about…

Years ago, I saw this video by Dan Brown, someone who dropped out of college (at the time), because he saw education was not working for what he needed.  This quote resonated:

“It is clear to the world that something just isn’t working with institutional education, and most people…say, “We need to change institutional education!” But to the educators of the world, I am here today to say that I disagree. You don’t need to change anything. You simply need to understand that the world is changing, and, if you don’t change with it, the world will decide that it doesn’t need you anymore.” (Dan Brown)


As technology changes and adapts, the constant question is “what’s next?”  We focus on what will come our way, as opposed to creating our way.  

When will education embrace as an institution that change is the only constant in our world, and constant flexibility and adaptation are what will be needed from our organizations, educators, and students?

When will there be a time where education creates “the next thing”?  When education will lead the way instead of playing perpetual catch up?

When will we empower our students to be the leaders of today, instead of continuously encouraging them to wait for them to do that tomorrow?

Individuals are doing this within education on a daily basis, but it is important that it becomes the norm within classrooms, schools, and organizations as a whole.  It is going to need a shifting mindset at all levels on not just how we learn, but we do and create with that learning.

The quote below is something educators should start to embrace for their students and themselves.


3 Questions for the Visionary Leader

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I love the Seth Godin quote above.

It is one that guides my thinking as we move forward in education, and if you want to be someone who influences change in yourself and others (a leader), here are three questions you should consider based on the above quote.

  1. What opportunities exist for our students today that didn’t exist when we were in school (both in and out of the schools) and what are we doing about it?
  2. What is our vision for what learning for both educators and students (learners)
  3. How are we bringing this vision to life?

Great leaders don’t simply maintain what is but they envision and create what could be.  They do not only focus on reflecting new realities, they help create new realities for those that they serve.

What will you create?

Obstacles or Opportunities?

Kids are learning a distorted view of the digital world “that reflects the fears of adults rather than the aspirations of youth.”

This quote has stuck with me since I read this article, “Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web” by Alia Wong.  It is not only in relation to our use of technology, but how this statements connects to leadership.

Think of the difference between these two questions:

  1. How do we deal with students who are so addicted to these devices?


2. How do we take advantage of the opportunities that we have for learning with students having access to all of the information in the world at their fingertips?

In some ways they are the same question, both dealing with mobile devices.  It is the framing of the question that is different. One is looking at the obstacle, and the other is looking for the opportunity.  This is not about technology, but about leadership.  Are we moving people forward, or are questions sometimes holding them back?

The most untapped and valuable resource in our school is our students.  They have an enthusiasm that sometimes, we do not only fail to utilize, but maybe sometimes even squash. Questions to move forward are crucial, but we have to recognize when the way we ask them holds us back.

Are we framing obstacles or looking for opportunities?

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Empowerment Does Not Happen Without Ownership

“If your actions inspire others to dream more...-

Seth Godin shares a nice little story about a bookshop that focuses selling only children’s books, and is surprised when he asks for a popular book and the clerk has never heard of it.  Godin shares his thoughts on whether the clerk sees this as simply a job, or do we look for people that see their work as their passion?

It’s possible that he thinks his job is to be a clerk, to keep people from stealing things, to type letters into a computer and to read the results out loud as he stands at the cash register.

If that’s the case, this store, like all stores staffed by clerks who are taught to be merely clerks, is doomed.

On the other hand, it’s possible that his job is to take it personally, to be interested, to notice, to care, to add more value than a website can.

Who gets hired, how are they trained, where is the magic?

What happens when the boss cares enough to only hire, train and work with people who take it personally?

This story has a lot of connection to schools, and makes me think about the notion of “engagement versus empowerment”.

Let’s start off by looking at administration.

There is a great story I heard when I first did Covey leadership training years ago about a school that had struggled for years and just hired a new principal.  She looked around the school and noticed that it was not taken care of, so she had focused on simply making the place look a lot better so that people would take pride in where they worked.  Inspecting the place, she had looked into the boy’s bathroom and noticed that the floors were not very clean at all, and the custodian had remarked that it was from years of urine being soaked into the floor and that it couldn’t be cleaned up.  So what did she do?  She gets cleaning materials and gets on the floor and scrubs the whole thing by hand, until it is sparkling like new.  This story spread across the school and it showed leadership by example, and that she was willing to do the hard work and took ownership not only of the school, but what it was going to take to change the culture.  I am reminded of this little story every time I am in school with teachers and I notice there is garbage on the ground either inside or outside.  The educators that are very proud of their school that pick up the garbage themselves show that this is more than just a job, but a place that they take pride in and part of who they are.

Leaders don’t only model this, but they create a culture where their staff see themselves as part of a larger picture.  When I used to hire teachers, I would look at hiring staff that saw themselves as “school teachers” as opposed to “classroom teachers”. and one of the questions that I would ask is, “In what areas do you see yourself leading in the school community with other staff?”  Before people were hired, I wanted to show that their contributions were needed to make the school great beyond the classroom.  This is not just simply listening to their voice, but creating situations where people saw that their contributions were crucial to the success of the school as a whole.  If the principal would pick up the garbage in the school, would any teacher?  Is this where they work, or is this their school?  A lot of times people are hired that want to be more than a “clerk”, but leadership doesn’t provide the opportunities that encourage people to go above and beyond the job description.

Now let’s look at students.  Here is a question I ask educators all of the time.  How many times do you see the keys popped off a keyboard on a device that kid either owns or takes home every night?  This is such a little thing, but it shows the difference between giving a device to learn, as opposed to giving ownership of the device.  It is the same thing about when I shared how if we spend the majority of our time before school designing a room based on a theme that we like, before we even meet our students, it says that this is more about us than it is them. We can say “our classroom” as much as we like, but if you have a Harry Potter theme and there are students who have no interest in the book (and might not ever no matter how much you like it), it is yours, not “ours”.

If we want people to feel empowered, then releasing control and giving ownership is the only way this can truly happen.  If our culture says, “you can easily be replaced”, then why would someone go beyond the description of their role?  Finding and tapping into the genius of others, and giving them the space and freedom to be a major contributor to the environment is necessary if we want others to go above and beyond what is expected.