For #Education Innovation, It's Less Push and More Pull (Listening)

Friday, August 19, 2011

If you want a good lesson in how the education world can be a laggard in terms of systemic change and, as the software people call it, iteration, look at this example from a good company I've encountered recently, MasteryConnect.  I'm writing this post today in reaction to a great post by Mick Hewitt about his experience with a teacher and her view of how the vendor-teacher relationship operates.

I've argued for a long time that what is missing in education is a media platform that actually allows teachers to speak for themselves about the experiences they have as educators, professionals, even as parents or individuals with their own lives. All of the mainstream media that reports on education or attempts to provide information about education as an industry takes their information from the top levels of education governance, or from policy makers whose decisions decide how education works.

The only two groups of people who have any real contact with what is actually happening in classrooms and with education products are the vendors and the teachers. But until recently, most of the vendors were not tech companies. They were publishers, curriculum providers, supplies providers. As tech and the web created platforms for different types of teaching products, mostly cloud-based and delivered on the web, we've begun to see an interesting trend.

Vendors who did not exist before are taking the natural step and writing about their experiences in the teacher world. And teachers are contributing their thoughts on blogs and in their discussions with vendors. This conversation is making itself on to the web. You'd be surprised at how much of a gap there is between:

Vendors and teachers
Teachers and the 21st Century workforce
Classrooms and real life

We are beginning to see this, and we are beginning to see why. The traditional vendors had a lot to gain by "disrupting" the classroom framework and providing solutions to teachers and students, but they didn't have much to gain by forming relationships. that's because the traditional way of providing system architecture or solutions was Vendor --->  District level admin ---> schools. No need for a teacher to vendor relationship, except for face-time.

That is changing.

My friend Mick Hewitt had a remarkable educational experience with a teacher he calls Miss Jones recently as he sat with her and figured out her needs in the classroom.

It's a long piece, but it's worth the read if you are in the edtech space. Miss Jones has a strong opinion about what it's been like to work with vendors in the current school framework.

To use Bob Moesta's Job to be done framework, vendors have hired school to push their products. Teachers have hired vendors because they have no choice. Influenced by demands from on-high, it's a zero sum game for them. they must take on "solutions" that sometimes run counter to their best practice experiences with students. You see how that could be a problem.

This leaves teachers feeling "left out" of discussions and creation of tools that have, in the end, often led not to learning, but to frustration with the school experience.  Mick was able to document this with: Teachers are not second class citizens.

Here's the core problem, according to his experience with Miss Jones:
We’ve all seen that there is often a giant gap between educators and “solutions providers”. I’ve seen many an engineer come into this market having “the answer.” As many non-educators come into the market trying to solve problems in education, it’s easy to take an attitude of “we know how to solve your problem” without taking the time to really listen and connect with teachers with the spirit and understanding that these are professionals that care about kids and know a lot about solving these problems and doing their jobs. We need to find more ways to bridge the gap of the solutions that we can provide to improve student achievement and what happens on the ground at the classroom level. When we first started MasteryConnect, we worked with a 17-year veteran educator (Trenton, who you see writing on this blog) and we immediately found a gap between his understanding of what was possible technologically and our understanding of the real-world classroom. It has been a great journey as we’ve worked and continue to work to bridge that gap. 
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Virtual Karma Gonna Get You, Gonna Look You Right in the Face

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Apologies to the Beatles for that headline, but it is what came to mind when I started thinking about the most recent conundrum to come across my desk. 

Marketplaces are scaleable and they provide ready streams of revenue, but what happens if you are trying to build a company around something as simple as doing someone a favor, where the only currency is being nice to each other? A company in Manhattan is trying to do just that, but they are also finding that when you build something using only the milk of kindness, you still need a credits system. 
FavorTraders knows that a favor requested and answered in realtime is a favor done indeed. FavorTraders is what I would call a help collective.
The site is really about fostering pre-existing relationships, rather than interacting with strangers, as is often the case when asking for help online on websites like Craigslist.  “It’s a place for people who know each other to go to help each other out,” [FavorTraders Founder Jennifer] Koenig said.  “People don’t realize how many people they know,” she continued, so Favor Traders can help “facilitate and foster relationships online in order to build and grow them offline.”
Rather than a cash-based system, Favor Traders operates using a free virtual currency of credits.  Users are given 20 credits upon registrating, each of which are equal to an hour of a person’s time.  People are “paid” in credits once a favor is completed and more credits can be earned by accepting others’ favor requests.
But in talking with the founder the other day, I learned that she has been puzzling over a hard-to-miss problem: doing something for someone else is good, and nice, but how do you reward someone for doing that, and what do you use to reward them?
So far, she's hit upon the idea that after amassing a certain number of credits, a favor trader can take those credits and redeem them at a local coffee shop, or maybe exchange them like a virtual currency for something like free shipping.

I talked with Re-Wired Founder Bob Moesta about this, and after a bit of talk, we agreed that any marketplace or website that seeks to make a market out of favors traded without offering any kind of compensation for the favor milks the word of its meaning. In other words, says Moesta, "If I ask you two or three times for a favor, that's a favor. But if I ask you ten times, a hundred times, that's a demand."

Demands need to be compensated. Anyone working in this field will have to work out two things:

1. What do you call the system of exchange and currency that enables the use of and the dispensing of favors for the gathering of good social karma?

2. How do you encourage someone to do a favor without getting anything but a virtual credit system in return?
Can anyone ever really do something without hoping to get anything in return? This is an especially annoying question on the web, where even interactions have started to garner the label "social currency." 
Someone, somewhere, invisible or real, is always keeping track. Call it your virtual karma. 
There is going to be increasingly more interest in groups of online communities that do more than just talk about stuff.  Help verticals in marketplaces exist to help you find the most helpful and valuable person you know for a specific need, utilize their help and accomplish the goal needed.
There have been other attempts at doing this. There’s an app on the iPhone, for example, that let’s you find a “go’fer” in your neighborhood who is willing to do a small chore or errand for a few bucks in cash. The app relies on GPS and proximity to figure out who is available in your area. Then those persons, if they are signed into the system, determine if the task you want completed is worth the time they want to spend and the cash you want to give.
These may seem like novelties, but in an economic climate like the one we experience now, the idea of doing a handful of chores a day for straight up cash and enough to feed the kids and pay the bills each week is not really implausible.  Some of the most successful business people in our country got started doing much less for a few nickels a day.

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Scrappy #Education Startups Can Smash the Republic of No

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This is is to give you an idea how the new MIT...Image via WikipediaWhen people rush in to make money with a good education idea, they smash against the wall of bureacracy that prohibits such success. The education bureaucracy operates in a system of control. It's a closed system that purports to teach our children abuot the world "out there," without letting them really experience the world "out there." I guess because they are children?

It's rough going for anyone who is a teacher, or who wants to use their skills to help others learn how to adopt 21st Century workplace skills. Sometimes companies to  not cooperate and they shut down services that teachers find useful to teach computer science, like Android App Inventor. Disruptions like that suck for kids who start to cut their teeth on a programming language and then can't follow up, since it's not in the vision or the iteration goals of the company (however, as TechCrunch reports, they are moving App Inventor over to MIT Media Labs, so maybe this hiccup was just a hiccup).

Let's answer the question, what could we be doing to introduce students in K12 to the workplace they will need to work in when they are older?

I think we can start by introducing them to the same tools that their future employers are already using. Here is a list of some of the scrappy new upstart companies being developed on the web:

Kibin -- crowdsourced editing. You sign up to be an editor, earn a reputation as someone who is really good at editing, and who knows? Maybe you end up getting a job offer to edit someone's company work, their biography or their job literature.

BugTracker -- you put together a web project, this will help you track the bugs. I put this up there because this seems so much simpler to use than to train people on how to find bugs. Eliminate that future job, and show people another way to work, and then you don't have to spend so much time and money preparing students for a job they will never have to perform.

Welcu -- show students how to put together a high-end exclusive event.

Zerply -- organize your interactions with people around what it is they love to do. This may make Career Day even more exciting.

And full circle back to Google. Someone has an app that helps you write and code apps and get them on Google's server, easily. It's called CoderBuddy. Seems that the apps, the mobile devices, the internet and all the stuff you can do online is all about education.

We know that it is unlikely teachers and schools will ever trust students to truly be mobile with education, since most of school is really learning about how to be controlled in a controlled environment. But consider this: many of the devices that students use have GPS in them, and even their gaming systems are being introduced to Foursquare. If we can guarantee that someone, somewhere else, knows something more than what we know, then we could use these devices to find them, and have instantaneous lessons, on-site, about anything our heart desires.

That's cool real time education. Learning is always going to be "out there," in the world. We have the devices and the entrepreneurs who can finally help us get "out there."
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Shortcut: Getting Around People Who Stand In Your Way (an Interview with Brian Tolle, Re-Wired Group)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Proud to bring you this interview with Brian Tolle, author of Shortcut: Getting Around People Who Stand in Your Way, which was featured at the Fast Company blog this morning. You can purchase the book at Amazon.

Here's a slice from the interview I did with him:

Douglas Crets: When one first opens your book, the immediate thinking might be that communication alone can solve all workplace problems, but it appears that it's not just communication that helps the work environment. Can you explain why just talking things out with someone isn't enough? A lot of built-in HR and internal consulting basically falls to this default "talk it out" setting.
Brian Tolle: Where I have seen increased awareness and application of these styles (talking things out) come up short in improving interpersonal relationships and teamwork is where there are conflicting priorities and/or values among the team members or between the two individuals. And because so much personal identity and emotions are tied up with one's priorities and values, there are situations where a communication impasse remains. That's when a higher order of "talking it out" is required and it usually involves some form of negotiation (see Fisher & Ury's classic Getting to Yes for more on their "principled negotiation" as an example of the next order up of communication clarity). Without some version of negotiation, what I have seen is that, depending on the rigidity of each person's stand, the only way to break the impasse is through the decision of someone in authority. It's quick but not long lasting. The "agreement" reached usually falls apart fairly quickly from both parties.

Hiring Twitter to Create A Curated Experience

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reading this Harvard Business Review post about three ways to use Twitter, it struck me that we are just beginning to realize how consumers and businesses can use Twitter.

I'd like to extend the knowledge base a little by writing about some things I have done with Twitter and how they have helped the work I do every day.

The HBR blog post recommends "talking" as the best way to use Twitter:

Talk. Get your voice in the mix to build a following. But, don't just yammer on about how great your company and products are. Give your customers something useful, such as special offers or information.
Yes, this is absolutely correct, but with the building out of Twitter in its new form, there are a few more methods that you need to extend your practice to beyond talking. I am going to talk about one of these practices today, in the hopes that it will help you use Twitter for your business or your own social engagement online.

Hashtag Management

Hasha who?  What are hashtags in Twitter?

Hashtags are a way to organize information so that you -- and 200 million other people -- can find information later. Think of it as tagging in a blog post. You use them to organize information and aggregate it in real time, so that people who are interested in a specific category or idea can find it using search. The benefit is that they can also find you, if you are one of the first, or the only Twitter user to use a specific hashtag.

For example, I use the #rewired hashtag to organize some of the links that I send out on Twitter. When I go back to the Twitter main site and search for #rewired, some of my links and conversation come up in the search, making it easy for me to spot not only what I said the other day, but what other people are saying about #rewired.

As you can see, it's not a perfect science. Other people can use the same hashtag independent of your use. It's best to pick a hashtag with a very unique character set, but identifiable enough that people can remember it and use it without it being awkward.

In addition, here are other things to remember about using hashtags:

1. It works best when the hashtag is focused on a real time event, like a conference or a moment in time.  For example, if you are at the Summit on Consumer Goods Innovation, you could use the hashtag #Congood2011. Easy to remember, and it even has the date in there. This also works for live chats on Twitter or for webinars that you host on your business site or your personal blogs.

2. Don't make your #hashtag too long. Yes, there are some online hipsters out there that like to use ironic and sarcastic hashtags, but they are just being funny. #ohlookhowironicIamhipstersrock If you make the hashtag too long, it interferes with people's abilities to retweet (RT) your links and your messaging.

3. Make sure you tell people you are starting a hashtag. When you set up a conference, or an online webinar, or some kind of live Twitter hashtag chat, make sure you give fair warning that you are designating #Twitchat or whatever you want to call it as the curating hashtag. Otherwise, you will get dozens of tweets asking about the hashtag and wondering who is controlling its name. And then you might end up getting three or four hashtags started by creative people who mean well but are sticking it in the muck.

That's all for the hashtag lesson today. I'll be back later in the week with other ideas on how you can hire Twitter to work for your business.

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Unlocking #Innovation and Supporting Small Circles by Un-Tethering from Institutions

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fred Wilson hammered the nail straight on the head with an insightful post last week about innovation and the fact that innovation is no longer a location-specific trait. Silicon Valley is now competing with the rest of the world for talent, because the rest of the world has the internet. The new innovations are going to be applications on top of the Internet.

Here are Wilson's finer points in this post:

The Internet has made this so, and there's no going back. We will see Apples and Facebooks get built in China, India, Brazil, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and plenty of other places.
New York City has benefited enormously in the past decade from this trend. In technology, it has become the second most active start-up market in the U.S. Sadly, this is not yet true for biotech and energy tech start-ups.
Until recently, "technology" was largely about "moving electrons on wires." Now, "technology" is about building all kinds of interesting applications on top of the Internet. An increasing number of engineers and entrepreneurs are applying their ideas and energy to creating compelling services on the Internet.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but I think innovation is becoming more the standard in more places because the Internet is big, but it also creates hyper local and smaller communities. The future of the Internet depends on people forming micro-communities of talent, conversation style, culture and practical problem solving.

I wrote about this recently when I pointed out that the future is getting bigger and smaller all the time, especially in areas of talent searching, jobs searching and creating disruptive moments for entrepreneurs.

Internet intuition looks like this: The more access people have to information and sources for information, and the more efficiently things like search and network-forming function, the less often they have to cast wide nets, or use broadly based language or calls to action to get things done. They can focus on particular conversations, granular approaches to big data, and intimate social circles.

I mean, look at Google+, right?

This entrepreneur mentions the same thing: put people in smaller circles to attack specific problems in innovation-needing industries, and you will have Clay Christensen style disruption. He writes:

expand the invitation list to the ball. Firms can find a way to bring in more innovative start-ups perhaps by providing smaller courts for the newer players to compete — parallel to whatever is happening at center court — giving them an opportunity to start small, grow bigger from there, aspiring to eventually making it to the big show.
To expand on Wilson's point, it's not just that no city has a lock on innovation. It's that innovation has more opportunities to see itself realized. I think innovation and being innovative is a natural state. In a world where we needed strong and very powerful organizations to move and create change it made sense that we would look to specific geographical areas for innovation, or at superior companies and corporations for the next big thing.

But people are able to unlock innovation and de-tether themselves from these static points now. They can reach out and fill out their gaps in knowledge and technique, tools and trade with other people they might not even know.

This is a very healthy future.

The #Consumer Adventure

Friday, August 5, 2011

Someone once told me that the path to finding one's role in life is in taking heed of what we daydream about when we are doing the things we are required to do.

You know that feeling: you are at work and it's time to go through accounts and find discrepancies, round out loose ends, and call on clients that have avoided you for weeks, or who just seem to be too busy.

What do you daydream about while you are doing the things you have to do? I ask about this because a reader of Bob Moesta's work on innovation has posted a pretty insightful blog post about the dream of spending the time of our lives in the ways we feel will be most satisfying and significant to our family: independence, travel, nature, creativity. 

Blogger "UrbanTangerine" points out this premise by sighting Bob's work mentioned in the Whitney Johnson article we posted yesterday, when she writes about the anxiety of trying out a new situation that was first prompted by something subtle, deep and unconscious moving her forward (pulling her):
These dreams ask should I stay or should I go? At the root they are the same dream of spending the time of our lives in the ways we feel will be most satisfying and significant to our family: independence, travel, nature, creativity. These are all powerful draws. As My Hero said at his workplace this week, "The only thing between anyone and this place is two weeks notice." We've got the itch, the anxious hollow belly feeling that something BIG needs to change. So why don't we just do it? I can answer that with an equation.

F1 (push of the situation) + F2 (Pull of the new idea) > F3 (allegiance to current or past behavior) + F4 (anxiety of new solution)
Many would think that the average consumer experience, or the average daily experiences of life are just about split-second decisions made out of necessity for a very common or superficial reason.

I am hungry, so I need that candy bar.

I am tired, so I need to get a coffee.

I hate my job, so I need to find another one. All of these are true to a point. But you can get more granular.

What I like about Bob's Jobs-to-be-done methodology is that it reveals there are layers and layers of emotional meaning and need there that we often never pay attention to. xxx's experience of wanting to sail around the world on a boat seems grand, but it is very true that the same reasons that compel her and her family to try this adventure may also compel her to make other choices.

It may very well be true that we are all trying to tap into these compelling emotional "dreams," or reasons for our actions. What would happen if we did make a practice out of this, and made it a fundamental part of how business, marketing, or consumer choice operates?

I'd say we'd have a very big adventure on our hands.

Hiring High School to Launch a #Startup #Edtech Company

Ed's 6th Grade Class, 1964Image by euthman via FlickrWe all had high school projects. We may have had many of them. We may have loved them or hated them, but if we loved them or hated them, it didn't matter. We usually found the inner drive to get them done for some personal reason. There was usually some emotional light switch that we clicked on, during our process to getting the dang thing done.

An entrepreneur thinks a little like this. When he hires something to do a job for him, he's thinking in a much bigger way, in my opinion. He wants to use the thing he's using -- the Internet, for example -- to get the task completed. He hires the web to connect to his peers, to share ideas.

He does this, in high school entrepreneur Ben Lang's case, because as he attempts to hire school to get this done, the framework for school doesn't help him do just this simplest of tasks.

He begins to think bigger, to use the Internet he is hiring to solve this problem. He goes for it. He's in some ways going beyond his personal reasons and motivations for hiring. He's reflecting in his own work and his own use of the product a grander vision. Entrepreneurship is a gift. It's one of those happy accidents crafted with purpose.

That's true for Lang, who created an edtech startup called MySchoolHelp while trying to his notes for homework and read other notes to improve his GPA. At 17 years old, Lang hires high school to help him launch a web service that his friends can then hire to get done the job of improved school performance.

What I find remarkable here is that school was not serving the purpose it was supposed to serve. He had to create something to serve the purpose he needed. Fantastic. This young man may not know how gifted and remarkable he really is.

I interviewed him in Fast Company:
Do you think school as it is traditionally practiced stymies your efforts to be an entrepreneur? What about your schooling so far has helped you do what you want to do in this space?
Unfortunately at my school entrepreneurship was never even mentioned. I created a website for my school to find and share notes but that was the extent of entrepreneurship within my school. There was no economics class, although there was a very unpopular programming class.
Can you tell us a little bit about MySchoolHelp and how it started, and what you want it to be?
It started with, the note-sharing site I made for my high school two years ago. The administration was very supportive and now about 70% of the school relies on the site. I most certainly would have had a weaker GPA if not for and I want others to have the same opportunity. is an expansion of the site; it'll be built for all high schools in America and a few other countries. Our goal is to impact as many high schools as possible within the next few years.
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Peering Into Your Emotional and Social "Why?" With Social Media

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Whitney Johnson wrote a compelling piece about using the Jobs-to-be-done framework to "hire" social media. The article explains how she hires social media to get certain jobs done for her, like finding new business opportunities, or connecting with disparate networks.

Here's the kicker:

If you hire social media, especially to promote your business, you will likely have your own reasons, but ask yourself the question, "What problem am I trying to solve?" This will likely get you to the functional element. To peer into your emotional and social why, also ask "what progress am I trying to make?"
The savvy social media user knows that social media is not just about chatting with people and just keeping up with friends and their networks.

Brands use it to the turn the brands conversation inside out, to be less institutionally led and more consumer-focused and to practice the "consumer-listening" mode, to find out what stories social and expository customers tell about the products they love.

And there is a more compelling and emotional story to it, too.

Johnson worked with Re-Wired Group's Bob Moesta to write this article, and she points out his vision for the Jobs framework:

Moesta, the "milkshake guy" referred to by Clayton Christensen, examines the forces that drive people to purchase new products and services. After decades of applied research, he's concluded that jobs are primarily about identifying the natural "pull" (or demand) rather than reacting to the traditional "push" of sales and marketing information. Key to understanding the jobs that your products do for you is real behavior: not what you say, but what you do. By examining the basic push and pull forces in people's lives, he parses out why people do or don't hire a product, and what's hindering or furthering their progress.

Consumer choices always have a why element to them, and using social media as a brand's listening tool and conversation tool is a great way to understand the unspoken whys. Those whys are bundled around emotional reasons for choosing.

Take a look at Johnson's viewpoints on how people hire social media in the HBR article, .

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The Gretchenfrage Dilemma -- Communicating as a Leader

Monday, August 1, 2011

A coaching client of mine recently used an expression I had never heard of before -- gretchenfrage -- to describe the frustration he feels when peers or associates ask him simplistic questions to complicated topics. This German expression is literally translated as "Gretchen's question." It comes from Goethe's tragic play Faust and refers to a scene where Faust's love interest, Gretchen, asks him a straightforward question and Faust is compelled to give her a nuanced response.

Some readers of the scene will empathize with Faust and consider the subject matter of Gretchen's question to be a tad more complicated than she apparently believes – do you believe in God?. Even without a full understanding of the play, one can still pick out Faust's struggle to give his naive love interest a greater insight into the complexity inherent in such a profound question. He knows she is looking for a simple yes/no answer and still he is compelled to give her his full answer.

If we look at the exchange through Gretchen's eyes, however, we see a picture of Faust engaging in a certain degree of pomposity, rambling on about an important topic without getting to the point. The reader can imagine Gretchen thinking, “What is he trying to hide?” Is it simply a case of Faust trying to mask his true opinions so as to keep her interest in him alive? It would not be surprising if Gretchen were to regard Faust as less trustworthy as a result of his answers.

And this is where the gretchenfrage dilemma applies to every leader. At some point, a peer or associate will ask you a simplistic question to what you consider to be a nuanced situation. As well as your intention may be to provide the best answer possible to a complicated matter, the more you explain and expound, the greater the risk that your audience will see you as hiding the truth. In our complicated world, too many of us try to manage this complexity by asking simple questions, never thinking the receiver can hear the questions as simplistic and na├»ve. So what’s a leader to do – give the simple, straightforward version and answer the question in the eyes of the Gretchens in our organizations or use the opportunity to educate and enlighten and give the full, nuanced response? And if it depends on the situation, what guidelines to follow to ensure your intended message is received loud and clear?

Now the excerpt.

GRETCHEN: ... Do you believe in God?

FAUST: My darling, who can (really) say: I believe in God! You may ask priests or wise men, and their answer seems but a mockery of the questioner to be.

GRETCHEN: So you do not believe?

FAUST: Don't misunderstand me, you lovely sight! Who may name Him, and who declare: I believe in Him. Who can feel and dare to say: I do not believe in Him! The all-embracing one, the all-preserving one, does He not embrace and preserve you, me, (and) Himself? Does the sky not arch above us up there? Does the earth not lie firm down here? And do not with kind glance the eternal stars rise? Do I not look at you eye to eye, and does not everything press upon your head and heart and weave in eternal mystery invisible and visible around you? Fill your heart, as big as it is, from that and when you are completely blissful in the feeling, then call it what you like: call it happiness! Heart! Love! God! I have no name for it! Feeling is everything; (the) name is sound and smoke, enshrouding heaven's glow.

GRETCHEN: That is all quite fine and good; much the same thing says the pastor, too, only with slightly different words.

FAUST: It is said everywhere (by) all hearts under the heavenly day, each in its own language: why not I in mine?

- From Faust I, lines 3426-3465