The future of learning
On a recent visit to Melbourne, I was privileged enough to visit Wooranna Park Primary in Dandenong. Privileged!? A visit to a primary school isn’t typically wrapped with the word ‘privileged’ –...
on a recent visit to melbourne, i was privileged enough to visit wooranna park primary in dandenong. privileged!? a visit to a primary school isn’t typically wrapped with the word ‘privileged’ – particularly if (as a parent) you make daily trips to your own – so let me explain.
on visiting the primary school, our group was welcomed by the principal (ray trotter) and tech-educator (kieran nolan). our welcome provided the most ‘ordinary’ thing about this school, because as we stepped through the doors it was clear that the school was anything but ordinary.
very quickly i realised this school is unlike most others. firstly, traditional classrooms don’t exist; instead, the learning spaces are rich and engaging in their own right. instead of rows of desks, you’re presented with learning spaces offering a real difference.
most of the spaces have been crafted to provide engaging and immersive environments designed to spark the imagination. in one area, you’re met with a giant spaceship, complete with a flight simulator. walking into another, you’re met by an impressive red dragon boat, designed to provide students with sea-faring adventures using google earth to guide them across (actual) oceans.
the area where we started our journey was fully decked out with a green screen studio and supported a large array of technology and tools to provide students with a seemingly unlimited canvas of possibilities. fun fact: this technological space – officially named the ‘enigma portal’ – was democratically voted upon by students using blockchain voting – that the students set up.
to date, the school has been likened to disneyland rather than a typical learning space – a comparison that ray is obviously proud of. from where i sit, i can see three large flat-screen tvs – one of which is connected 24/7 to schools located in both new zealand and korea. in one corner, the school is creating an augmented reality sandbox (of particular interest to me as we’re undertaking a similar project); whilst in another, a cisco network suite allows students to design and build their own computer networks.
the technological toys didn’t stop there. we experienced 3d printing, robotics, minecraft virtual reality (vr) which they were programming, google earth experiences; and heard stories surrounding various bitcoin endeavours and the success of their mentoring programme – in which it pairs students with industry experts (recently pairing a student interested in black holes with an expert at nasa). that said, not everything was driven by technology. for the non-technical, we received invitations to stroke a selection of bearded dragons housed within their impressive nature classroom.
remember, this is a primary school!
interestingly, despite all the technology, ray is a self-proclaimed technophobe and cites his level of technical prowess as (almost) mastering his mobile. however, this mismatch of technical savviness is quickly forgotten when you listen to him speak and hear his passion for teaching, his vision, and ultimately, why he’s expanding his students’ minds.
what about the educational value?
this is where it gets interesting.
firstly, let me start by saying i’m not (at any level) an expert on the australian educational system. in fact, my knowledge has been gained primarily by anecdotal means and in large, through the honesty offered up by ray and kieran and my interpretation of their stories.
educationally, wooranna park primary is duty bound to deliver the same educational curriculum as every other australian primary school – which they do. the primary tenets (as outlined by the government and as i understand them) are numeracy, literacy and student attendance. it’s here where ray believes the system is failing the next generation; in doing so, passionately reminding us that the world is full of learning opportunities beyond this outlined framework.
he goes on to reference buckminster fuller’s ‘knowledge doubling curve’ which (currently) suggests that human knowledge is doubling (roughly) every 12-months. but according to ibm the development of the ‘internet of things’ (iot) will lead to a doubling of knowledge every 12-hours. ray suggests that focusing primarily on numeracy and literacy (not forgetting attendance of course) won’t come close to preparing our children for the future.
however, this stance has come at a cost. ray uncomfortably and honestly shares that wooranna park is below-average through assessment by the national assessment program – literacy and numeracy (naplan). although, through this discomfort, his passion and pride surface again when you hear the long-list the other results & accolades the school has achieved. some of which could be argued rival the set curriculum.
honestly, as his story unfolded, i initially perceived ray as a bit of a ‘bad-boy’, riding down the educational highway, offering up two fingers to an educational system that he felt was failing to prepare the minds of the future. a rebel born through a long career in teaching. however, by the end of our tour, i believe him more a visionary, with both his heart and head in the right place – although still carrying a smattering of bad-boy, but only insofar as to ensure he can continue to colour outside the lines and deliver a learning environment that continues to expand his students’ minds.
don’t get me wrong, numeracy and literacy will (obviously) remain core subjects, but our world continues to evolve. with the exponential momentum of augmented/virtual reality (ar/vr), artificial intelligence (ai), crypto-currencies and robotics (to name just a few), and the unprecedented access to new knowledge through the developing iot – why wouldn’t we want to prepare our children? why shouldn’t we be more prepared?
i wish ray and kieran all the luck in the world. they’ve inspired me. in our industry, technology changes… quickly. the solutions we deliver today won’t be the ones we provide tomorrow, and that’s exciting. it’s also encouraging to know that more digital natives are on their way, thanks to the efforts of schools like wooranna park.
i know this innovative approach to education won’t be for everyone. there may be flaws in the vision, glitches in the plan that are still yet to surface. from my perspective, i can’t see any – can you?
ps. i know wooranna park welcomes visitors to their school, so don’t be shy if you’re knocking about melbourne and looking for something different – reach out.innovation, technology, innovation
Taming the HiPPO
OK, so I’ve put on a bit of weight lately but I still took exception to the recent description of me as a Hippo. Turns out they were right – I have been throwing a bit too much weight around when it comes to...
ok, so i’ve put on a bit of weight lately but i still took exception to the recent description of me as a hippo. turns out they were right – i have been throwing a bit too much weight around when it comes to generating ideas. so i’ve put myself on a tight leash and i’m learning to tame my natural instincts.
let’s be honest, the best ideas aren’t always the ones that get chosen. how many times during my career have i been in this scenario: a roomful of managers listen to a strong pitch from the most senior person in the room. after the spiel, one or two people agree. the rest say nothing, reluctant to disagree or suggest better ideas. it’s the idea we end up going with even though, more often than not, it’s not even the best idea we’ve got.
and that’s the downside of involving hippos (highest-paid-person's opinion) in the early stages of idea generation.
we hippos aren’t all bad
don’t get me wrong, we hippos aren’t all bad. teams often need us to lead the charge and to keep them focused on the goal. and not all our ideas are bad ideas. but hippos can stifle the creative process. the challenge is to not let them dominate creativity and innovative thinking. if you do, you may end up with very narrow ideas, based on one or two people's experiences and gut feel. worse still, you end up going with bad ideas that everyone’s afraid to challenge. in other words, how do you tame the hippo in the ideation process?
i’m the hippo in most brainstorms at work. i often feel that everyone is waiting for me to come up with the ideas or when ideas are presented, everyone looks to me to decide whether they are good or not. for ages this has frustrated me, but thinking about it now it says more about me, and the culture i’ve created, than it does about the team. and that’s why i’ve been trying some new things to self-silence my inner hippo and to help us generate better ideas. some approaches worked better than others and i definitely found some easier to do.
silencing the inner hippo
- co-creation – incorporating clients and wider groups into the brainstorming process. this introduces more people interested in the best outcomes rather than the politics of seniority. of course, the client becomes the most important person in the room.
- silent brainstorming – using sticky notes and getting everyone to put all their ideas down first before coming up to present them one by one. every sticky note has equal value. this stops the first and loudest dominating the brainstorming. i’ve found this approach to be successful.
- using a voting system – where everyone gets to vote on ideas. every vote is equal and we focus on only the ideas with the most votes, regardless of whose they are. in these scenarios, i try and vote last to stop influencing what others may think.
- holding back - i’ve tried in a couple of brainstorms to actively stop myself from contributing ideas. i found this hard and wasn’t as successful at it as i needed to be! this puts the emphasis on others to generate the first ideas. in both cases there was awkward silence at the start but once they got into it, the team came up with some great ideas.
- building on other’s ideas only – in another session, i set myself a goal to not generate any new ideas but to only build on other people's ideas. i enjoyed this and there were some good collective outcomes.
- playing a different role – rather than contributing ideas, i sometimes look to play a facilitator role, asking questions or offering insights that allow others to generate ideas. this approach lets me influence the direction without dominating the ideas.
- agreeing an ‘objective’ criteria – establishing the criteria for assessing ideas upfront allows all ideas to be considered on the same basis regardless of who came up with them. it also gives others a legitimate basis to challenge the hippo’s ideas.
for most of my career i haven’t been the most senior person in the room, so i know what it feels like to not have your good ideas heard. it therefore horrifies me that i might be the one holding us back when it comes to the new ideas and approaches. so if, like me, you’re the hippo in the room, fight your natural instincts and actively seek ways to help the team come up with the best ideas collectively. after all you, that’s how you got to be the hippo in the first place.innovation, idea generation, brainstorm
Shifting creative conventions
Christmas day early 1970s, I opened a bag of Lego blocks. Just blocks, no people, characters or wheels. One of my favourite ‘toys’, I loved creating houses, forts and spaceships. Today Lego produces hundreds of...
christmas day early 1970s, i opened a bag of lego blocks. just blocks, no people, characters or wheels. one of my favourite ‘toys’, i loved creating houses, forts and spaceships. today lego produces hundreds of options, variations and themes and in 2008 it broke with its creative conventions, setting up ‘lego ideas’ as an offshoot of the japanese website cuusoo. it allows users to submit ideas for lego to develop commercially. fans get an opportunity to ‘co-create’ on submissions online and give feedback. if a project gets 10,000 votes, lego reviews the idea and gives the original creator 1% of the commercial sales once in production.
fast company credits this breaking with convention for winding back a decade of sales slumps and putting lego in the same league as apple.
we all have ways of doing stuff. when we’re looking to stretch our creative, digital, and innovative thinking, it’s worth taking a look at our personal conventions and reshaping our thinking.
some tools to reshape your own creative conventions
a bit like therapy, you’ve got to ‘own’ the idea that there’s an opportunity to grow and develop. once this is done you’re on your way.
the next critical step is to move from theory to practice. one of the simplest ways to get tangible is to create a visual trigger. take some post-it notes and write reminders of what it is you're aiming for, such as:
"what’s the creative/innovative opportunity here?”
"just be creative!"
you’ve just got to remember to refer back to them as you generate ideas!
like lego, you need to continue to develop your strengths, values and desire for co-creation by doing less in isolation in front of the computer. get busy communicating, sharing early and progressively with your project team. your best results will be achieved when you collaborate, value each other’s angle and captain your own specific area of expertise.
as fast as possible, define clearly the issues and challenges you’re creating for. at the briefing stage, gain personal empathy for the task and ask the ‘dumb’ questions. get what you need to do the job. start with why? work on shared options through discussion then agree on a shortlist.
agree on a ‘good enough for now’ thought process. this saves time and creates enough to communicate the ideas you most want to progress with. this will mean different things for different organisations obviously. working with each other creates a stronger, unified belief and understanding in the idea and direction, thus making it easier to support.
shape the individual and collaborative design process into four clear steps:
- apply your knowledge and insights
so that everybody in the team understands where you're at and where you’re going.
make time pressure your friend by using words only to describe an idea and why it works. it’s quicker to come up with the words ‘tomato with an umbrella sticking out of the top with a pink flamingo sitting on top’ than finding visual reference!
apply a bit of this thinking to shift a creative convention or two and you might just start humming the lego movie anthem… everything is awesome…
credit: magenta lego house by luka hoopervisual design, creative innovation, breaking creative shackles
Spark has announced it's adopting an agile way of working across its business. I applaud them for so tangibly demonstrating their commitment to breaking down silos, improving speed to market, innovation and achieving...
spark has announced it's adopting an agile way of working across its business. i applaud them for so tangibly demonstrating their commitment to breaking down silos, improving speed to market, innovation and achieving more customer focused solutions.
i’ll follow their progress with great interest, knowing that what they’re proposing challenges almost everything we know about organisational behaviour.
an agile spark transforms from a traditional hierarchical structure, with large business units, to small self-managing teams (squads), each with clear accountabilities. they collaborate with one another to deliver specific products and service projects for customers and for the good of the organisation. it’s no longer about people working in a particular business unit or function. in this model, senior leaders act as catalysts, setting direction and establishing systems for people to do their jobs effectively. and they assemble the right mix of skills, talent and experience to collectively make decisions about the what, how and when of each project.
i worked in a self-managing operational team 20 plus years ago (an experimental team within a bigger traditional structure) and my experience was mostly positive, especially at the start. some of us embraced the freedom self-managing teams offered and the opportunity to contribute ideas, to learn, to step up and have a voice beyond our title. for others, the transition from what they knew was a step too far. eventually, as we settled into bau, my enthusiasm waned and i got frustrated at the inability to just get on and do stuff without needing a whole team involved. over a year, people naturally settled into a more specialist division of labour. as far as i can remember, the experiment never ended, it just naturally devolved back to the old way.
maybe this experience is driving my slight nervousness about how spark’s tribes approach will work for the people who work there.
"people at work are largely driven by fundamental motivators closely aligned with maslow’s hierarchy of needs."
history has taught us that people, and groups, at work are largely driven by fundamental motivators – closely aligned with maslow’s hierarchy of needs - like survival, recognition, reward, progression, belonging and identity. spark’s new approach delivers a number of challenges on many of these fronts.
with more emphasis on the team’s deliverables over an individual's, how do people know they are achieving? team success is one thing but we all still want to be recognised for our own contribution. and without a clear and recognisable hierarchy how do people plan for progress and feel that their career is going somewhere? no doubt, as you deliver more and more successful outcomes you’ll get to work on more complex and wide reaching projects. maybe this represents your growth and progress but people may still want the visible symbols of progress that titles, responsibility and hierarchy offer.
our jobs are a big part of our identity and therefore more fluidity in what i do has the potential to lead to less clarity in what i stand for. without a defined work identity there is a danger that people struggle to see themselves in their jobs and this could lead to some dissatisfaction for some.
traditional functions, teams and divisions also provide a sense of belonging that this team collective may not be able to replicate. i’ve worked with a number of clients who’ve moved to open plan, hot desk approaches only to find that people end up all sitting together in the same place and same desks every day. apart from the functional benefit, the clear lesson here is that people need to feel that they belong to something. as you move from project to project where do you actually belong? who are your people?
"as you move from project to project where do you actually belong? who are your people?"
organisational behaviour has a strong competitive undertow and this approach plays well to this. short sprint work allows quick results and satisfies our desire to achieve and win. but without that longer term focus, competitiveness may see the good of the project override the longer term good of the organisation. clear measures of success are needed to signal what really is important.
despite my concerns, i love the braveness of what spark are doing here. i really do want it to succeed. i encourage them to invest in a strong company-wide internal communications programme that builds momentum in the core idea behind this initiative. a programme that reinforces key long-term outcomes as well as immediate success stories, keeping people engaged with the entire organisation and its objectives. regular communication that promotes aligned interests and behaviours and helps people feel they belong to the bigger spark team and where the organisation is going.agile, tribes
We’re on a mission to be more innovative in our work and that means pushing ourselves to think differently and go further with our ideas and our solutions. We’ve committed to building a team culture that fosters...