It’s the change not the product

“Don’t be a little bit better than something that already exists. Don’t be a tweak. Tweaks don’t make a huge change. Tweaks don’t make history. The real measure of “innovation” is the change in human behaviour that it makes.” -David Hieatt

Yesterday we were having a conversation with our principal and he said something that really struck me. As we were discussing the Innovation Academy (IA) he asked us, “how do you make the IA a big, audacious idea?”  As I reflected on this question I happened to read a post by David Hieatt that solidified this concept for me. In the post, Hieatt mentions one key piece of advice that I feel is particularly relevant to our goal in the IA (and education in general).

“…before you sit down to design your product, work out the change that you want to make.”

All too often in education we are designing products. New standards, new textbooks, new apps and new schools.  Most of the time, the talk revolves around the product, but not the change that it will make. An iPad in the hands of a student could be a powerful tool, or it could be just another way to passively receive and process information.  New school schedules could be an excellent product, or they could simply do the same thing school already does but with a slight twist.  In all of the above examples the focus is on the product. What if we instead shifted the focus to the change we were hoping to accomplish? Rather than asking what the product can do in our classroom, we should be asking what change we want to see in the classroom and what product supports that mission.

In the Innovation Academy (IA) this is something that we do, but could certainly do more of. It is easy to get lost in the product and forget what you are trying to accomplish.  For example, we have been recently discussing Interest Based Grouping (IBG) time.  This is a time when students can form mixed grade level groups to pursue learning in common areas of interest.  While there have been some great projects coming out of IBG time, something still feels like it is not working.  As I was reflecting on our discussions, I realized that we have been been too focused on the product. Instead, we should be focusing on the change we are trying to make with IBG time. Simply reframing the problem leads to a much more powerful discussion. In this case, we need to return to our original goals in designing IBG and check to see that our product (IBG) is creating the change we had hoped for.  An added piece, after reading Hieatt’s post, is asking if the product we are producing is a change or merely a “tweak.”

This shift in focus is incredibly powerful. I am already starting to reframe some of the questions from our last discussion with this mindset. For example I have been thinking:

Instead of asking “where could we design a new space for the IA,” we could ask “what change are we hoping to create by designing a new IA space?”

Instead of asking “how could we experiment with the school day and change the schedule of the IA “, we could ask “what change are we trying to create by redesigning the schedule?”

As I go through this exercise, I notice how focusing on the change rather than the product shifts the focus completely. This paired with the concept of the big audacious idea, versus the small tweak, has the potential to push us in the IA to the next level. As well, I think this exercise has a lot of potential in many areas. So the next time you are thinking about change ask yourself:

  1. How can I make this an audacious idea versus a small tweak?
  2. What change do I want to make and what products will support this change?



Time to Think

“Were we gods,  we might be able to live well without rest and contemplation, but we are not and we can not.” -Mark Helprin

If you’re like me, you might be unsure when it happened. One day you found yourself waking up, still half asleep, looking over at the mobile phone next to your bed to see if you “missed” any notifications while you were sleeping. Before you had the chance to even brush your teeth, you felt that slight twinge of anxiety that you were already “far behind” and the day had only begun.

If you’re like me, you might be unsure when it happened. One night you found yourself up very late, bleary eyed, trying your hardest to read “just one more article.” After falling asleep next to your computer, you woke up and realized that in the brief moments of your 30 minute snooze you fell even further behind in your quest to have a “full understanding”of the topic at hand.

If you’re like me, it got to the point that you were reading article after article on the loss of solitude, the “acceleration of tranquility,” and the lengths people will go to in order to avoid introspection. Every article seemed to confirm exactly what you were feeling and although they recommended “tuning out,” it felt like these articles were worth staying up late to read.

If you’re like me, you have decided it is time for a change.


“If not constantly interrupted, he is at least continually subject to interruption, and thus the threshold of what is urgent drops commensurately.” -Mark Helprin

In Mark Helprin’s piece, “The Acceleration of Tranquility,” he creatively looks at two paradigms related to information through the lens of two characters, one is a man living in 1906 and the other is a man living in 2016. At one point Helprin contrasts these two characters and mentions how in 1906 when a person went away (wherever they were) they were separated by both time and distance from others, while in the future (now) any one of your acquaintances can step into your “study at will.”

In the current age of information, our “study” no longer exists.  It is not that it can not be created, it is simply that in a time of hyper-connectivity “retreating”to our “study” becomes increasingly difficult. As one author has described it,the internet has brought on an “end of absence,”  which includes a loss of  “solitude, daydreaming, reverie” and other “things that are very hard to quantify.” With our computers, tablets, smart phones and other devices we never have to feel bored, but we are also never afforded the time for interruption free contemplation. All of this nonstop “busyness” leaves us feeling scattered and lost.


“Being clear about what we’re doing and why is the first step in doing it better. If you’re not happy about the honest answer to this question, make substantial changes until you are.”           -Seth Godin

It is this “lost and scattered”feeling that has been really bugging me lately. Just last night I was speaking with Corey about this at dinner and it is clear from his recent blog post that he has internalized this battle as well. While we owe many of our ideas and inspirations to the articles, tweets and Facebook posts that have entered into our lives; there is also something to be said for taking the time to reflect on those ideas without constantly searching for more. This is no easy line to draw here, but the closest I have come to really finding this balance is in thinking about the quote above.

I have slowly begun to approach information with a clearer idea of what I am doing and why I am doing it.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still many moments where I find myself chasing information down a worm hole that ends two hours later with my mind exhausted and my Evernote storage limit nearly at its max. The thing that is different now though is the awareness of the process.

In a nod to Corey, I will outline the ways in which I  hope to become “more aware” of this process:

1. I have started to use Clear Focus when I am working as a way to monitor how much time I am spending on a given task. Clear Focus is a timer for the “Pomodoro Technique,” where for every 25 minutes of work you take a 5 minute break.  While I am not always great at taking the break, what I do like is adding up the intervals it takes me to do a certain task and the fact that the timer silences your phone during the 25 minutes so you are not interrupted in the midst of work.

2. I too have turned off all notifications on my phone. I will still use my phone to stay up to date with social media and articles I enjoy reading, but I will now be doing it on my time.

3. I am going to focus on one task at a time while I am using the computer. If I am reading an article, I am going to wait until I have reflected on it before clicking on any hyperlinks within the text. If I am working on something else, I am not going to keep my tabs for email and social media open. The idea is that whatever is open in my tabs is essential to the activity at hand.

With these small steps I hope to regain some of the tranquility that has been lost in the midst of constant connection. I hesitate to even write these words, as I realize that with each letter I am adding to the very information that I am trying to slow down. It is in that last sentence though that I think lies the point.  We live in a time where we can share our most intimate moments in an instant and find the answers to the things that make us most curious.  This is an amazing time, but we need to slow down and take the time to enjoy it. There is no reason that you can not let everyone into your “study,” just take the time to greet them one by one rather than all fifty at time.


Again adding to the flood of information, here are some articles I have been reading related to this idea. Please take a look, but remember to read them one by one and enjoy the information before skipping on to the next one.


August Inspiration

Inspired by a weekly newsletter called “Gray Matters”  from Virginia Hughes, I have decided to put together a regular round up of articles that I have been reading related to education. I will do my best to provide the most relevant snippets and a link to the articles I have been reading every 2-4 weeks.

August 2014 

“If the hypothesis is that universal compulsory schooling is the best way to to create an informed and critically literate citizenry, then anyone looking at the data with a clear eye would have to concede that the results are, at best, mixed. At worst, they are catastrophic: a few strains of superbacteria may be about to prove that point for us.” -Carol Black @ Schooling the World

“In the American education system, the teacher is usually assumed to be the expert. We have this traditional model where one teacher stands in front of 30 kids. But the act of teaching is actually one of the most valuable ways to learn. It’s nice to see environments where children can be teachers. That’s something that Sugata has really expanded on with his Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs), which a lot of times remove the teacher altogether and allow children to learn from one another and teach one another simultaneously.” -Kate Torgovnick May @ TED Blog

“When talking about Minerva’s future, Nelson says he thinks in terms of the life spans of universities—hundreds of years as opposed to the decades of typical corporate time horizons. Minerva’s very founding is a rare event. ‘We are now building an institution that has not been attempted in over 100 years, since the founding of Rice’—the last four-year liberal-arts-based research institution founded in this country. It opened in 1912 and now charges $53,966 a year.” -Graeme Wood @ The Atlantic

“If winning is the game, then risk and failure are the strategy. It’s how you move forward. The key is to fail in the right direction. Fail bravely. Fail by taking chances, not by sitting on the fence or floating adrift on a trend.Fail by trusting your own opinion, not by asking everyone else’s. Fail by staying on your own mission and not getting derailed by another company’s success.” -James Victore @ Adobe Inspire