Monthly Archives: July 2014


Trust And The Knowing-Doing Gap

2014 is likely to see greater call for ‘stricter accountability’ for all kinds of public and private services. We seem to feel reassured if, say, doctors, or hedge fund traders are made more accountable for their actions. It’s entirely understandable that we should feel this way, but the reality is that trust is not the same thing as accountability – and each generate different reactions from those in whom we trust/make accountable. Simply making professionals more accountable isn’t necessarily going to improve their performance, while trusting them will.

Dr Paul Browning is a school principal from Brisbane who has made a lifetime study of trust, and how we generate it. In a recently published ibook, ‘Compelling Leadership‘ he identifies 10 key characteristics of trust-generating leadership, which should be pinned on every CEO’s desk:

1.     Admit mistakes

2.     Offer trust to staff members

3.     Actively listen

4.     Provide affirmation

5.     Make informed and consultative decisions

6.     Be visible around the organization

7.     Remain calm and level-headed


8.     Mentor and coach staff

9.     Care for staff members

10.     Keep confidences

Curiously, while we may be disinclined to trust professionally, on a personal level, we’re trusting each other more than we’ve done for a while. Here’s an extract from OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live And Learn In The Future which examines a feature of accountability that I think we often overlook: the more accountable you make people, the less they’ll feel trusted, the more tempted they’ll feel to game the system, and the less chance you’ll have of ever getting that trust back. We only do our best work when we feel trusted, so we give up on trust at our peril.

In recent years we’ve seen a loss of trust in many of our main pillars of contemporary life – banks, media, politicians and the police, to name just a few. At the same time, however, we’ve seen a rediscovery of trust in each other. Now, I don’t want to be naive about this: I know there are scammers, spammers, fraudsters and hoaxers to be found all over the internet. But the remarkable thing is how services that rely on user trust have gained in popularity over the past 10 years.

In ourselves we trust

If memory allows, try to recall the first time you won an eBay auction. Did you doubt that you would ever receive the item, after paying for it? I know that I did. Now, however, we buy and sell without a second thought, and with some justification, since fewer than 1% of eBay purchases result in fraud.

Even more remarkable is the growth of a site like where hosts in a city offer free accommodation to visitors. Despite being conditioned by a media which, a decade ago, would have classed such an act as ‘asking for trouble’, there has been a growing acceptance that offering your couch to a foreign guest isn’t just an act of kindness – the host also benefits from the cultural insights gained.

Couchsurfing isn’t a ‘something for something’ service – only around 12% of friendships are reciprocated – but there is a generalised reciprocity, passing acts of generosity forward. In less than seven years Couchsurfing has built a membership of over 3 million people around the world, with abuse of trust incidence microscopically low.

The trust we place in such interactions works because of the service providers ‘reputation system’. eBay buyers and sellers understand the importance of positive feedback (fewer than 5% of auctions attract negative feedback), and because there are risks to personal safety, Couchsurfing has a set of identity verifications, friendship ratings and ‘vouch for’ mechanisms, in addition to feedback ratings. 

The rise of reputation-based, social sites confirms what we knew all along – that we want people to think well of us, and that we want to trust our fellow citizens – it’s simply that, up until now, we never had the tools to show what we could do for each other, given the chance. A spirit that was previously only seen between neighbours now spans the globe.

Trust in Business

Panera tweetWhilst valuing trust may seem like a natural fit for the social space, it has always been a harder sell in the corporate world. Ron Shaich had built the Panera Bread Company into one of the biggest bakery brands in America, but was curious to see if trust made business, as well as social, sense. In May 2010 he opened the Panera Cares Community Cafe in Colorado. There are no prices in the cafe, and no cash registers. People put what they can afford into a donations box, (thus preserving everyone’s dignity) and if they can’t afford anything they volunteer an hour or so of their time.

Panera bread presAs a social experiment, it worked. On average, 20% of people pay more than the normal selling price, because they know they are supporting the 20% who pay a little less. And because running costs are low, thanks to the volunteers, the cafe is thriving. Shaich’s plan is to open four more community cafes per year, on a not-for-profit basis (but hopefully not-for-loss either).

The importance of trust in how corporations create an effective working environment could not be more important, according to the people who judge it. The Great Place To Work Institute has 25 years of research which shows, year-on-year, that when employees are asked ‘what’s the most important reason for staying here? it isn’t the subsidised lunches, or other perks: it’s trust. Moreover, Great Place to Work have noted a direct correlation between the level to which employees feel trusted by their bosses, and the profit made by the company.

Most CEOs know that the best laid strategic plans can be undone by a corrosive company culture, and that a culture that doesn’t have trust as a cornerstone is likely to fail. But knowing and doing are two separate things, and trusting your staff is much harder than disciplining them. But in faster,  flatter, more fragmented, organisational working environments, we really don’t  have any alternative.

open infographic-02

What Does OPEN Mean?

Since the publication, and very positive response, to OPEN: How We’ll Work Live And Learn In The Future, I’ve had a number of people ask what the concept of ‘open’ means. here’s an attempt to present it visually (you’ll need to click on the image to view it properly).

Boiled down to its absolute basics, the logic chain goes like this:

1. Technology is helping to democratise learning – but it’s not just about the kit;

2. Through technology we’ve managed to re-connect with powerful values and actions – we share, we’re making our organisations more open; information has become free (in almost all senses); in order to turn these values into autonomous actions, we now trust each other;open infographic-02

3. This is having a profound effect on the way we view, and use, knowledge. Its value economically may not be what we were told it would be, but the value now lies in what we do with it. The Linux model (give the code/information away, people will need you to help them make best use of it) applies to almost every aspect of business now. Sadly, the glaring exception remains how schools are forced to treat knowledge by standardised testing regimes. Here, what you do with knowledge is irrelevant – all that matters is being able to regurgitate it.

But things are very different in the social space. Here knowledge really, really, matters – because we place great store in reputational capital.

4. The rise in sharing, open, free and trust isn’t found in most companies and education centres. So, the disparity between the formal learning space and the social space, couldn’t be greater. The result? An epidemic of disengagement, at work and in school.

But OPEN is irreversible and I believe that, eventually, learning in work and in formal education will have to become more open, and the playing field of life, and prosperity, will become more even.

Which is why we should welcome Open, not fear it.


Sleepwalking Towards A Closed Internet?

advocating-net-neutralityThe ecologist Garrett Hardin is best known for his famous essay ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’.  In it, he reasoned that, since we are driven by self-interest, it is only human nature to try to take the most out of a shared utility:

“…this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit – in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

The internet is – for the moment – such a shared utility, governed by some important principles. One of these is the concept of ‘net neutrality’: that no knowledge or service shall be privileged before any other. When campaigning for the US presidency in 2007, Barrack Obama explained why preserving net neutrality was vital in a democracy:

“I will take a back seat to no-one in my commitment to network neutrality because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The internet is perhaps the most open network in history and we have to keep it that way.”

As Bill Moyers argues in the clip below,  it looks at though the president has indeed taken a back seat. His Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing  a ‘two-speed’ internet for the US – and as we all know, what happens in America today, often spreads around the globe tomorrow. In a new proposal,currently out for public consultation providers, like Netflix (assuming they were willing to pay a premium) would get access to a ‘fast lane’ provided by cable providers – Comcast and others.  Those who couldn’t pay would find their voices ‘squeezed out’.

Bill Moyers Essay: What Happened to Obama’s Promised Net Neutrality? from on Vimeo.

So, an important precedent is in danger of being established, and the gatekeepers are on the side of the near-monopolistic corporations  who govern access to the internet.

Around the world governments are being urged by advocates of an open internet to enshrine into law the principle of net neutrality. Some East Asian and South American countries have acted, while others (including the UK) appear to support the differentiated speeds and services that go with fast and slow broadband lanes. Indeed the UK currently seems to be leading the way in riding roughshod over personal freedoms. Last week the coalition government (with opposition support) rushed through, in a single day, legislation which increases government powers of surveillance and data retention. The act, known as the DRIP act (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers) has been widely criticised by civil rights campaigners, authors, even the UN Human Rights boss. But public outcry on both DRIP and the FCC proposal, appears to be in short supply – why?

There appears to be a common tactic in both cases: bore the public to death. TV presenters Charlie Brooker and John Oliver both rumbled the arcane and tedious language used to switch off even well-informed citizens.  Make it as tedious as possible, then they’ll assume if it were important, somebody else would be jumping up and down, right? Oliver, to his credit, shows how using humour and plain speaking can both educate and agitate. The brilliant clip below has, at the time of writing, had almost 5 million views. The day after John Oliver’s programme aired, the FCC servers crashed under the weight of comments being made. The have now extended the consultation period until September.

My book takes an unashamedly optimistic view of  our capacity to take more control of our lives through free and open means of communication. But I also caution against the danger of having those means taken from us by stealth – the battle for control of the internet will require constant vigilance, people like Oliver who can see chicanery buried beneath arcanery, and all of us to protest loudly when those freedoms are being stolen from under our noses.

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Book cover 3-d

“So, What’s Your Book All About?”

Open CoverIt’s the question I’ve been dreading over the past two years. I don’t know many authors, so I can’t say if it’s a universally felt reaction, but my unspoken response is ‘If I could sum it up in a couple of sentences, I wouldn’t have needed to write 200 pages’. Nonetheless, the so-called elevator pitch is a necessary aspect of promoting a book. So, here’s a slightly longer version, in case you’re thinking of investing your hard earned cash in a purchase:

Thanks to the speed and scale of digital communications, we’re witnessing a set of profound shifts in how we view, share and apply knowledge. Knowledge has gone from something which used to ‘trickle down’ (from expert to novice) to something that spreads laterally, through peer networks; from being a guarded asset, to common property; organisations that used to operate on a need-to-know basis are now espousing ‘radical transparency’. Most critically, the commercial value of knowledge has tanked, (especially in digital forms) but its social value has soared. In short, knowledge is finally being democratised, and we’re going ‘open’.

What we’re seeing, however, is an unevenly spread revolution. How we learn in the social space has irrevocably changed, and has changed us. In our formal learning places – at work, in school or college – change is coming far more slowly. My argument is that we have to fundamentally change how we make learning happen at work or in education, because it can’t keep up with the learning we do ‘outside’.  Informal learning is being powered by values and motivations that are largely missing from formal learning.(Think campaign groups like Avaaz, self-help forums and the sharing economy)

I deliberately combine the worlds of business and education because the challenges are the same. Levels of engagement are the same for both workers and students – less than one-third of us are engaged in our work, or studies. We’ve lost ‘permission to think’ in both places, and accountability has risen, while trust has fallen. Too many schools and companies see learning in ‘enclosures’ or silos, while learning in the social space is a ‘commons’, with a strong sense of participation, purpose and passion.

The global challenge for our institutions is to acknowledge that, having discovered a sense of self-determinism socially, we increasingly expect to see that at work and in school. The innovative companies (like 3M, Google, Valve) and education initiatives (MOOCS, Self-Organised Learning Environments, the Maker Movement) all recognise that, if we’re to be engaged, creative and innovative, we  need to be able to ‘hack’ our working and learning lives, like we do our social learning.

Going open requires a set of principles and actions that many organisations struggle to fully buy into. The book ends with some ways forward for CEOs, learning officers and school leaders. Going open is nothing new – Thomas Edison created the most innovative learning environment we’ve yet seen through open values and structures – but never has the need for change been greater. Disengagement has disastrous human, social and economic consequences. If we want our kids to be happy, fulfilled and economically competitive in the future, we need formal learning to become much more open.

That’s the gist of it. At around 200 pages, it contains case studies of innovative leaders and organisations that inspire us to think differently – in the world of learning, we call such people ‘mavericks’, simply because they have the temerity to do things differently. But I believe that open learning environments are inevitable and irreversible, so the quicker we understand them, and their leaders, the better.

Please don’t feel you have to buy the book to comment! Let me know what you think. How does your learning at work compare with how you learn socially? Have you examples to share of ‘disintermediated’ living and learning, where you have eliminated the gatekeepers of knowledge or services? Do you work, or study in an environment that is going open? Please leave your comments below!

Edison's organ

The Fear Factor That Holds Back Innovation

In 1968, Spencer Silver, a scientist at one of the world’s most innovative corporations, 3M, invented an adhesive that left no

Post it noteresidue. Unfortunately, it didn’t really bind anything either and, as a failed experiment, it was quietly forgotten. There was – and still is – nothing remarkable about a failed experiment at 3M. Over half of their inventions never make it into production.

Eight years later, another 3M scientist, Art Fry, was getting frustrated in church. The makeshift scraps of paper he was using as bookmarks for his hymnal kept falling out. Remembering Spencer’s glue that didn’t stick, Art started tinkering with paper-backed adhesives to create a removable hymnal bookmark.

We know it today as the Post-It note.

It’s a classic example of the capacity, in the words of an equally successful company, to “fail fast and iterate.” Google got the idea for their famous 20 percent “free time” (where employees can spend a day a week doing their own projects) from 3M, who first instigated 15 percent employee time in 1948. Google has only a slightly better failure rate than 3M: 36 percent of Google’s inventions fail, though many of their failures have successful iterations further down the line.

To those of us working in education, the culture of innovation lived by Google and 3M seems both fearless and enviable. How many of us would keep our jobs if half of what we tried didn’t work? How many of us are given generous amounts of time to experiment in our practice?

Due to what we in England call the “accountability framework,” most school leaders would be more likely to describe themselves as fearful, rather than fearless. Innovation happens slowly, and incrementally, in public schooling. The fear factor hangs over education ministers, who have to show an impact over a four- to five-year electoral cycle. It hangs over school and district administrators, who have to demonstrate “turnaround” in failing schools. And it hangs over teachers and students, who seem to be continually exhorted to “do more, work harder,” not “reflect more, work smarter.” The fear factor is one reason why, as Sir Ken Robinson remarked, “we keep trying to build a better steam engine” rather than radically re-invent education. Most would acknowledge that, compared to the incredible rate of innovation over the past 150 years in science or industry, things move slowly in education – and it can’t be because we think it’s about as good as it gets.

In working with teachers and school leaders in the U.K., Australia and North America, I’ve witnessed periodic periods of fear and demoralization. I believe that while some of those fears are justified, some are not. Before looking at ways in which we can stimulate schools to become more innovative, let’s look at what seems to be holding us back, structurally and culturally.

Structural innovation blockers

“It’s the system.”

In the U.S. and England (where, arguably, the fear factor is greatest), current strategies seem to involve carrots and sticks. The Obama administration recently completed the first three-year cycle of the Investing in Innovation program, dedicated to finding “innovative solutions to common educational challenges.” The English equivalent is the Education Endowment Fund, instigated to encourage innovations to “break the link between family income and educational achievement.” While the change of direction from both administrations, previously “best known for mandating compliance and disbursing formula funds,”[1] is to be welcomed, both funds have been criticized for overly narrow eligibility criteria and overly prescriptive evaluation requirements.

The top-down fostering of innovation also has to be seen against what is perceived by school leaders as an ever-increasing emphasis upon standardized testing and payment by results.

“They won’t let us innovate.”

After lengthy demands for compliance, it’s perhaps understandable that school leaders would be hesitant about taking the path less trodden. When, in 2005, the Innovation Unit[2] was part of the U.K. Labour government’s Department for Education, it was mandated to offer schools the “Power to Innovate.” This gave schools temporary exemption from statutory regulation, should their innovation benefit from it. An overwhelming majority of schools who applied for this exemption were advised that they didn’t actually need it – what they were proposing lay within the regulatory framework anyway.

Once established, a culture of compliance is remarkably difficult to break.

“Innovation flows down, not up.”

Many teachers have experienced, over the past decade, some loss of autonomy in their practice. The introduction of the Common Core Standards in the U.S. is perhaps the latest example. Accompanying this has been the rise of the “executive leader” of schools. Once charged with turning around a failing school, such administrators inevitably bring sweeping change into the organization, reinforcing the notion that for teachers, innovation is done to them, rather than done by them.

In sharp contrast, the growth of personal learning networks, social media and social learning phenomena like TeachMeet events[3] are reversing this pattern. Teachers engaging in peer-to-peer learning offers the best hope not only for innovation flowing upwards, but also for models of distributed leadership.

I have experienced this first-hand through the Musical Futures program.[4] Musical Futures has been engaging students for 11 years, originating in England, but now operating in seven different countries, including Canada. We learned some time ago that the way to get an education innovation to spread was by engaging teachers in develop-ing new practices: prototyping, testing, reflecting, redesigning. But we started in a single country, before the advent of social media. Now, Musical Futures teachers globally share their videos, resources and lesson plans through a virtual sharing wall, Facebook, and a weekly Twitter meet-up. One tweet from a teacher sums up the excitement felt by this form of global, do-it-yourself professional development: “This is the best staffroom EVER!”

Cultural innovation blockers

“Why should my child be the guinea pig?”

I was once explaining an initiative I was leading to an English politician, only to be halted by the phrase every education innovator dreads: “So, you think it’s OK to treat these kids as guinea pigs, do you?” This populist favourite is inevitably followed by, “Kids only get one chance at a good education.”

Indeed they do. But, while I have met many children whose schooling was blighted by mind-numbing repetition and routine, a child’s school career is long, and I have yet to meet any who felt they were penalized by being part of a new innovation. Quite the reverse – most students are happy to be seen as pioneers of a new form of pedagogy. The demand for places at charter schools in the U.S., and free schools in the U.K., suggests that parents, too, are less concerned about the guinea-pig syndrome.

“If all else fails, or no one’s looking, innovate.”

Schools, in most developed countries with strong accountability frameworks, aren’t judged on their levels of innovation. They are judged, primarily, on test scores. There is, therefore, precious little incentive for good mainstream schools to try new teaching practices which ultimately may not work.

Radical, disruptive innovations are most frequently seen in so-called failing schools, where tweaking or incremental change is insufficient. Hartsholme Academy, in Lincoln, U.K., is a prime example. When Carl Jarvis became Head Teacher there in 2009, the school was under threat of closure. It was ranked the 5th worst school in England.

The fear factor, however, was absent, since there was no realistic future for the school. Carl changed everything – except the teachers he inherited. Out went desks, in came iPads for all students. Out went worksheets, in came immersive learning environments, project- and challenge-based learning, and pedagogy based upon latest neuroscience findings. Three years later, the English schools inspections agency deemed Hartsholme to be “beyond outstanding” (outstanding is the highest achievable classification). Despite this astonishing achievement, the Hartsholme innovations are dismissed by many as non-transferable, applicable only to failing, inner-city schools.

Charles Leadbeater has written extensively on our failure to learn from the innovations which take place “in the margins.” Because they are only in our peripheral vision, we fail to see their wider applicability. Leadbeater argues that solutions which are found in developing countries or in alternative educational settings are not just instructive, they are the future: “Too often, entrepreneurship and innovation have been seen as marginal add-ons. In the century to come, they have to become the new mainstream.”[5]

Feel the fear and do it anyway

One of the world’s leading management experts, W. E. Deming, believed there were five deadly diseases of management:W e deming

1. Lack of constancy of purpose – not understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing;

2. Emphasis upon short-term profits – leading to “shipping stuff out, no matter what,” and “creative accounting”;

3. Annual rating of performance – the merit system encourages short-term performance. It annihilates planning, it annihilates teamwork. You don’t get ahead by being collaborative, you get ahead by getting ahead;

4. Mobility of management – the valorising of those who can quickly turn around a company’s performance, but do so by a scorched-earth policy and then quickly move on;

5. Use of visible figures only – only valuing what can be easily measured.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these can be applied to many current national education policies, and how they contribute to a climate of fear and mistrust.

So how do school leaders navigate the murky waters between what social theorist Barry Schwartz describes as “doing the right thing, or doing the required thing?” Undoubtedly, the hierarchically imposed fear factor puts pressure on leaders to do the required thing. But there are enough inspiring examples of school leaders and superintendents who have felt the fear and done the right thing anyway to give us all hope. There is probably little we can do to persuade our political leaders of the need to do the one single thing which, above all else, would remove the fear factor: de-politicize education. But there is plenty we can do, as a community of practitioners, to support innovation without fear.

First, we can look outside our own discipline for inspiration. It is, after all, what leaders of innovative schools do. Books by management gurus Peter Senge, Ricardo Semler, Teresa Amabile and Clayton Christensen are just as likely to be on their bookshelves as classic education texts.

Second, we can see that innovative organizations, like Google and 3M, create a safe space for experimentation, giving people trust, time and permission to fail.

Third, great leaders see their schools as porous global learning commons. When Stephen Harris, principal of Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney, set up the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning, it was to ensure that his teachers would go around the world, visit great schools, and feel supported to embed those practices in their classrooms.

Fourth, leaders like Harris understand that innovation is a mindset, a culture, not a one-off experiment. To support that mindset they de-privatize the act of teaching, seeing teaching as a team sport, not a solitary activity. Critically, innovative schools seem to share a common characteristic: their teachers are expected to be designers of learning, not simply deliverers.

edison menlo park

Fifth, centres of innovation have their own yardsticks by which they want to be assessed. Great schools aren’t blown off course by a single set of disappointing test scores. Instead they have a constancy of purpose, informed by their own success criteria, often less visible than those imposed upon them. Thomas Edison arguably created the most innovative learning environment wehave yet seen. Despite filing over 400 patents in six years, Edison insisted that his “inventions factory” at Menlo Park should be judged, not by its successes, but by the number of experiments carried out on any given day.

In most developed countries, we have a more conducive environment for innovation than we’ve had for many years – though not without restrictions. More importantly, perhaps, we are seeing global networks of innovators forming through social media. Instead of simply relying upon their schools or their leaders. they are being emboldened by each other’s ideas and mutual passion for learning. One of those taking part in the Musical Futures pilot was Sandie Heckel, a music teacher at the District School Board of Niagara, Ontario. This was her reflection on innovating within a community of practitioners:

“No longer was I the sole music/arts teacher in my school – I now had the support of teachers around the world who, like me, were going through the same struggles to get kids involved in authentic music making. This community of teacher learners, whose brains I could pick at any given moment through Facebook and Twitter, were an invaluable support. I especially appreciated seeing the videos of their students’ work posted on the Sharing Wall, as did my students.

In this project, the learning was collaborative, continuous, and evolved over time. It allowed me to struggle with new ideas and in the end make a fundamental shift in the way I teach – from almost exclusively instructing students how to make music, to facilitating my students’ collaborative search to make music of their choosing. The shift was radical and the shift is permanent, and the nature of this PD was key in making that happen.”

If experiences like Sandie’s aren’t enough to persuade us to overcome our fears, we have to consider the alternative. To simply continue teaching the way that we ourselves were taught – when the world is changing so quickly – is to be immobilized by fear.

As John Dewey said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

Google Play

I Wrote A Book: Here’s What I Learned And How I Did It


Writing the book ‘OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn In The Future’ has been the biggest learning experience of my life. I’d like to share the key lessons with you, in the hope that it might encourage you, or your students. The last time I was immersed in a prolonged creative activity like this was when I was a singer-songwriter – many years ago – and the parallels between the book industry and the record industry, have been both instructive and illuminating.

Lesson #1: FInd Your Voice Before You Start

This one I remembered from my time as a songwriter. Record companies were forever asking me to write a song that sounded like, well, whoever was in the charts at the time. After chasing my own tail for a couple of years (by the time you’d got the ‘tribute’ style licked ,the world had moved on…) I realised that whatever voice I naturally had, was lost in the process of mimicry.

So this time, I kept a regular blog for two years, before I began to even think about a book. That experience was, and remains, invaluable. Not only does a weekly blog post keep your writing muscles working, your natural voice emerges. I knew, having worked in education, that I didn’t want to write non-fiction for an academic audience. So, blogging’s conversational style suited me, and readers seemed to like it. I once worked with Sir Paul McCartney, and was astonished to discover that he never, ever warms his voice up before performing. I’ve never understood why. Blogging, for me, has been the equivalent of a vocal warm-up.

Lesson #2: Don’t Wait For The Perfect Writing Environment

That said, blogging is to writing a book, as sprinting is to running a marathon. I started writing the book after about a year of researching (Evernote, how can I thank you enough?). My blog posts are usually written on the run, but I realised that, to write a book, I’d need a concentrated period, in a place with few distractions, and a daily routine. So, I chose to spend a six-month, self-funded, sabbatical in Australia. It’s the equivalent of a band recording an album in the Caribbean, with predictably similar results. The distractions were plentiful, and the book stuttered along. I had a great time, though.

Lesson #3: Write, Then Research

I thought authors did all their research and then started writing. But at the point where my Evernote folder had over 500 entries, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees, nor how I should structure my arguments. At that point I received an email from another of my mentors, Sir Ken Robinson. “Don’t leave it too late, before you start writing” was all it said, and I knew he was right.

So I started writing, with only the barest sketch of a plot or a plan. And in the writing I recognised the book I really wanted to write, and that took me down roads I hadn’t anticipated, which then required further researching. I don’t know what it’s like for other non-fiction writers, but for me the researching and writing have gone almost hand in hand, not one before the other.

Lesson #4: Mentors Are Great, Critical Readers Are Even Better

Having name-dropped, allow me to mention the person who perhaps mattered most in the process: Tom, my ex-songwriting partner. Having the first couple of chapters done, I shared them with Tom, knowing that I’d get a no-nonsense, but sensitive, critique. He encouraged me to put more of myself into the book: my experiences, my stories. When I heard the same from another critical reader, I had to get over myself. This was a key moment, because I’d hitherto assumed that people expected non-fiction to be balanced and objective. Dull, in other words.

Lesson #5: Less Really Is More

Tom’s most valuable advice – ‘Less is More’ – is hardly original, but writers need to be reminded of it, constantly. Confusingly, by this time I’d found an agent, and he felt the first draft needed to be 15,000 words longer. So I kept writing….

Lesson #6: Get An Editor, But Trust Your Instincts

Once I’d hit nearly 80,000 words, even I thought it could do with a light trim. My newly acquired publisher, Crux Publishing, assigned an editor. I expected some nip and tucks, but what was proposed amounted to amputation. The version that was published (the 20th draft) was 20,000 words lighter. Taking out those witty diversions felt like infanticide, but what emerged was a tighter, punchier, flow.

Handing the manuscript over to someone who will be ruthless in their criticism is crucial, but there were a number of times when I felt my voice was being lost. Unlike my days in the music business, this time I held out.

Lesson #7: Don’t Think You’ve Finished When You’ve Finished

Oh no, you’ve barely started. When you’ve lived with a book for 3 years, the process of line and copy-editing is like banging your head against a metallic sharp object. All you want to do is stop. It’s tedious, boring and repetitive. I got through it by reminding myself that I now never listen to any of my songs , because I can’t bear the imperfect rhymes, or the bum notes being sung/played. I didn’t want to repeat that experience.

So, once it’s up on Amazon, your work is done right? Er, no…..

Google PlayLesson #8: Build Your Platform, First!

If I’d discovered Joanna Penn before I started I would have not only known what a ‘platform’ is, I would have had the thing built. The excitement of publication, quickly gives way to the realisation that no-one is going to do the marketing for you. I currently spend at least 2-3 hours every day tweeting, blogging, podcasting…it’s relentless. Tim Ferriss likens writing a book to launching a start-up company. I don’t like the grind of touting yourself around. But I like the idea of no-one reading my book even less.

Lesson #9: Don’t Get Hooked on Sales Figures:

#8 Best Seller

During the first forty-eight hours of OPEN’s release I watched the Amazon Best Sellers lists in my chosen categories, with giddy excitement. One minute I was ahead of Seth Godin, the next I’d overtaken Malcolm Gladwell I later learned that this was the ‘friends and family’ effect of a new book being launched. Elation gave way to despair over the next few days, as the book slid steadily down those lists. II never expected the book to be a best-seller (even by the modest yardsticks of non-fiction) so I stopped looking. Well, almost.

Lesson #10 Enjoy The Moment , It May Never Come Around Again

Instead, I now appreciate the reader reviews, the lovely tweets, and the emails from people who tell me that my book has changed the way they see the world. You can’t put a price on that. Because of social media, I’m directly connected with lots of people who have read the book, and I’m rapidly becoming known as ‘that OPEN guy’. I’ve been called worse.


Invention Factories and Open Learning



This article first appeared in Chief Learning Officer in April 2014

By David Price

Thomas Edison is often referred to as the father of invention. But in my view, Edison was the first — and possibly finest — CLO.

Consider the learning environment he built during his most prolific period — between 1876 and 1882 — when he housed a team of two dozen in Menlo Park, N.J. During those six years, more than 400 patents were filed, creating products that shaped the 20th century: the phonograph, the carbon telephone transmitter, stations that could generate and transmit electricity, and the incandescent light bulb.

Edison understood that employees are only partly driven by remuneration — his young team members each earned less than a teacher’s salary. But he achieved engagement by creating an open, empowering and collaborative learning environment. One employee, Francis Upton, wrote to his father shortly after arriving at Menlo Park, “The strangest thing to me is that the $12 I get each Saturday for my labor does not seem like work, but like study, and I enjoy it.”
I highlight Edison’s invention factory because innovative learning environments didn’t just appear overnight in Silicon Valley startups. His vision and imagination inspired many of the leading creative workplaces of the past 50 years.

Edison put in place key structural and cultural building blocks that still inspire imitation. First, he believed in a silo-free machine shop culture where peer learning across disciplines prevailed.

Spencer Silver, one of 3M’s senior scientists and a co-inventor of the Post-It note, said in “A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story,” “Thomas Edison believed that a small group of people with varied backgrounds could be the most inventive. That’s what I found when I joined (3M’s) Central Research. I could talk to an analytical chemist, a physicist, people working in biology and organic chemistry — people in all the sciences. They were all within 50 yards.”

Second, innovative learning environments are inherently democratic. Look at photographs taken inside the machine shop at Menlo Park; it’s impossible to tell which one is Edison. He knew that good ideas could come from anywhere and that creativity hates hierarchy.

Third, Edison’s learning environment was highly social. When he set up the organ for communal singing, or provided beer and food for all-night invention sessions, it wasn’t very different than the free massages and food available at Google Inc. It probably provided the inspiration for Mark Zuckerberg’s pizza-fueled all-night “hackathons” at Facebook Inc. Not only social, Menlo Park was open: Visitors were allowed easy access to the shops, whether they were young boys looking for inspiration or rival inventors looking for ideas.

I call these kinds of innovative environments learning commons, but sadly, many formal learning contexts still operate as closed learning enclosures. One of the driving themes of my book “OPEN” is the process of “disintermediation”: removing the intermediaries in how we conduct all transactions, including learning.
This is the CLO’s dilemma. Outside the workplace, we all learn informally and socially. In learning theory terms, we’re moving from pedagogy — tutor-led; through andragogy — self-directed; to heutagogy — self-determined. In the future, we can expect to be more in control of our learning in the workplace.

So, how does today’s CLO build an innovative, user-driven learning commons? In interviews with CLOs, there was a palpable sense of frustration that their desire to encourage open, collaborative learning cultures was often undermined by corporate incentives that encourage individualism and short-term metrics.
“What gets badged as ‘organizational learning’ is really just the mass training of individuals,” said Matt Moore, knowledge manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Sydney. “Corporations have to balance three levels of learning: the individual, the group and the corporate … it’s usually the group that gets neglected.”

Then, consider the importance of engagement. According to Gallup, the damage to productivity from disengaged employees is $300 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Perhaps our leaders need to be reminded the key to real employee engagement doesn’t lie in incentive programs, but in ensuring that labor feels less like work and more like learning.

Jack Andraka at podium

Article in Sydney Morning Herald, November 2013

This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, to coincide with the publication of OPEN.

Jack Andraka at podium
American prodigy Jack Andraka is largely self-taught, using powerful internet allies such as Google and Wikipedia. Photo: Getty Image

By Dan Haesler

Jack Andraka is just 16 and already he’s perfected his origami technique, designed a safety device for kayakers navigating dams and, just for good measure, he’s developed a revolutionary test for pancreatic cancer.

Andraka is a phenomenon. Described as “the Edison of our times”, the young American was 15 when he developed a test for pancreatic cancer that is faster, more accurate and a fraction of the cost of the existing test.

What’s even more remarkable is that he is largely self-taught; using what he calls the “teenager’s two best friends”, Google and Wikipedia, he formulated the theory behind the test.

“I found it nearly impossible at the beginning of my journey to obtain books containing up-to-date information that I needed in my public libraries,” he says. “But by using Google and Wikipedia I was able to educate myself about single-walled carbon nanotubes, pancreatic cancer and antibodies enough to be able to make the crucial connections in my mind.”

It wasn’t just access to knowledge that enabled Andraka to revolutionise the detection of pancreatic cancer – it was the ability to connect and collaborate with scientists all around the world.

“I would have had to spend so much money in copying fees and postage to send my proposal to 200 professors,” he says. “Instead, I just pressed the send button.”

Andraka believes online collaboration is the key to learning and innovation. “The internet doesn’t care about your gender, race or religion,” he says. “It’s a place where only your ideas count, and we can use it to help people around the globe to innovate and change the world.”

Sure, Andraka’s is an extraordinary case, but whether it’s learning to play guitar via YouTube, or mathematical theory through the Khan Academy, this is how teenagers today learn, openly connecting to what they want, when they want, with whomever they want.

Except, that is, when they’re in school.

In his call for a “back to basics” approach to education, federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has called for “more didactic teaching methods, more traditional methods rather than the child-centred learning that has dominated the system for the past 20, 30 or 40 years”.

Although acknowledging that we “will not be able to do this overnight”, he is adamant that the curriculum should “deliver what parents expect”.

Mr Pyne’s stance has many in the teaching profession concerned that this will mark a return to the days of “chalk and talk”, the antithesis of an open approach to learning.

But visiting British educator and author David Price sees things slightly differently, saying that Mr Pyne is right – in part – when he says schools should deliver what “parents expect”.

“Most parents expect that school should, at the very least, prepare their kids for the world of work,” Mr Price says. But he’s concerned that parents don’t understand the nature of the workplace their children will be entering and that they “need a wake-up call”.

Mr Price believes that despite an awareness of globalisation and technological advances, most people still equate offshore competition with the manufacturing sector or call-centre work. That is not the case, he says.

“Parents should visit employment websites such as,, or,” he says. “You’ll see Australian graduates competing with graduates from emerging economies for short-term contracts in white-collar professional occupations like finance, legal, design, media and management.”

In researching his new book, Open: How We’ll Live, Work and Learn in the Future, Mr Price found that AMP, one of the largest wealth-management companies in Australia, predicts that within the next 10 years, 50 per cent of employees will be working freelance. “And many employers now recognise that graduates from India and South America have the same qualifications and are prepared to work at a fraction of the cost of Australian, American or British graduates. Ask yourself, as a contractor, who are you going to employ?”

Rather than going back to basics, he believes the solution is to create an education system based around “service learning” that fosters the entrepreneurial, creative and innovative skills needed to compete in an increasingly freelance world.

“Australia produces literate and numerate employees – more so than the UK or America – so it already has an advantage over Western rivals,” Mr Price says. “And those kinds of skills – demeaned by politicians as ‘soft’ – are exactly the skills that Asian and South American students don’t have – yet.”

As Australian politicians look forlornly to the top of the OECD tables, Mr Price says Pacific Rim nations are recognising that what got them to the top of those tables – drilling kids to pass English and maths exams – won’t invent the next iPhone. “So Australia has the edge, for now,” he says. “But with China radically changing its curriculum to foster creativity in its students, and Singapore and Korea abandoning rote learning in favour of project and inquiry-based learning, we haven’t got long.”

Although it appears politicians are yet to understand the need for change, individual teachers agree with Mr Price and are incorporating new technologies and teaching strategies in their classrooms.

Jenny Luca is director of ICT and eLearning at Toorak College. She teaches a year 9 elective called “language of our times”, focused on authors and the way they communicate with audiences today, the nature of viral videos, spoken-word poetry, the future of journalism in a digital world, crowdsourcing and coding.

“I think some teachers understand the implications of a world where easy access to information makes self-directed learning a much easier reality,” she says. “But there are probably many who don’t engage in online spaces for learning purposes and don’t yet realise the potential that exists.”

Ms Luca believes there is a steady shift towards embracing open learning, but it relies on more than individual teachers. “We need to see the input from leadership at all levels, both within schools and from larger government bodies,” she says. “We need to explore how the best schools loosen tight curriculum structures to embrace the potential of students exploring what interests them and reaching their potential that way.”

At Wooranna Park Primary School in Dandenong North, principal Ray Trotter says technology “should not just be a means to doing what we’ve always done”.

“Unfortunately, much of the ICT used in schools perpetuates traditional teaching practices by supporting teachers to impart knowledge to students,” he says. “The limited use of social media in schools also highlights this problem.”

Mr Trotter says social media is a big part of children’s lives outside school, but the dangers associated with it has prevented many schools from using social media to support children’s learning. “In so doing, these schools fail to avail themselves of opportunities to more effectively link students, parents, teachers and the wider community, in ways never before possible.”

Mr Trotter believes schools can match the expectations, interests and learning needs of students, but with a proviso. “This can only happen when governments cease to see school improvement, with its focus on accountability and high-stakes testing, as the panacea for good schooling. They must recognise that our educational system was built for a different time and if it is to serve our students well in the 21st century, it needs to be redesigned.”

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