Monday, December 29, 2014

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Since I'm on Christmas vacation, I have more time to read and research than normal.  So here are the interesting things I've come across lately.

First, last week I rented Guardians of the Galaxy for the family.  I only have two words: blown away. Okay, three words: Totally blown away.

I thought The Avengers was Marvels best movie, but it doesn't even compare to Guardians.  I loved the irreverent humor, the lack of gruesome violence, the (mostly) family friendly themes, and, above all, the amazing soundtrack.

Here are some of my favorite scenes -

And here is Guradians' take on the classic "I have a plan" moment - as well as some of the other hilarious scenes.

Notice Groot in the background of this scene.  Hilarious.

And the final scene is classic.  Groot, who sacrifices himself and who learns a new pronoun (for most of the film, his only line is "I am Groot."  However, at the climax when he saves the rest of the Guardians by surrounding them in a protective network of his branches and leaves - thereby sacrificing himself- he utters "We are Groot."

Don't be sad, though.  He is able to regenerate himself.


I came across this one last night: How School Has Changed Since You Were a Kid.

Initially, I'm hesitant to believe this.  After all Time came out with a cover story entitled How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century,  in which they argue that if you were to bring someone from revolutionary times to today, they'd only recognize two things right away: churches and schools.

But after reading this article, I'm starting to question that.  Sure, they might recognize a school, but they most likely wouldn't recognize the learning going on inside.  Or so I hope.

For the record, here are the five things you wouldn't recognize -

1. Handwriting is gone.  Thank the lord!  Handwriting is totally irrelevant.  They can concoct a signature of their own, but that's it.  Cursive is a romantic notion, but it is irrelevant today.  Kind of like Latin.  That's not to say I don't think it's valuable or serves a purpose.  I am just saying we have other more important things to teach.

2.  Cooler Classes.  Remember taking computer classes?  I even - gulp - remember taking keyboarding.  I do.  That's laughable today.  Schools offer coding, video game design, entrepreneurship, and even 3D printing.

3.  Lighter Backpacks.  I don't know where this comes from.  Even though we are a 1:1 school, I still see far too many students with their backpacks crammed full of books.  While I love that, I do worry about back problems 20 years down the road.

4.  Smartphones are encouraged.  I sure hope so.  Now we are a bit different in our 1:1 school.  I can see having students put their phones away since they are connected to wifi via their MacBook Airs every second of the school day.  But in schools that don't have that luxury, I think smartphones have to be encouraged.

That's why this makes little sense to me.

Unfortunately, too many students think of education as just that: being hassled by their teacher.

This I actually saw in a real classroom.

When I showed that to my College Comp class last year, they devised this to counter it. I love it.  That's not to diminish what coaches do. Not at all.  I'd like to see a reduced workload for head coaches - or at least less rigorous classes during their sports seasons.

5.  Old School Gadgets Gone.  I bet my pencil sharpener gets used in a year what it used to get used in a single day ten years ago. A few weeks ago, I had to give my UND class student surveys on my performance.  They were old school and had to be filled out with a number two pencil.  I brought some, but do you think I could find a sharpener in one of the rooms?  I had to go up and actually use a sharpener in a professor's office.   Old school chalk boards? Gone.  White boards have even begun to be phased out by SMARTboards.  Old school desks have been phased out in my rooms by tables or learning stations.


Here is a great article on one of my favorite topics: Disruptive Innovation.  I'm fascinated by this because for much of my life a disruptive innovation came along once every generation or so.  Think about how disruptive radio was.  Then TV came along.  Then computers.  Then Smartphones.

But today disruptive innovations happen far more often than that.  Since I've been teaching (17 years) it doesn't take long to get to double digits with disruptive innovations - the internet, Napster (single handedly killed the record industry), Netflix (single handedly killed Blockbuster, which once had been a disruptive innovation of its own), Amazon (single handedly killed - sadly, I might add - the book store industry, for I cannot tell you how sad I am every time I enter the mall and have no place to kill time like I used to be able to do at B. Daltons or Waldenbooks.  Imagine that.  Columbia Mall used to have TWO book stores in it!), Wi-Fi, Kindle (which has single handedly started to kill libraries), smartphones, iPad, GPS, Youtube, DVRs, 3D printers, and on and on and on.  Just wait until the apple watch.

Here are some of my favorite passages from the article.

WHEN HE WAS 34 years old, Clayton Christensen started a company with a few MIT professors called Ceramics Process Systems Corporation. “I was the business guy,” he explains. “We were making new products out of advanced materials. In that market niche, we were the only ones to succeed: we beat DuPont, Alcoa, Hoechst. I could not explain this by our having smarter people. The other companies had smart owners and smart managers, too. How could smart people fail? I started to think about other industries where talented leaders had failed—were they actually stupid managers?”

What I find interesting about this is that we have experts from different fields aligning their talents to make breakthroughs.  This is right out of Friedman's work on how the biggest innovations occur.

Christensen became curious about what drove an entire category of businesses to crash together in a short time—including successful, well-managed businesses led by very smart people, like Olsen. 

I love the use of the verb, curious.  I don't think that's a skill we teach enough in our kids. In fact, I think we often drub it out of them.  That has to change.  The days of showing up for a 40 hour a week job where you don't have to think at all are gone.  Because of the disruptive innovations that have occurred, you have to be a life long learner.

Just look at the world of farming.  While schools might not have changed all that much, at least according to the Time article, over the course of American history, the same cannot be said for agriculture.  In fact, I marvel where our world would be (I mean how much better off we would be) if everything else excelled at the rate of innovation as farming did.  Just three generations ago, we had numerous farm families that were basically self sufficient.  They produced their own food, with enough to sell so that the rest of us could eat.  The produced their own clothing.  And for the most part a John Deere A or 730 could do the work necessary just fine.

That world is totally gone today.  Now we have tractors guided by GPS.  We have seeders that run on a program that puts seeds deeper according to soil concentrations.  We have fertilizer spreaders that run on a program that put more fertilizer where it is needed most based off of last year's yields.

As one of my friends wrote on his blog, our farmers today could put soil down in a parking lot and with the seed and fertilizer today they could get food to grow.

That's amazing.  And that's just one industry.  This calls for us all to be life long learners.

He explains that disruptive products are typically “cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use.” They tend to reach new markets, enabling their producers to grow rapidly and—with technological improvements—to eat away at the market shares of the leading vendors.

Again, I find this interesting because the vast majority of the people in the world have never bought anything on line nor even shopped in a mall.  What would happen if we were able to tap into their potential?  This is a dream shared by both James Burke and Thomas Friedman.  Friedman highlights an example of a company (Nokia, maybe) who gave a digital camera to some African villagers.  Once they realized all that they could do with it, they began capturing video and pictures.  Then Nokia came and cruelly said, "You're time is up. We want our camera back."  The villagers were distraught. They had been exposed to a piece of technology that disrupted their lives.  But then Nokia said, "Find a way to justify the cost of us giving you the camera and you can keep it."  So the villagers created their own little system for creating a market for pictures and video that allowed them to make money in order to keep the camera. Nokia won by getting in to a new market.  The villagers won by getting a new piece of technology that they enjoyed.  If you ask me, we need more of this in our flat world.

Consider the hegemony of Detroit’s Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. At one time, they dominated the auto industry, producing bigger, faster, safer, more comfortable cars with more and more features. But these improving products also “create a vacuum underneath them,” Christensen says, “and disruptive innovators suck customers in with fewer features and a cheaper price.” Toyota, Honda, and Nissan disrupted the Big Three’s marketplace by introducing smaller, lighter, less safe, and less comfortable but reliable cars that needed few repairs and got good gas mileage—at a significantly lower price. Within a few years, they had garnered a large share of the market. Says Christensen: “The leaders get killed from below.”

In terms of disruptive innovation, Detroit is a fascinating example for several reasons.  First, they had the best engineers and designers in the world.  Yet, they lost their edge.  They became complacent (I listened to a podcast where they said the Pontiac brand never turned a profit.  Yet, for decades the line was allowed to exist.  Despite never making any money!) and they were nearly wiped out.  Second, they missed a great opportunity to learn from their overseas competition in order to innovate and become more efficient.  One of my favorite stories (and I can't recall what podcast I heard this on) that illustrates this occurred when Americans toured a Japanese car plant.  They noticed that the Japanese plant was almost identical to America's except in one key detail.  At the end of the American assembly line, there was a person whose job it was to use a mallet to hammer on the door to make sure that it fit properly on the body of the car.

This person was absent in the Japanese assembly line.

When the Americans asked their tour guide about this, the guide simply replied, "We make sure that the door is designed to fit properly. Thus, there is no need to have someone with a mallet hammering it into place."

Talk about efficiency.  Yet, Detroit missed out on a wonderful opportunity to learn and innovate.

Third, I love that last line, "the leaders are killed from below."  The competition (regardless of our fields) doesn't always come from our big competitors.  In this flat world where anyone with a laptop and an imagination can wield a ton of power (especially compared to 25 years ago), it is vital to stay on top of things.  Otherwise someone will take it all away.  And that someone is often a competitor you've never ever heard of.

Think of B Daltons or Waldens or Barnes and Noble.  Each competed against each other.  But it wasn't either who brought about their demise.  It was Jeff Bezos over at Amazon.  I bet B Daltons and all the other bookstores laughed when they heard about the concept of buying books online.  Now they aren't laughing at all.

What I find most interesting about disruptive innovation is that whoever you are, you have to be constantly on your toes.  You can rest on your laurels.  Just look at the record industry.  For decades it dominated the market.  Just think of this - if you wanted to listen to your favorite song, you had to buy it on a record.  Where could you do that? A record store.  Where you saw a lot of other records to entice you to buy.  If you had to leave your record player, but you still wanted to listen to music, you had to listen to the radio, which only more records (talk about a wonderfully free advertising system).  And don't forget, there were only four or five radio stations.

But thanks to the internet and digital music files, the music industry doesn't look anything like that at all.  Just notice how all of those record stores (and there used to be two in the Columbia Mall that I used to routinely visit) also dried up and disappeared just like the bookstores.

Talk about disruption.  Now I can buy all the books and music I want right from my iPhone (yet, another example of disruptive innovation).

Speaking of disruptive innovation, here is the perfect illustration.


This is awesome.  I wish this type of sportsmanship went viral and was more predominant in sports than chest pumping celebration over earning trivial first down.


Now this scares me.  I haven't seen a honeybee in our yard for two summers now.


This is brilliant.  I so want to do this next semester.  Imagine if we allowed ever teacher the chance to shadow one of their students?  Now that would make for a hell of a common prep discussion.


Speaking of curiosity, which I wrote about in the disruptive innovation post above, it is one of the skills students need to survive and thrive.

This skill, though, is probably my favorite.  How often do we attempt to teach this in our classes?

High threshold for uncertainty. Be comfortable with the uncertainty that often accompanies problem solving, innovative and creative work. Uncertainty is what drives leaders to seek answers and solve problems. Recognize that setbacks and dead-ends are part of the process.


I somewhat facetiously refer to myself as a chief inspiration officer.  Here are the actual responsibilities of a chief innovation officer. I am going to have to type up my responsibilities as a chief inspiration officer.


Now while I love disruptive innovation, one of my other favorite topics is something closely tied to disruptive innovation: failure.

Here is a great article from the New York Times: A Brief History of Failure.

The first example is quite interesting - the long bow.  Talk about disruptive innovation (it killed 2,000 soldiers in the Battle of Poitiers alone).  However, it was only able to disrupt battle plans because it took years to master the long bow.  This worked great, until another disruptive innovation (the cross-bow) came into existence.  Sure the cross-bow took longer to load and didn't have the range, but it only took a modicum of training for a soldier to use it.  Of course, another disruptive innovation would soon make the cross-bow all but extinct: gun powder.


If you've got an afternoon to burn, check this out: 20 Most Inspiring TED Talks of All Time.

Don't start watching this unless you've got the time.  But they're worth it.

My personal favs from the list - Daniel Pink, Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Jane McGonical (whom I met at TIES this year), and Shawn Achor (maybe the best TED Talk ever).


One of my all-time video series is Kirby Ferguson's Everything is a Remix.  Here is his follow up - This is Not a Conspiracy Theory.


Here is proof that the good old days weren't that good.  What were these people thinking?  And before we think we've got it all figured out, just ask yourself this: What will people 50 years from now look back at us about and laugh while they ask themselves, What were these people thinking?


I love lists like this one: The 31 Most Pointless Things of all Time.  If you're looking for an interesting activity, have students search your school (or community) for something like this. It doesn't have to be "pointless things." It could be great innovations or most useful things of all time or things we take for granted.  You could even vary how students capture these - they could use video, pictures, wordles, written descriptions, narration, and so on.


I love this metaphor for teacher innovation.  Where do you lie?


I love this short blog post from one of the greatest, Seth Godin: If you can't fail, it doesn't count.  

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