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Month May 2014

{ Stanford 2025 } Design Thinking Major Paradigm Shifts For Future Learning Opportunities …*

Just yesterday, I was writing about an upcoming MOOC on the Science of Happiness that is poised to make online learning history according to this Forbes writer. MOOCs have sent the world of education into a bit of a frenzy as we attempt to collectively shape and understand the disruptive effects that online learning will have on future learning environments. Personally, I find the idea that schools have now been rendered obsolete by online learning misguided. It is a gross oversight of the critical need and function of social connection to deep learning. As Sophia Pink, daughter of Dan Pink, observed after spending a year of independent learning, using a mix of online learning courses and independent projects:

“classroom education shouldn’t be fully replaced by online courses, but it can draw on what works well online. Huge online courses have many virtues but need to do better at fostering the sort of side by side back and forth collaboration that we all need to learn.”

What might this relationship between social and online learning look like? And what types(s) of environment might facilitate and enhance this hybrid form of learning? Those are precisely the questions that Stanford’s explored through its @Stanford Project, which ultimately generated the Stanford2025 exhibit and website. Noting the potential disruption posed by online learning and noticing that “many parts of the undergraduate experience are ripe for reinvention” prompted a team at the to question how time, space, expertise, accreditation, and student agency may also change within higher education:

College has multiple aims: it’s a place to gain expertise and develop abilities, but also to come of age. These are entwined together in a residential college experience―a complex and special setting. Enormous energy and investment are now being placed in experimentation and pioneering in the online learning space. We wanted to complement these efforts with an exploration of learning and living on campus, now and in the future.

A design team from the Stanford worked with hundreds of perceptive, creative, and generous students, faculty, and administrators over the course of a year to explore this territory. We considered many lenses—from how students prepare for a Stanford education while still in high school, to patterns of undergraduate decision-making about what and how they study, to the shifting needs and expectations from future employers. 

The project culminated with an experiential exhibit entitled “Stanford 2025,” held at the in May 2014. To encourage an exploratory mindset, the event was staged as a time-travel journey. The community embarked to the distant future—and landed just at the moment when Stanford was looking back retrospectively at major paradigm shifts that “happened” around 2025. These possible shifts were shared as provocations—a subjective, student-centered imagining of what could happen as the future unfolds.

While the Stanford2025 exploration of future learning environments is focused on higher education, the provocations listed are critically relevant to K-12 learning as well. Head over to the website to dive more deeply into each of the four provocations and download the accompanying toolkit to “Make them your own. Try them, tweak them, push them, or even reject them.”

  • The Reflect Worksheets are excursions into imagined worlds inspired by the provocations.
  • The Imagine Cards are prompts to spark inspiration in your own work.
  • The Try Playbook is a set of activities and suggestions to get started.

reflect, imagine, try & rethink …*

{ OPEN LOOP UNIVERSITY } Bringing an End to a Society of Alumni in Favor of Lifetime Learning:

From: Students received four years of college education, front-loaded at the beginning of adulthood

To: Students received a lifetime of learning opportunities.

The perspective that the university could effectively serve its original mission while continuing to narrowly define the time in one’s life when learning would happen was challenged.

Open Loop Vimeo from Stanford on Vimeo.


PACED EDUCATION } Abolishing the Class Year & Embracing Adaptive Learning:

From: Structured, 4-year courses of study advanced students by seat hours on a quarterly rhythm.

To: Three phases of varied lengths provided personalized, adaptive, calibrated learning.

Paced Education Vimeo from Stanford on Vimeo.


AXIS FLIP }  Flipping the Axes of Knowledge & Competency:

From: Knowledge within a particular discipline was the criteria for graduation; skill development was secondary.

To: Stanford flipped the axes so that skill development became the foundation.

Axis Flip Vimeo from Stanford on Vimeo.


PURPOSE LEARNING } Declaring Missions, Not Majors:

From: Students declared Majors and focused their studies around set requirements.

To: Students declared Missions and coupled their disciplinary pursuit with the purpose that fueled it. 

“I’m a biology major” was replaced by “I’m learning human biology to eliminate world hunger.” Or “I’m learning Computer Science and Political Science to rebuild how citizens engage with their governments.”  

The goal was to help students select a meaningful course of study while in school, and then scaffold a clear arc for the first 10 – 15 years of their professional lives. It wasn’t about the career trajectory, but the reasons behind it.

Purpose Learning Vimeo from Stanford on Vimeo.


[ Hat Tip: Students Travel To 2025 To Question the Future Of Higher Education via PSFK, published May 9, 2014 ]

The Science of Happiness: Exploring the Roots of A Happy & Meaningful Life …*

The Science of Happiness: Exploring the Roots of A Happy & Meaningful Life ...* |


Rethinkers * delight, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center is offering a free MOOC on the Science of Happiness, co-taught by Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas this coming September.

“The Science of Happiness” is the first MOOC to teach the ground-breaking science of positive psychology, which explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives. Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course will zero in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.

What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So each week, students will learn a new research-tested practice that fosters social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their progress along the way.

September is still far off, but Forbes is predicting that this course may be poised to make history in online education, becoming the world’s most popular MOOC ever! Sign up now.


If you can’t wait till September to start learning about Positive Psychology and experimenting with various interventions to create a happier and more meaningful life, you’re in luck! As you may remember, today is the kickoff of the Positive Psychology part of the rethinked*annex project in which I experiment on a personal and individual level with some of the tools and methodologies that we think, play and write about here on rethinked …* In my two previous cycles of rethinked*annex, I experimented with Design Thinking and Integrative Thinking. 


I’ve updated my original reading list a tiny bit, mainly because I’ve had Tal Ben-Shahar‘s books on my bookshelves for at least the past five years and have yet to implement a single tip in a lasting way.

{ JOIN ME ? } 

If you’re interested in dabbling in Positive Psychology and testing it out for yourself, I would be delighted to collaborate and form a support/accountability group. We could set up Google Hangouts and discuss the books, ideas and interventions. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at

learn, experiment & rethink …* 

Scott Barry Kaufman On Game-Changing Teachers

Last week I wrote about how my high school classmates and I developed intellectual self-perceptions based on our teachers’ expectations, for better or for worse. Particularly for students who had been typecast as strugglers, the existence of just one or two teachers who instead celebrated those students’ abilities had an enormous positive impact on the students’ ability to recognize their own potential. One friend called those teachers “game changers.”

Just this past Saturday I attended a truly inspirational talk by Scott Barry Kaufman, who’s been featured on rethinked…* before. Kaufman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Pennsylvania (along with Karen Reivich, Angela Duckworth, and Martin Seligman), studies intelligence, imagination and creativity — what they are, how they are developed, and how to measure them. All research is in some way ME-search, Kaufman said toward the beginning of an unusually autobiographical keynote at the May 8-10 conference held by the Society for Learning and the Brain.

Kaufman shared the story of having been diagnosed with central auditory processing disorder at age five, due to having had chronic ear infections as a toddler. Frustrated, he was placed in various LD and special ed programs for almost ten years — on some level knowing that he was capable of a lot more than his teachers believed. One day, a substitute teacher, simply by taking notice of his frustration, changed the course of his life.

For one thing, he became determined, at age 15, to “come up with a new theory of intelligence,” and he has.

Kaufman’s talk is not available to the public, but a shorter — and decidedly less relaxed and funny — version is. Despite these shortcomings, it is ten minutes worth watching. He traces the same details of his autobiography to explain why kids need more than game-changers. Kids need an education system that, rather than “plucking out” IQ scores and judging kids accordingly, takes a holistic approach to achievement by considering kids’ engagement and motivation, as well as their ability.

From Evaluation to Inspiration: Scott Barry Kaufman
at TEDx Manhattan Beach
, published January 4, 2014.

It took Kaufman years to track down and thank his game-changer.
Her name is Joyce Jeuell.

Jeuell and Kaufman

Kaufman with his one-time substitute teacher and game-changer


Who were the game-changers in your intellectual development? How did they shape the course of your life?

And is there someone that you can be a game-changer for now?

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering …*

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering ...* |

I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God. – Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

May is National Walking Month in the UK (it’s National Biking Month in the US) If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the past two weeks, chances are you’ve come across some article describing a newly published Stanford study which found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter:

Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

Walking is experiencing somewhat of a Renaissance as the business world is embracing its value and function in promoting creative thinking and thus enabling innovation while scientists are decrying the health risks of immobility. Standing desks, treadmill desks and walking meetings are all the rage.

But walking isn’t just a fashion or a means to an end, it’s an innate human drive according to Bruce Chatwin, whose birthday is today. Chatwin argues that:

in becoming human, man had acquired, together with his straight legs and striding walk, a migratory ‘drive’ or instinct to walk long distances through the seasons; that this ‘drive’ was inseparable from his central nervous system; and that, when warped in conditions of settlement it found outlets in violence, greed, status-seeking or a mania for the new. This would explain why mobile societies such as the gypsies were egalitarian, thing-free and resistant to change; also why, to re-establish the harmony of the First State, all the great teachers–Buddha, Lao-tse, St. Francis–had set the perpetual pilgrimage at the heart of their message and told their disciples, literally, to follow The Way.” – I Have Always Wanted To Go To Patagonia, 1983

This notion of our migratory drive appears again and again throughout Chatwin’s work, who professed to having, “caught a case of what Baudelaire calls “La Grande Maladie, Horreur du domicile.” Chatwin spent his short life giving in to his restlessness, trying to make sense of it and to harness it as a creative force. To celebrate his birthday and walking month, I’ve gathered some of my favorite quotes of his on restlessness, wandering, journeys and the importance of walking. Enjoy! And while you’re at it, go for a walk. You never know what creative brilliance may strike you on the way as you walk yourself into a state of relaxed attention, better known to scientists as transient hypofrontality.

wander & rethink


“I stayed at the Estacion de Biologia Marina with a party of scientists who dug enthusiastically for sandworms and squabbled about the Latin names of seaweed. The resident ornithologist, a severe young man, was studying the migration of the Jackass Penguin. We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems; it seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness.” – from In Patagonia, 1977


“And there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home,’ for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, and who believe naively that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.”  – from A Tower In Tuscany, 1987


“What is this neurotic restlessness, the gadfly that tormented the Greeks? Wandering may settle some of my natural curiosity and my urge to explore, but then I am tugged back by a longing for home. I have a compulsion to wander and a compulsion to return–a homing instinct like a migrating bird. True nomads have no fixed homes as such; they compensate for this by following unalterable paths of migration.” – from The Nomadic Alternative, 1970


“In one of his gloomier moments Pascal said that all man’s unhappiness stemmed from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in a room. ‘Notre nature,’ he wrote, ‘est dans le mouvement…la seule chose qui nous console de nos misères est le divertissement.’ Diversion. Distraction. Fantasy. Change of fashion, food, love and landscape. We need them as the air we breathe. Without change our brains and bodies rot. The man who sits quietly in a shuttered room is likely to be mad, tortured by hallucinations and introspection.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970


“Some American brain specialists took encephalograph readings of travelers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well-being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produced fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self-disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, that a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air-conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to another, should feel the need for journeys of mind or body, for pep pills or tranquilizers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970


“I prefer the cosmopolitan skepticism of Montaigne. He saw travel as a ‘profitable exercise; the mind is constantly stimulated by observing new and unknown things…no propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, however much opposed to my own…The savages who roast and eat the bodies of their dead do not scandalize me so much as those who persecute the living.” Custom, he said, and set attitudes of mind, dulled the sense and hid the true nature of things. Man is naturally curious.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men,” said Ib’n Battuta, the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it. But travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970


“Children need paths to explore, to take bearings on the earth in which they live, as a navigator takes bearings on familiar landmarks. If we excavate the memories of childhood, we remember the paths first, things and people second–paths down the garden, the way to school, the way round the house, corridors through the bracken or long grass.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970


“Travel must be adventurous. ‘The great affair is to move,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in Travels with a Donkey, “to feel the needs and hitches of life more nearly; to come down off this feather bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot, and strewn with cutting flints.’ The bumps are vital. They keep the adrenalin pumping round.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“The best thing is to walk. We should follow the Chinese poet Li Po in ‘the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way.’ For life is a journey through a wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it were biologically true.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970


“All our activities are linked to the idea of journeys. And I like to think that our brains have an information system giving us our orders for the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970


What are some of your favorite Chatwin books and quotes?

Can students learn something about failure from the design world?

Can students learn something about failure from the design world? This is not a novel idea for this blog, but it is something that I am going to begin to explore empirically (with research studies) over the next year.



Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the design world’s mantra of “fail early, fail often,” or the more recent idea of “fail forward.” In the tech industry, there’s talk of a “failure fetish.” As outlined in their book Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win, Babineaux and Krumboltz explain that the idea behind the mantra is that successes arise out of hundreds of mistakes and failures. The earlier you fail, the earlier you begin to learn.  Therefore, you should push ahead with an idea early, knowing full well that you won’t get it right on the first try, in order to gather feedback. The President of Pixar calls it a process of going from “suck to non-suck,” and the director of Finding Nemo stated that “I won’t get it right the first time, but I will get it wrong really soon, really quickly.”

The benefits of this iteration process are often told through case studies in the design world. For example, in the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Art Makingthere is a story about a ceramics class.  In this class, one group of students was graded solely on the quantity of their work (e.g., 50 pounds of pots is an A, 40 pounds is a B), while another solely on the quality of their work (the single best piece will be graded). At the end of the term, the students who made the most technically and artistically sophisticated work all came from the quantity condition. These students experimented and learned from mistakes as they created piece after piece. In contrast, students in the quality condition carefully planned a handful of  “flawless” pots across the course and with limited practice, showed limited improvement.

Photo from


I’ve blogged about the Marshmallow Challenge before, but in case you missed it – in a 2010 TED Talk, Tom Wujec discusses the same principle in terms of his design exercise, the Marshmallow Challenge. In this task, groups of four are given 18 minutes to produce the tallest freestanding tower using pasta, tape, string, and one marshmallow that must be placed at the top. Wujec has facilitated over 70 marshmallow challenges and one of his biggest findings is that teams that prototype iteratively over the 18 minutes have time to learn and adapt their towers and therefore perform better on the task. Teams that carefully build out one idea for 17:50 and then try to place the marshmallow at the top during the last 10 seconds almost always see their towers collapse.


Photo from my most recent Marshmallow Challenge with 7th and 8th grade students at Grand Street Settlement

Photo from my most recent Marshmallow Challenge with 7th and 8th grade students at Grand Street Settlement


In the design world culture, failure is simply a part of the journey towards innovation and is part of every day practice. While this “permission to fail” culture is often view negatively in education (the phrase is used to mean giving certain -often minority- students permission to do poorly), it is something that highly successful design firms such as IDEO pride themselves on and feel directly contributes to their successes.  Why is failure celebrated in these spheres, rather than taking on the same motivation-killing, gut-wrenching connotations that it does in academics?

I’m currently conducting research on a pedagogy known as “Invention with Contrasting Cases,”  (Invention for short) for middle school science learning. Invention is guided exploration where students analyze a set of data and are asked to “invent” an external representation or “index” of an underlying principle that runs through the data. This data takes the form of contrasting cases: examples of scientific concepts or phenomena with predesigned contrasts to highlight key features that will clue young inventors into the abstract ideas. Students are given some time (in our current study we give 15 minutes for each set of cases) to explore the meaning of these cases and invent their own principles, often with scaffolding from teachers or in small groups. Then, students are given a traditional lecture to explain the principles. Multiple studies of this pedagogy have demonstrated that it is an effective form of instruction, compared to traditional tell-and-practice methods, inquiry learning, or reading and summarizing text.

Invention involves what are called “productive failure” tasks, which are characterized by giving students novel problems to solve before giving them direct instruction (as opposed to traditional tell-and-practice pedagogy). Studies have shown that exploring and generating multiple solutions and grappling with the relevant concepts can be productive for learning when direct instruction is subsequently given, and learning gains are found even when problem solving leads to initial failure. In particular, Invention has been shown to foster deep understanding of science concepts and transfer to novel contexts.

However, anecdotally we have noticed that students often have difficulty generating ideas for new inventions after an initial invention fails, requiring high levels of teacher guidance. We have also noticed that sometimes students hit a wall motivationally when they first come across an invention task. I don’t blame them – asking a 13 year old to “invent an index using math” is asking a lot, and it is very different than what they are usually asked to do in a science or a math class.

Photo from


But what if these students could think like designers? or like the start-ups in Silicon valley? If we can get students to dive right into the challenge, expecting and aiming to fail early, learn from that failure, and continue on, I’d expect to see less hesitation and far more progress as they move through these invention tasks.

SO – I am currently developing an intervention where students can learn about design thinking, internalize its failure philosophy, and go through a short design task to experience the utility of failing forward. I’m interested in seeing how it affects their persistence and success on the invention tasks, but I also think this sort of thing could be generally useful for teaching and learning. For example, how would computer programmers benefit from the mantra? Or students writing essays that need multiple revisions? What other academic tasks require this willingness to fail at first and understanding that with iteration, you can improve and succeed?

I’ll keep you posted on my progress!



Babineaux, R., & Krumboltz, J. (2013). Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win.  The Penguin Group, New York, NY.

Bayles, D., & Orland, T. (2001). Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. The Image Continuum, Santa Cruz, CA.

Wujec, T. Build a tower, build a team: Tom Wujec on | TED Blog. (2010). Retrieved from



Stefan Sagmeister, Paulo Coelho, Milton Glaser & Other Creatives on Rethinking the Fear of Failure …*

Stefan Sagmeister, Paulo Coelho, Milton Glaser & Other Creatives on Rethinking the Fear of Failure ...* |

I once received a proverb from a fortune cookie that read, “Everybody loves progress but nobody likes change.” That’s something that’s proven true again and again in both my personal and professional life. Every time we want to reach for something, we are confronted with the possibility of failure and the paralyzing fear that often comes with that possibility. So how can we manage that fear? How can we acknowledge the possibility that our efforts may crumble but still strive for what we want? I don’t believe in definitive, one-size-fits-all answers because we all wrestle with very individual amalgams of inner tensions, insecurities, hopes, dysfunctions and past experiences, but I found this series of insights on the fear of failure from various creatives very inspiring and illuminating. The series was curated by the Berghs School of Communication for their 2011 symposium on the fear of failure:

During 4 days, between 26-29th of May, we dissect, discuss, learn and listen how overcoming the fear of failure is the only path to take if you’re aiming for success. 

As part of the exhibit, the students asked several well-known creatives in various fields to send back video responses in which they discuss the fear of failure. Below are some of my favorites, but be sure to check out the Bergs School of Communication Vimeo channel to browse the full collection of responses.


“I sit down, I breathe and I say, “I did my best, I put all my love, I did it with all my heart. So whether they’re going to like it or not, it is irrelevant. Because I liked it. I’m committed to the thing that I did.” And so far, nobody has ever refused it or criticized it or anything. Because when you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they realize that it is there. That you did this with your body and soul. So what I encourage you to do is this and don’t worry about the fear of failure, it is a human feeling. The important thing is to move beyond this fear and to do what you think you should do.”

Paulo Coelho – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.



“Specially as a student, but probably throughout life, it is very important to embrace failure and to do a lot of stuff, as much stuff as possible with as little fear as possible. And much much better to end up with a lot of crap but having tried it, than to overthink in the beginning and not do it.”
“If you don’t start it now, you will not start it later. “

Stefan Sagmeister – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.



“Knowing what you’re weak in, is probably the best way to overcome.”
“A tip is not just accepting the fear of failure and the fact that you’re going to fail at some point in your career and in your tenure at a job that you might have, but also knowing your weakness and how to overcome that weakness.”

Rei Inamoto – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.



“The failure I want to talk about is the one that comes from one’s own demand, the one that never leaves you in peace, the one that is supposed to be the contrary of success but here again, what does success mean? In my view, it hasn’t got much meaning, it is more about achievement in the sense of doing as much as you can. That’s what success should be. So fear of failure, at the end, can be a good natural instinct that allows you to make mistakes, and that therefore, find a new road and maybe, a surprise.” 

Sarah Moon – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.



“The consequence of specialization and success is that it hurts you. It hurts you because it basically doesn’t aid in your development. The truth of the matter is that understanding development comes from failure. People begin to get better when they fail—they move towards failure, they discover something as a result of failing, they fail again, they discover something else, they fail again, they discover something else. So the model for personal development is antithetical to the model for professional success. As a result of that, I believe that Picasso is the most useful model you can have in terms of your artistic interests. Because whenever Picasso learned how to do something, he abandoned it. And as a result of that, in terms of his development as an artist, the results were extraordinary. It is the opposite of what happens in the typecasting for professional accomplishment.”

“One question is, what are you afraid of? Is it the condemnation of others—if you do something and it is inadequate is the criticism of critics and other experts and even your friends and relatives that embarrasses you, that makes you unwilling to go forward? Of course, there’s also in professional life the fear is that you won’t get anymore work because visible failure is a detriment, people think, and perhaps correctly, that you don’t know what you’re doing. So there is that inhibiting factor. Another one that may be more profound and more interesting is our own self criticism. A characteristic of artistic education, is for people to tell you that you’re a genius, and that you’re an artistic genius, and that you’re a creative genius. And so everybody gets this idea if they go to art school that they’re really a genius. Sadly, it isn’t true. Genius occurs very rarely. So the real embarrassing issue about failure is your own acknowledgement that you’re not a genius, that you’re not as good as you thought you were. And doing a project that is truly complex and difficult tests your real ability and since we all have a sensitive ego, alas, within our confident facade, the thing that we most fear in regard to failure is our own self-acknowledgement that we really don’t exactly know what we’re doing. There’s only one solution, and it relates to what I was saying earlier, you must embrace failure, you must admit what is, you must find out what you’re capable of doing and what you’re not capable of doing. That is the only way to deal with the issue of success and failure because otherwise you simply will never subject yourself to the possibility that you are not as good as you want to be, hope to be, or as others think you are. But that is, of course, delusional. So my advice, finally, about fear of failure, which is a kind of romantic idea, there’s only one way out—embrace the failure.”

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.


[Hat Tip: Famous Creators on the Fear of Failure via Brainpickings]

Stanford’s Dave Evans & Bill Burnett on Using Design Thinking to Address the “Wicked Problem” of Designing Your Life & Career

Here’s a great ‘open office hours’ chat with Stanford’s Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, who co-teach a course called “Designing Your Life ” at the lab. The course uses design thinking to address the “wicked problem” of designing your life and career.

Reminds you of anything? That’s right–rethinked*annex! For those of you unfamiliar with rethinked*annex, it is a side project that I started last year in which I experiment at an individual and personal level with some of the methodologies that we explore on the blog. In particular, design thinking, integrative thinking and positive psychology. My goal had been to do three months with each and while I completed the design thinking and integrative thinking cycles, I never got around to experimenting with positive psychology. Get excited, because starting this week, I am getting back into the swing of things and will post about my experiments in positive psychology here on rethinked …* every Thursday.

Check out Bill and Dave’s course website for tons of other inspiring resources on design thinking your way to the life you want.

Stanford Open Office Hours: Dave Evans and Bill Burnett via Stanford University, published January 30, 2014.

– Passion is a capacity that can be developed, not an inherent attribute –

The research says that maybe only two or three out of ten people actually have a passion that they’ve identified, that they can work into. We believe that actually, passion turns out to be what you develop after you find the things that you enjoy doing.


– Shedding Dysfunctional beliefs –

These are two, what we call dysfunctional beliefs, and once you get rid of both of those –that your major is linked to your job and that your passion is somehow an innate quality–once you realize neither of those things are actually true, you’re really free to use design thinking to start designing the life you want to have.


– Counsel vs. Advice –

Do we give advice or do we give counsel? And we make a distinction there, by the way, which is counsel is when we help you figure out what you’re thinking and advice is when we tell you what we think and they’re very different.


– Start where you’re at –

If you’re in the situation where there’s lots and lots of things you’re excited and interested about but you can’t pick one, our advice, again, is to start where you’re at. There will be one or two things that maybe have a slightly different emotional energy in them than the other ones. So you go find somebody who does something like that. You look at the future you–someone who’s already living the you you might become–and you go talk to them.

There’s a place again where the design thinking really impacts reality. We kind of go with prototype iteration, try stuff, see what works, bias to action.



Bias to action — don’t try to decide your way forward, just do something. Design your way forward. And the second is reframe. Reframe the problem from, “Gee, I can’t figure out which one of these is my most favorite to all of these are good, I’m just going to start doing them.”

So if i’m a generalist with equal interests, I’m in a much more powerful position because I have lots of available starting places to begin to understand what it is I really want to do. As opposed to “I can’t possibly choose,” you’re not choosing yet, you’re just starting. Which is a very powerful reframe. In the old position, since I can’t choose, I can’t start, I have no power. In the reframed position, I’m in a better situation than a specialist. Which is the design point of view, you know you don’t know the answer. Many people in this vocational way-finding, we call it, think you have to know the answer at the beginning and then you implement. And then you’re screwed. But what it really means is, “I just know what I know,” take the next step, it will be revealed as you go.


– On Figuring Out Who You Want To Be When You Grow Up –

It’s a pretty common question, and again, it’s one of those things where we’d like to sort of reframe the answer. Because you can’t know, ultimately, who you will become when you, quote, ‘grow up’. And by the way, that’s the good news –do you really want to be able to know at twenty-two who your sixty year-old self should be? I mean do you really want this twenty-two year old running the next fifty years of your life? We hope to find out things we couldn’t possibly have imagined. The design perspective is, when I’m starting a new design, I don’t actually know the answer. I’m going to design into that possible future. So we reframe the question not as, “what do I want to be when I grow up?,” it’s like, “where am I right now and what is the next step I can take to move towards the best possible version of me?”


We frame that with language. So the way the question is usually posed, assumes you could navigate to where you should be. That you know the end point. I need to get to Fresno so I just GPS myself to Fresno. But we can’t, because I don’t know where I’m going so I can’t navigate, so I have to way-find. What’s way-finding? It’s moving from where you are to the next available place that you can make a decision about. It’s the same thing as the generalist deciding, “hey, what’s available to me?”


By coherence we mean, you know, “who am I? What do I believe and what am I doing?” If I understand what those things are–what do I think about life and who I am, what I’m actually doing and where I’m trying to go–if I can describe those things articulately and interconnect the dots, not that they’re perfect, but even understanding where the compromises are, I’m living coherently. Who I am, what I’m doing all lines up for me, that’s the coherent life and even positive psychology research demonstrates pretty clearly, if I can articulate what those things are–who I am, what I believe and what I’m doing–and I can understand the interrelationship between them, my chance of feeling good about my life, that it’s a meaningful experience, is much higher.



Usually the best place to start is what did you notice that you’re already doing that you could grow into a new thing? Or, who’s that person you used to be that you left behind and do you want to bring her back out of the freezer and give her another shot?


– The Courage to accept the truth about yourself  –

You’ve got to accept the truth about yourself. So we have all of our students write two things: a work view and a world view. What do you think work is for and how does that connect to why you’re here? And it takes a lot of courage not to sell out those two ideas about yourself.


When Failure is Fearsome


I’ll never forget junior year of high school when I signed up for AP Chemistry, which was held at [a neighboring co-ed school]. Within a week I was in over my head. I went running to Mrs. Gordon, the Upper School head, to drop the class.

She said something to me that was quite correct, but not at all strategically worded: Failing at something would be good for you.

HA! I hightailed it out of her office — and out of that class.


That’s a comment I posted last week to a Facebook conversation with several classmates from high school. It started as a discussion of Carol Dweck’s research on mindset and its relevance to raising confident daughters. Almost immediately the conversation shifted to our own childhood struggles with confidence. Specifically, we shared how particular events at our all-girls school — usually comments by teachers — influenced our identities and senses of self, for better and for worse.

Though our 6-way conversation hardly constituted a scientific sampling, two striking themes emerged in every classmate’s comments:

One was that a piece of the confidence we have today as 40-year-olds can be traced back to the one or two teachers who saw us for who we felt we were. One classmate called these teachers her “game changers.”

The second theme was less affirming. Our perception of being typecast by teachers — through underestimation as well as overestimation — had negative implications for all of us, often persisting well past our school years.

Furthermore, that perception of being typecast — which sometimes had its roots in the comments of a single adult — revolved around two inverse experiences: each of us felt branded as either a consistent struggler or a consistent achiever. 

Those who were typecast as strugglers felt marked by the expectation of failure and so developed significant self-doubt. Only over time did they begin to see themselves as capable and restore their intellectual self-confidence. Those who were typecast as achievers felt marked by the expectation of success and so developed an acute fear of failure. Only over time did they learn to distinguish self-worth from performance and develop some tolerance for risk.

Mrs. Gordon was right. Failure at something would have been good for me, but there was no way on earth I was ready to risk it back then. Failure was to be avoided at all costs.

Mrs. Gordon offered no context for why I should entertain the idea of embracing the risk of failure. By the time I raced into her office in junior year, I had long operated under the belief that education is about performance and therefore the student’s job is to perform well. As a student, I was all about avoiding risks, so I had little grasp of the fact that genuine learning and genuine growth inherently carry risks.

Things might have worked out differently had I been able to appreciate that. I suspect that Dominic Randolph’s intriguing delta mapping proposal — ways of charting change over time — would have helped tremendously in my case. Educators who champion growth and change as well as performance help provide the context I needed to comprehend advice like Mrs. Gordon’s.

For all of today’s talk about “reframing failure,” are we as educators doing measurably better than Mrs. Gordon did, twenty-plus years ago? How might we create authentically teachable moments around failure? How might we create contexts in which students can experience “failure” as a real opportunity for deeper iteration, exploration, and understanding?

{ Our Deepest Gratitude For Teachers Everywhere } John Maeda: Teaching As An Intellectual Philanthropy …*

{ Our Deepest Gratitude For Teachers Everywhere } John Maeda: Teaching As An Intellectual Philanthropy ...* |

A virtual bouquet to express our gratitude to teachers all over the world …*

“My Ph.D advisor in Japan, Akira Harada, reminded me of what a great professor is about: someone who is curious and loves when others are curious, too. But he also knew how to stay on deadline; it was a combination of being able to diverge and converge. He loved teaching. One time, he told me a story about growing up during World War II as the son of a wealthy banking family. Nobody had any food; it all went to the soldiers. But his family was wealthy, so he had rice. In Japan, rice is the essential thing in a person’s life; the soul of Japan is rice. There’s this little pickled plum called ume, and, every day, my professor got a lunchbox from his mom with a bed of white rice and a red plum in the middle, like the Japanese flag. One day, he forgot his lunch, so he went to his teacher and told her. She said, “I made too much lunch this morning. So please come to my desk and we’ll have lunch together.” At lunchtime, he went to his teacher’s desk. She pulled out her bento box, opened it, and there were two tiny potatoes inside. She said, “Look, I made too much,” and he replied, “I’ll help you, teacher.” He remembered that later on and cried about how thankful he was for his teacher. I thought that was an important story; it made me think and believe in teaching as an intellectual philanthropy. It’s about doing something good for others. Professor Harada was a great teacher. Along the way, there have been many more like him who have made me more awake” John Maeda in an interview with The Great Discontent

What a wonderful story from the great John Maeda to celebrate Teacher’s Appreciation Week. I love how he frames teaching as an act of generosity. When I think about the teachers and professors who have had a real impact on my life and learning, I now realize that generosity is what they all shared. Would love to hear your stories and anecdotes of the generous teachers you’ve had the good fortune to encounter throughout your learning journey.


Study skills and time management: soft skills for success

As finals week begins and I try to juggle my jobs and workload along with many other responsibilities that I’ve managed to take on this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about study skills and time management. As a PhD student taking a full workload, TAing a course, conducting research in afterschool programs, and working at rethinkED, I’ve had to develop pretty great time management and general organizational skills (if I do say so myself). While there is definitely some genetic component to self-regulation and organization, many of these skills can be learned. In fact, I took a class devoted to “Study Skills” in my private middle school as a child. I was actually shocked when I realized that other students did not get this sort of course in their education.

In fact, as outlined in this short video below (don’t you love whiteboard animation?), studies have indicated that in the job world, soft “study” skills, including things such as critical thinking, problem solving, and organization, are more important for career success than technical skills. Yet the majority of schools do not teach study skills, even though these have been shown to both improve student achievement and ultimate job success.


I’ve been training to become a mentor to a student from a low-income, low-performing high school through iMentor this past month. A major aim of this three-year mentoring match is college readiness and easing the transition for these students into college. During training, one of the things I learned is that time management and study skills are often one of the biggest challenges for these students when entering into college.

I’d go as far as to suggest that this finding would likely extend to students from many different backgrounds. After K-12, there is simply far less monitoring and micro-managing. Students are expected to know how to organize their schedules, set timelines to complete assignments, develop a system for note-taking and storing class readings, and develop their own study habits.

Some of my favorite organizational habits and tools include:

1. Using google Calendar for ALL of my appointments, meetings, and major deadlines. I have individual calendars for classes, meetings, research, work, exercise, and personal. My calendar syncs with my phone and is available anywhere, so it’s useful when I need to know where to be or what I have coming up. Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 2.59.09 PM

2. Highlighting, taking notes and using post-its while reading. I highlight EVERYTHING I read for school, and I always use a dark highlighter that is legible because I also take notes. I star important ideas, I write in the margins, and I also use post-its to note if there’s a piece of this reading that could be relevant, say, for a rethinkED post. People have told me that they love borrowing my readings for my commentary, and there is tons of research to support the use of elaboration and integration to  promote deep learning and transfer.

3. Lists, lists, lists. I make lists all the time. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than crossing something off of my “to do” list, and I usually throw in a bunch of stuff that is easy to do just to give myself some positive reinforcement (i.e., “Make breakfast” or “Print Statistics Lab Assignment”). I find that starting each week by making a list where I plan what I’m going to accomplish each day makes me feel a lot more in control of an often absurd amount of work to be done.

I’m curious, what sorts of study habits have you developed? What advice would you give to a student starting his or her freshman year of college? And how can we promote the development of these skills early on?

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