Tuesday, 20 February 2018

My Books & My Work

Tonight's #MSFTEduChat is all about literacy and some Skype Master Teachers will be moderating the chat... so I thought I'd write about how some recent books I've read have influenced my work.

My youngest son's first Classroom Skype call also happens to have come about when he met his favourite author, David Goutcher, after asking for some help with a special Spy Quest mission... Talk about bringing books to life!

I have read four books recently: Peter Thiel's "Zero to One", Biz Stone's "Things a Little Bird Told Me", Adam Grant's "Originals" and Ashlee Vances, Elon Musk biography.

These books, my preferred communication tools and the projects that I've been involved with appear to have converged... Including a particularly relevant extract from Adam Grant about the power of story telling when a new Skype feature was being discussed in 2008.

I have read each of the books mentioned above within a day or two, and cannot recall a time when books that have provided quite so much value, a dash of "Just in time PD" and insights regarding how, where and why "I could do better" (Wonder where I've heard that one before... Hmm let me think! Lol) with the implementation, communication and reaction to some of the projects I've been involved with.

The main purpose of this post? To assess if and how it might be possible to build on previous projects (Which include Skype) in a way that could develop some compelling stories that encourage educators to connect.

I've pitched in and helped out with some of my favourite tools and compiled some data - like mapping Scottish Schools on Twitter and mapping some of the connections made during the Skypeathon.

No one at any of these companies or in Scottish education asked me to... but I've seen the value that the tools and the connections I've made. And I want my kids to make connections like this too.

Where to look for tools that might encourage more educators to get connected?

How about considering tried and tested tools like Twitter, Skype as well as promising tools, resources and ideas like Spyquest, Bloodhound, Mad Learn, Flipgrid who provide great content and/or reasons for classrooms to connect and collaborate.

In terms of Scottish education, with 50% of Scottish Schools on Twitter... what a great time to tell, find or create some compelling stories for educators to connect. After all, this appeared to have worked quite well for Skype when their CEO was looking to create a video feature (See the extract from Originals later in this post).

First Blog Post & First Classroom Skype
I started this blog 6 years ago because I was told that social media comes with the job today. Hitting "publish" on the first opinion piece I wrote, about the importance of culture and collaboration, making it public was terrifying. I hit publish because I felt I had something of value to say.

A few months ago I had my first Classroom Skype call, it was even more terrifying! But, with the help of the Little Engine that Could, I did it. Once again I did it because I felt I had a story or two to share.

My preferred tools for communicating with the outside world are Twitter, Blogger and Skype (Prefer 1:1 Skype Vs group or recorded sessions etc though).

Sales... Or Telling Stories?
I have excelled in every sales position that I have ever held, hitting annual targets without fail and often being the top sales person.This includes results like taking projects from conception to working with 50% of FE colleges within 3 years and with 100% repeat business.

Through joining Edchats and conversations with people in my PLN I realised that cold calling was dead and that story telling would be an in demand skill:

You can judge for yourself how myself and my son are getting on with this transition via these two posts:
I wonder how my story telling skills are developing and if they are improving at all...Although people appear to prefer the writing of my 7 year old kid to my ramblings?! (*Sigh*). Lol

I also wonder if the story that was told at Westquarter Primary School and the SpyQuest Skypeathon missions will compare to any of the stories that Josh Silverman told his employees?

...Who'd have thought that Skype having a video feature would be something that met resistance?

"When Josh Silverman took the reins of Skype in February 2008, the company was facing significant challenges. Employee morale was plummeting as the company was failing to maintain the explosive growth that Skype had experienced after pioneering free computer-to-computer calls and cheap long-distance calls between phones and computers. Silverman decided to make a big bet on an original feature: full screen video calls. In April, he announced a moon-shot goal to release Skype 4.0 with the video feature by the end of the year. "The emotion among many employees was passionately negative. A lot of people thought it was too big a change, and we were going to kill the company," Silverman recalls. They worried that the timeline was too short, video quality would be poor, and users would hate a full-screen format.

Instead of trying to calm them down, Silverman decided to psych them up by developing a Skype vision that would get them inspired about video. At a series of all hands meetings, he emphasised the impact of the product on people's lives, articulating a vision that he later formalised during a conversation with actor and technology investor Ashton Kutcher. "It's not about making cheap phone calls. It's about being together when you're not in the same room."

When originals come up with a vision for transforming anxiety into excitement, they actually take it upon themselves to communicate it. But just because it's your idea doesn't mean you're the best person to activate the [what Susan Cain describes as the] "go system". In a series of experiments, Dave Hofmann and I found that the most inspiring way to convey a vision is to outsource it to the people who are actually affected by it.

Consider university fund-raisers, who are often extremely nervous about calling alumni, interrupting their dinners, and asking them about how the money they were being asked to solicit would make a difference, the callers didn't become any more effective.

The amount of money the average caller raised more than tripled, however, when leaders outsourced inspiration to a scholorship student, who described how the callers efforts had enabled him to afford university tuition and study abroad in China. On average, callers went from raising under $2,500 in the two weeks before the student spoke to over $9,700 in the two weeks after. They were suspicious of the leaders, who clearly had the ulterior motive of convincing them to work harder. When the same message came from a scholarship student, they found it more authentic, honest and trustful. The empathised with the student, and instead of being anxious about asking for money, they were excited to solicit donations to help more students like him.

This doesn't mean, though, that leaders need to step out of the picture altogether. In later studies, I found that people are inspired to achieve the highest performance when leaders describe a vision and they invite a customer to bring it to life with a personal story. The leaders message provides an overarching vision to start the car, and the users story offers an emotional appeal that steps on the accelerator.

At Skype, Josh Silverman knew the best way to activate the go system wasn't through his words alone. After talking about how Skype enabled his own children to have a deep personal relationship with their Grandparents despite living eight time zones apart, he breathed life into the vision by giving the floor to Skype users as a regular feature of his all hands meetings. A married couple shared how they survived a yearlong separation during their engagement "Only thanks to daily talks on Skype." A serviceman spoke about how Skype had allowed him to maintain a close relationship with his children while serving in Iraq; they even opened Christmas presents together. "Bringing the customer into the room connected them to the mission, and reached their hearts and minds" Silverman says, "It helped employees see what a difference we could make in the world"

As they grasped the idea that Skype was about connecting people, the team's anxiety gave way to excitement. Inspired to build a video feature that would enable more meaningful conversations, they shipped Skype 4.0 on schedule with high quality, full screen video calls. Soon, Skype was adding about 380,000 users per day; by the end of the last quarter of the year, more than a third of the 36.1 billion computer-to-computer minutes spent on Skype were video calls. Less than 3 years after Silverman shared his vision and brought in users to inspire the team, Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion, a 300% climb in value" Adam Grant, Originals P 220

Things a Little Bird Told Me... Biz Stone & Taking Risks
In 2010 I had a choice, stick with the status quo by making cold calls at companies who were either producing mediocre products and/or didn't realise the value of culture... or take some risks in the hope of working in teams that were hard to get into. I chose the latter. I knew the risks and chances of success.

It's about to become a "Boom or bust" moment on those risks and, as I reflect on the decisions made, Biz Stones "Things a Little Bird Told Me" proved to be just the tonic!

Whether Ev Williams being the creator of Blogger and Twitter... or Biz Stone with his hilarious description of getting hired at Google without fitting the mold and, of particular relevance, taking risks and betting big on his future self.

"Here's to my future self, who will pay for all this" 

Throw in his contribution to Circle the Schools & "My Book" video and Twitter = much gratitude!

When reading this book I saw that Biz had made a return to Twitter and on his blog he says his top focus will be:
"To guide the company culture, that energy, that feeling"

Some posts I read were hyper-critical of Biz Stone and his contribution to Twitter like Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone to Return to Twitter but, when you read his book, you can't help wonder if some of the challenges Twitter faces today would be here at all if he had not left. For example, I wonder if processes and questions like this endured.

"When new employees joined Twitter, Evan and I met with them. We took time to tell the story of how the company got started, and we shared and discussed the following six assumptions.

Assumptions for Twitter Employees

1) We don't always know what's going to happen.
2) There are more smart people out there than in here
3) We will win if we do the right thing for our users
4) The only deal worth doing is a win-win deal
5) Our co-workers are smart and they have good intentions
6) We can build a business, change the world, and have fun

For anyone reading this and saw that Twitter is now in profit but user growth is slow...May want to check out the extract about Skype + 50% of Scottish School on Twitter + Scottish Schools on Twitter Some Suggestions + Edcamps = I have an idea or two ;) 

Large Bureaucracy & Nimble Startups
The reason I got involved with the Digital Citizenship Summit in 2016 was because one of the core values at the time I got involved was that "All Voices Matter," which appealed to me A LOT!

For a few years I felt that I had insights that had value. I tried to be heard before, during and after the impending doom with initiatives like Gazelle, Feltag and the changes in the culture on social media in the post-vote Scottish Independence Referendum.

How did I react when my voice was not heard but the insights were accurate? Let's just say that having a core value of "having honest relationships," insights that are accurate and your voice not being heard is not a great combination.

I'd express my exasperation. Not realising that the outcome was inevitable. So what changed? Zero to One and Originals.

"Unless you have perfectly conventional beliefs, it's rarely a good idea to tell everybody everything that you know. So who do you tell? Whoever you need to, and no more. In practice, there's always a golden mean between telling nobody and everybody - every great business is built around a secret that's hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator" Peter Thiel, Zero to One

Peter Thiel details the difference between startups and large organisations and why the latter is more likely to succeed. Need an education example of this?

Go check out the goals and progress of the original FELTAG, the progress on those goals today... and then go see how Udacity is getting on.

Pokemon Go & SpyQuest
Tech companies collaborating with innovative educators is where I feel reform is going to come from. The best example I can think of is with the work that Microsoft is doing.

When Pokemon Go came out I curated lots of articles about the AR phenomenon to see what educators made of it all.

Why did I undertake this project? Because I went out with my kids, found it to be a fantastic experience. Came home to check the "Why" of Pokemon Go, what were John Hanke's aims with the game? The aims not only reflected our experience to highlight that Product Market Fit had been achieved, but the goals went all the way back to Hanke's college dissertation.

I started working on a follow up report 12 months later to detail what the data highlighted and why there was lots of buzz for 6 weeks with educators blogging, Tweeting and having google hangout discussions... then not much chatter after that.

As a result of this follow up (And thanks to MSP Linda Fabiani), I discovered Spy Quest author and creator, David Goutcher, who brought reading to life for my youngest son in a way that no other book has done...And one I wish was around when my oldest son was younger too

My Books & A Skype Story
I started this post with the questions that we ask our kids and our preferred answers (That books are the most powerful weapons in the world).

Through reading the books that I have as well as getting connected via Twitter and Skype there are stories that I am able to tell my kids about finding their place in the world.... As I've connected to tell stories (As best I can) with educators.

The stories from last years Digital Citizenship Summit and Skypeathon took some planning to tell, but if anyone has any questions about the potential then I can tell some stories about role models, mentors and product market fit.

Agent Isaac has talked about his mission a great deal since he went  on it.

I can see a lot of potential in some of the work that's been carried out to date. If anyone wants to see if some of this work can be developed and built upon with some kind of New Teachers to Twitter, Digital Citizenship, Skype Edcamp (Whether online or IRL; in the near or distant future)... you know where to find me ;)

I'll close with some extracts from Biz Stone, Elon Musk and Adam Grant.

"All the money we raised went to Room to Read, which buys books for kids in developing nations. If you think about it, it's symbiotic. If you can't read, you can't Tweet. The more readers there are in the world, the bigger Twitters potential reach... Maybe you  are part of the Twitter community and you can use it as a tool for giving or to enact change. Maybe there's another community - your place of worship, your childrne's school, your town - where a shift in values could inspire alignment with a cause" Biz Stone, Things a Little Bird Told Me

The most striking part of Elon's character as a young boy was his compulsion to read. From a very early age, he seemed to have a book in his hands at all times. "It was not unusual for him to read ten hours a day" said Kimbal [his brother]. "If it was the weekend, he could go through two books in a day." The family went on numerous shopping excursions in which they realised mid-trip that Elon had gone missing. His mum would pop into the nearest book store and find Elon somewhere near the back sitting on the floor and reading in one of his trancelike states.

As Elon got older, he would take himself to the bookstore when school ended at 2pm and stay there until about 6pm, when his parents returned home from work. He plowed through fiction books and then comics and then nonfiction titles. "Sometimes they kicked me out of the store, but usually not" Elon said. He listed The Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, and Robert Heinelin's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as some of his faviourites, alongside The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. "At one point, I ran out of books to read at the school library and the neighbourhood library" Musk said. "I tried to convince the librarian to order more books for me"
Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk

Finding the right mentor is not always easy. But we can locate role models in a more accessible place: The stories of great "Originals" throughout history. Human rights advocate Malala Yousafzai was moved by reading biographies of Meena, an activist for equality in Afghanistan, and of Martin Luther King Jr, King was inspired by Gandhi, as was Nelson Mandela.

In some cases, fictional characters may be even better role models. Growing up, many originals find their first heroes in their most beloved novels, where protagonists exercise their creativity in pursuit of unique accomplishments. When asked to name their favorite books, Elon Musk and Peter Thiel each chose Lord of the Rings. Sheryl Sandberg and Jeff Bezos both pointed to A Wrinkle in Time. Mark Zuckerberg was partial to Ender's Game. Jack Ma named his favourite children's book as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

It's likely that they were all highly original children, which accounts for why they were drawn to these tales in the first place. But it's also possible that these stories helped elevate their aspirations. Remarkably, there are studies showing that when children's stories emphasize original achievements, the next generation innovates more. In one study, psychologists tracked unique accomplishments in American children's stories from 1800 to 1950. After original achievement themes in American children's books rose by 66% from 1810 to 1850, the patent rate shot up sevenfold from 1850 to 1890. Children's books reflected the values popular at the time, but also helped to nurture those values: When stories emphasised original achievement, patent rates typically soared 20-40 years later. As Dean Simonton summarizes, "It took time for the children exposed to the achievement imagery in school to grow up and contribute to the creation of new inventions"

Unlike biographies, in fictional stories characters can perform actions that have never been accomplished before, making the impossible seem possible. The inventors of the modern submarine and helicopter were transfixed by Jules Verne's visions in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and The Clipper in the Clouds. One of the earliest rockets was built by a scientist who drew his motivation from an HG Wells novel. Some of the earliest mobile phones, tablets, GPS navigators, portable digital storage disks, and multimedia players were designed by people who watched Star Trek characters using similar devices. As we encounter these images of originality in history and fiction, the logic of consequence fades away. We no longer worry as much about what will happen if we fail.

Undoubtedly, the next generation of originals will draw inspiration from the Harry Potter series, which is brimming with references to original accomplishment" Adam Grant, Originals P172

As I mention above, based on my own kids experiences...I'd add to this SpyQuest too!

Based on the conversations that I've had with Agent Isaac since reading Spy Quest, I can see that Agent Jones is well on the way with inspiring a generation.

...That young SpyQuest fan has a few ideas about spy gadgets.

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