Costco has a brilliant business model, and this slideshow explains the company’s success. I highly recommend clicking the link for a great read.

In this post, I’ve taken some of the information shared in the slideshow and compared it to the field of education. Again, I’d like to reiterate how informative the slideshow is because there’s a lot of data I didn’t include below, but for those who would like some edu-related takeaways–read away.

Let’s start with three facts from the aforementioned slideshow.

  • Costco is the second-largest retailer in the world.
  • Costco’s sales and profit continue to climb.
  • Instead of closing stores, Costco is opening them. (Even with Amazon breathing down its neck.)

Let’s dive into seven of the ways Costco has accomplished this success.

First, “Costco sells a limited number of high quality items in bulk size. The products arrive from suppliers in custom packaging, and are then sold through non-frills warehouses staffed by highly compensated employees… This approach is unique among retailers.”

Think about this: “Costco sells a limited number of high quality items in bulk size.” Costco makes the decision to say “yes” to certain products and “no” to other products. Some of the products that receive a “no” are good, but they’re not good enough. Since Costco can’t sell everything, they have to say “no” to good items that don’t make the cut. From the slideshow: “… customers get one choice of ketchup, one choice of shaving cream, etc.” By doing this, Costco avoids the paradox of choice. Customers don’t feel overwhelmed, and they’re receiving the best value possible.

Takeaway for education: Conventional wisdom states that choice is preferable, but there are a number of benefits for providing a limited approach.

  • People have time to get good at a few important things.
  • People don’t feel overwhelmed, which helps protect and strengthen morale.
  • People have a small number of powerful strategies to wield.
  • Feeling good at one’s job builds efficacy (which paves the way for collective efficacy).

The benefits above are focused on the adults within the organization. How about students?

  • They are provided a curated repertoire of strategies they can use to write papers, solve problems, and think critically.
  • There is a sense of order to what they’re learning, and connections between content areas are highlighted.
  • There’s more depth and less breadth.

Second, “Because Costco carries fewer items, their employees spend far less time ordering from suppliers, coordinating shipping and receiving, paying invoices, stocking shelves, etc. That’s why Costco has the highest revenue and profit per employee of all major retailers.”

Takeaway for education: Time is all-important. There’s no other resource that trumps time. Every initiative, every program, and every meeting is paid for by everyone’s time. When something new is added (and nothing is taken away), everything and everyone suffers. If Costco says, “You know what, I think we should carry two types of fruit snacks,” then they have to cram the extra fruit snacks next to the preexisting brand (which means less aisle space), or they cut some other product from a nearby pallet and place the new fruit snacks in its place.

Educators obviously don’t operate in terms of retail floor space, they operate in terms of time. When a new initiative is adopted, we sacrifice time (i.e. forcing more inventory into the aisle), or we must cut something (i.e. discontinue an older product). Imagine a Costco filled with so much “good” stuff, a customer can’t walk around the warehouse. The number of potential buyers would drastically drop.

Third, “Costco only sell high-quality items.” In this way, customers know their purchase has high value. This means less money is spent on advertising, but it also means customers trust Costco to curate and provide only the best.

Takeaway for education: We must curate what’s used in the classroom and throughout school sites.

I like the word “curate.” Google’s definition is “select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge.” Of course museums do this, but they also do something that is not included in the definition: they purge. This means after a while, they place certain pieces of art back in storage or send them to another museum. There is not enough wall or floor space for every painting and sculpture; some good works of art need to be retired. The same goes for education. This means if you’re trying to build capacity in NGSS, perhaps you cut something else. You have to pick your battles.

Fourth, “Costco sells products straight off the shipping pallets.” This is cheaper for Costco because it reduces labor costs. Is it pretty? Not in the sense we’ve grown accustomed while we shop. (Although the aesthetic might be pleasing to some.) Be that as it may, this strategy is working for Costco.

Takeaway for education: Selling products right off of shipping pallets isn’t pretty, but it get the job done. Does this mean we need flashy new core and supplemental curriculum, or can we use strategies and texts that have withstood the test of time and been around forever? An understanding of the Lindy Effect can answer this question for us.

Fifth, “Costco stores are cavernous, barebones warehouses–designed to efficiently sell, store, and handle high volumes of bulk-sized items.” Costco knows how much they can sell down to the square foot.

Takeaway for education: Education is different in many ways from Costco’s operations, but is it possible to do something similar to what’s described above at school sites? I don’t think learning per square foot at a school is possible, but it may be in terms of time. So let me rephrase: What is our learning per minute? 

Sixth, “Costco treats their employees well. They pay the highest wages and provide the best benefits in the industry.”

Takeaway for education: The slideshow states that Costco employees make $7 more per hour than Amazon employees and $8 more than Walmart employees. This results in low attrition and access to a better talent pool.

The takeaway for education is simple: treat employees well, and the majority will work harder. Also, our industry will attract the high-quality candidates we need for our students.

Seventh (Conclusion from the slideshow), “For 40 years, Costco has succeeded with a simple formula: reinvest merchandising profits into lower prices and better products; be a disciplined operator; and treat customers and employees well.”

Takeaway for education: Let’s restate the formula for educators: “Our industry must use time effectively by choosing high-leverage and time-tested materials and strategies, be disciplined enough to say “no” to shiny objects and things that are merely good, and treat all adults and students well.”

This seems easy, but as we’ve seen in all industries, oftentimes the simple ideals are the hardest to attain.


Two years ago I wrote this blog post comparing Steph Curry’s impact on basketball to John Hattie’s impact on education. From the post:

Just as Curry has forced basketball players to strategically think about how they can more effectively make points for their teams, Hattie is helping educators rethink how to be more effective in the classroom. Every strategy has an effect (just like every made shot within the three-point line is two points)–what’s important is using precious instructional time to choose the strategies that reap the greatest rewards.

My goal was to begin a discussion of Curry’s gameplay in which he shoots as often as possible behind the three-point line because, well, three points are more than two points. I wanted to explore how this is similar to incorporating strategies in one’s teaching practice that data has shown provides schools with the best results in student learning.

I’d like to reopen this dialogue because of an article I read recently about LeBron James on The Ringer, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Before we discuss King James, I have a question: Why didn’t NBA, college, high school, and club coaches stress the importance of setting up an offense that fosters more shots behind the three-point line before Curry’s recent dominance? Practicing three-point shots is essential, but setting up plays that open up a shot from downtown changes the fundamentals of how a team operates. When I was in high school (late ’90s), the strategy was all about penetration, which included lay ups, dunks, jump shots around the key, and the occasional three. It didn’t occur to many coaches that preparing all players to be proficient at threes, while at the same time providing offenses with the most strategic opportunities to hit threes instead of twos, would defeat opposing teams–many of whom were primarily going for the low-hanging two pointer.

Here are a couple answers to the above question:

  1. Coaches were teaching players to do what they themselves were taught.
  2. Coaches were caught up in the zeitgeist of aerial gameplay over the practical philosophy of getting the ball in the hoop from a place on the court that provides the highest reward.

The first answer makes sense–we continue doing what we’ve been taught. It worked for us, or at least seemed to work for us, so it’s obviously the best path forward. The second answer is a little different; sometimes we hold on to the past while embracing the shiny new theory, strategy, gameplay, etc. We create a mishmash of what we know and what’s new. In the 90s, battling it out in the key and the dominance of Air Jordan made the three-point shot boring.

But winning isn’t boring, and Curry ushered in a new era in which a team can succeed by making three points for every two points the opponent makes. The truth behind this was apparent to everyone, including one of the best athletes of his generation.

We Are Witnessing the Future of LeBron James by Danny Chau discusses how James had to change his game in order to compete against a new threat. James came into the league right after Jordan exited, but he had the opportunity to play against Kobe and many other greats who have since retired. James did well against these opponents; he was able to compete against many players who modeled themselves after Jordan and Kobe. And then 2015 came, which is when the Golden State Warriors’s dominance began. James realized the old strategies and techniques would no longer work. His team could drive to the rim and hit jump shots around the key all night, but if Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were on fire at the three-point line, the Warriors would win.

This is why James worked hard to be as big a threat pulling-up behind the three-point line as when he’s driving to the basket for two. In order to compete, he had to make threes–and so did his teammates. So that’s what he did, and if you are watching him on the Lakers this year, that’s what he’s continuing to do.

The same lesson is true for education. Like LeBron James, we need to remember the past but not be beholden to the practices that, while may be effective, are not effective enough. We need to practice shooting threes–whatever that metaphor means at your school site. As a matter of fact, we need to reengineer our whole offense so we’re better equipped to take the threes.

In basketball, the current high-leverage strategy is to move the ball around the court in order to provide opportunities for pull-ups from the three-point zone. The technique of shooting the three is mastered individually by players who practice perfectly for thousands of hours. In education, the strategy I’m proposing is examining Hattie’s effect sizes and choosing which ones will provide our students with the most growth. We must then practice our technique, which is us getting better at using the strategies–whether they be collective or individual.

LeBron James is staying relevant by changing with the times. Steph Curry created the latest shift to which James adapted. As educators, are we aware and nimble enough to see the current shifts and make the necessary change?


Books I read in 2018

Below are the books I read in 2018. This list doesn’t include the titles I’m currently reading, nor does it include books I began and never finished. I believe it’s important to discard a book if it bores you, and I did that a few times over the past twelve months. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish reading twenty-four books–all of which I enjoyed.

I added a little commentary below to the books I especially liked. I hope you find this list helpful; let me know if you have any questions!

One last thing… In 2018 I completed the first draft of a book entitled Rise and Converge, which you can access here: . I can’t say it’s better than the books you’ll find below, but I can say it was heavily influenced by many of the following titles.

1. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Timothy Ferriss

I like to call Tim Ferriss my mentor, even though I’ve never met him. This book is a treasure trove of helpful information, and it encouraged me to do a lot of writing this year. You can’t go wrong with any of Ferriss’s books.

2. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

I started The Daily Stoic in October of 2017 and finished it a year later. I highly recommend reading a meditation a day if you’re interested in stoicism. The philosophy has helped me to live both a more peaceful and productive life.

3. A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) by George R.R. Martin

4. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris

5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Author) and Dave McKean (Illustrator)

I really enjoyed The Graveyard Book. Both devastating and hopeful, this story beautifully captures a good person not just surviving, but also loving others in a very dark world. I’ll definitely re-read this novel again.

6. Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Skin in the Game was the best nonfiction book I read this year. Like all of Taleb’s work, this tome will be remembered for years to come, and I will re-read it as I have his other books (i.e. Antifragile and The Bed of Procrustes). I can’t think of another nonfiction author who has influenced and challenged me as much as Taleb.

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

8. Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World by Michael Fullan, Joanne Quinn, and Joanne J. McEachen

9. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

My second favorite nonfiction book of the year. No doubt Peterson is a controversial figure in the media; don’t let this stop you from reading 12 Rules for Life. It contains a lot of wisdom.

10. The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

11. Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday

Super entertaining and informative–especially if you’re not familiar with how this true story played out.

12. What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagen

Kate Fagen wrote a book that is difficult to read because of its subject matter, but I highly recommend it for teachers, coaches, and parents. Many important questions are raised, but I can’t help but think some stones were left unturned.

13. A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) by George R.R. Martin

14. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Excellent. Most of my books are in storage right now because my family and I are in the process of moving. This is one of the books I’m most interested in revisiting as soon as I can access my library once again.

15. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Rowling completed an incredible feat in writing the seven Harry Potter books, and I will forever be thankful to her for the time my daughter and I have spent reading her wonderful tale.

16. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Walther Isaacson is currently my favorite biographer, and this might be my favorite biography. If there is one founding father I would most like to emulate, it’s Franklin.

17. The End of Diversity As We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed by Martin N. Davidson

I enjoyed this book and learned a lot. As a matter of fact, I wrote a blog post about what I took away from Davidson here. To read all my thought from my visit to the University of Virginia, you can check this out.

18. City of Thieves by David Benioff

19. Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, Expanded Third Edition by Peter D. Kaufman, Ed Wexler (Illustrator), Warren E. Buffett (Foreword), and Charles T. Munger

Some people may not read this book due to its $61.92 price tag, and that would be a shame. This book was worth the cost and more.

20. Get Better Faster: A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

21. Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes. by Jimmy Casas

22. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni

My team at work read through this book together, and it was a great help as we created our mission statement, vision statement, purpose, and core values.

23. Driven by Data: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

24. Edward Hopper: Portraits of America by Wieland Schmied

Edward Hopper is my favorite painter. I viewed his painting Nighthawks in Chicago last spring and couldn’t stop staring. This book is a brief but satisfying summary of his work.

That’s it! I hope you found this list helpful. As always, let me know if you have any questions. Here’s to a great year of reading in 2019!


I’m gathering a lot of wisdom while reading Poor Charlie’s Almanack, and one of the best concepts I’ve discovered is Charlie Munger’s multiple mental models. To summarize, Munger hangs his mental models on a figurative latticework, which he can then use to make sense of what he hears and reads. Here’s an excerpt from the book (page 222):

I’ve long believed that a certain system–which almost any intelligent person can learn–works way better than the systems that most people use. As I said at the U.S.C. Business School, what you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And you hang your actual experience and your vicarious experience (that you get from reading and so forth) on this latticework of powerful models. And, with that system, things gradually get to fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

This latticework of mental models becomes an ecosystem Munger can visit whenever he has to analyze something. Here’s another excerpt expanding upon this idea (page 55):

The unassailable logic of Charlie’s ‘ecosystem’ approach to investment analysis: Just as multiple factors shape almost every system, multiple models from a variety of disciplines, applied with fluency, are needed to understand that system. As John Muir observed about the interconnectedness of nature, ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’

One of the benefits mental models provide is a comprehensive perspective. With a latticework of multiple models, a semblance of understanding can be attained of a system. This works in creating a system, too.

I bring this up because while reading about Mungers mental models, I couldn’t stop thinking about teacher collaboration within a school site. If you’ve been an educator for at least the last ten years, you’ve seen a lot of ad hoc initiatives. One of my goals is to create a latticework of understanding regarding the role of professional collaboration. Essentially, all of the ad hoc policies would be placed on the latticework, and a connection would be made amongst them all, bringing coherence to a very muddled group of ideas. If something doesn’t fit within the latticework, then it’s removed. (We don’t want a Bed of Procrustes situation.) As Munger says, “If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form” (page 166).

So what are these ideas that must be combined in a usable form regarding teacher collaboration? The following list is a good start:

  • Definition of professional learning communities (PLC)
  • Unpacking standards
  • Learning intentions
  • Success criteria
  • Exemplars
  • Rubrics
  • Data Driven Instruction (DDI)
  • District interim assessments
  • Common Formative Assessments
  • General check-ins with the team
  • Instructional rounds

Finally, answers to these two questions are essential:

  • Where are we in a cycle?
  • How many cycles are we talking about?

Here’s another important question:

  • Which protocol(s) will be used to bring coherence to all of this?

So the goal is to place all of this (and possibly more… possibly less) on the latticework and  figure out how teachers can make all this work in an afternoon after he or she has taught a full day and a lot of emotional labor has already been expended.


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). All feedback is welcome!]

We live in a world where many things are vying for our attention and money. I’m not just referring to the lure of streaming services, social media, tabloids, and other time devouring creations aimed for consumption during one’s personal life. Leaders within the field of education are inundated with requests by vendors to show them the newest shiny object, which could be for math, English, science and STEM related products, social studies, and a very large number of technology-related programs (i.e. coding, engineering, labs, etc.). Of course, none of these programs or curriculums are bad; if you had a million dollars lying around, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to purchase a few.

The problem is you probably don’t have a million dollars. Worse still, buying a program could very well add complexity to your organization. Questions arise such as: Who’s going to use it? How are they going to use it? Who’s going to train them? Who will set up the program? Further still, these programs could be ad hoc implementations that have been created with little thought as to how they fit into your school’s ecosystem. Sure, thought may have gone into how the program could be implemented at a generic school site, but no one is making products tailored exactly for you, your teachers, or your students. That’s why it’s so important you and your team vet the programs being sold by the salespeople banging on your door. Vetting includes asking the question, “Does this product provide educational value to our students?” The inquiry should also ask, “Does this program fit perfectly within our educational ecosystem?”

A phenomenon known in economics as the Lindy Effect can help educators determine the value of a potential implementation. Named after a famous restaurant in New York known for its cheesecake, Lindy is where Broadway actors came up with the heuristic that if a show lasted 100 days, it was likely to last 100 more. If it lasted 200 days, then it would be around another 200. In other words, every day the show’s building kept its lights on, the chances it would continue to last increased. Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes:

“If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and this is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years… Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy.”

Returning to Taleb’s idea of fragility, robustness, and antifragility, it’s important to note that things that have lasted many years are well suited in times of chaos. Ancient scriptures, trade and barter, marriage–these are ideas, practices, or institutions that have survived far back into recorded history, and they’ll be around after we’re all gone. Humans have practiced them through times of peace and war. As a matter of fact, chaotic times may even increase the reading of scriptures, the commerce of trade, and the likelihood that two people will marry. This is the epitome of antifragility.

Conversely, the vase my wife purchased from Pottery Barn sitting in front of me as I type does not like chaos. It wants to remain on the shelf unbothered by my children, the dog’s wagging tail, or my clumsiness while dusting. The vase is much more perishable than scriptures, trade, and marriage. As Taleb writes, “For the perishable, every additional day in its life translates into a shorter additional life expectancy. For the nonperishable, every additional day may imply a longer life expectancy.” The vase it fragile, and it will most likely not be around 100 years from now. I can be certain that the institution of marriage, on the other hand, will still be kicking in 100 years–even if it looks a little different.

How does the Lindy Effect apply to education? I’m sure you can see many parallels, but let’s illuminate a couple. First, leaders should make decisions with the past in mind. For example, a flashy new program being sold by a salesperson that has no history of engaging students and encouraging them to learn is probably not a wise use of funds. It’s important to examine how long a potential implementation has been around. If it has been in existence for ten years, a good rule of thumb is that it will stick around for another ten years.

Second, instructional practices should be examined under a Lindy Effect lens. Direct instruction and inquiry have been around since the days of Socrates, so one can safely assume these strategies will be kicking for thousands of years to come. Other robust-antifragile practices include a “learn by doing” approach, studying what naturally interests a person, and the effectiveness of an instructor. On the other hand, many of the programs schools are purchasing today will not be around ten years from now–let alone next fall when school starts again. For a number of reasons, teachers and administrators like brand new things that promise student engagement, but what they fail to realize is that doubling down on the “tried and true” practices that Socrates used will pay the biggest dividends in student learning.

Before we move on, I’d like to address a point the reader may be thinking: the Lindy Effect is not always correct. You may want to say to me right now, “What about Google, Steve? It has been around for approximately 20 years. Are you telling me it will only be around for another 20 years?” The only answer I can give you is the Lindy Effect is a heuristic–a rule of thumb we can use in order to make sense of the world. I believe Google will still be a powerful company many decades from the time of this writing, and I also believe that just because something has been around for 100 years does not mean it will be around for exactly another 100 years. I do, however, believe the Lindy Effect is a useful tool for gauging the robustness of an idea, teaching strategy, and any implementation a school or district is eyeing.