Cliff divers

EdmodoCon 2014 was an amazing experience. Being around motivated educators and the smart and talented Edmodo team was truly a privilege.

There’s so much that I learned, but the truth that resonates with me the most right now is the importance of assembling the right people to get a job done. Whether it’s teachers at a school or programmers at a business, the importance of finding innovative and fearless coworkers cannot be over exaggerated. As my new friend Nathan would say, we need to surround ourselves with (and be) “cliff divers”: people who are willing to try new things and think outside the box.

I’ll post a link to the EdmodoCon presentations as soon as Edmodo releases the videos in case you missed them. If you’re a teacher, it’ll be a great way to kick off the year.

Common Core implementation

When great ideas are born, it’s truly an occasion to celebrate. When a business or institution has an exciting vision it wants to make a reality, people clamor to participate and turn the imaginary into reality. The challenge to succeed is enough of a thrill for many to go all in–even if the monetary payoff isn’t spectacular.

We know that hard work is what’s needed for ideas to flourish. Overnight success is rare, and many times those individuals or businesses that seem to be overnight successes have actually been at it for a really, really long time.

When the right amount of time and effort have been put forth, then and only then is it time to ship the work. The product might not be perfect. In fact, it probably won’t be. But that’s when you take feedback into consideration and retool the product so it performs better.

Sometimes, shipping basically means “implementing”–like when a business starts a new program, a computer company releases updated software, or U.S. education implements new learning standards.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the K-12 standards that almost every state has begun implementing. In 2010, California adopted the CCSS to no fanfare or outcry. Now, in 2014, the standards are in the classrooms, and people are voicing their opinions. Loudly.

I happen to like the CCSS. Are they perfect? No. Should we consider them living documents that must change regularly? Of course. So I don’t believe the hostility against the standards themselves is warranted.

Here’s my concern: We’re not handling the CCSS implementation wisely.

  1. The standards are being shipped without enough work and piloting. It’s a rush job. Remember, when you ship, you have to sacrifice the initial blood, sweat, and tears. The product won’t be perfect, but sufficient effort was invested. Pulling teachers out of the classroom to create lesson plans and pacing guides is not going to reap the same rewards as paying curriculum specialists, who don’t have the current responsibility of teaching in the classroom, to collaborate on effective learning strategies.

  2. The implementation is bureaucratic in every sense of that ugly word. Checking boxes and including long strings of standards are taking the lion’s share of time, while planning quality lesson and writing effective assessment tools are falling by the wayside. This may be why New York teachers are withdrawing their Common Core support.

  3. A positive aspect about the CCSS (although it could be viewed as a negative) is that it’s broad enough to allow for teacher autonomy and creativity. Educators can use their own gifts to bring the standards to life for their students without being forced to teach with a “one size fits all” mentality.¬†Imagine the Common Core is our galaxy and the teacher is a spaceship that can roam about with his or her students and mine the planets and stars for all their worth.

  4. A sloppy and hasty implementation will upset teachers–even good teachers. If the opportunity for buy-in by the majority of people who will be teaching the CCSS is destroyed, then the Common Core will go the way of No Child Left Behind, which means it’s back to the drawing board. This, in turn, will set the newly credentialed teachers on a swift bus to the town of Jaded.

In short, the CCSS is going to fly or plummet based upon its implementation. If it continues in the box checking way it’s headed, then Icarus is going to fall, baby. If there’s some humanity, compassion, thought, and time infused within the rollout, then the wax won’t melt and our kids will soar.

A business against regular business?

Sensory overload is real. With a smart phone in our hands, it’s difficult to distance ourselves from the constant bombardment to read, watch, listen, and consume.

This makes starting a business tricky. It’s true that right now there are more platforms to market products than ever before. Social media, when used by a savvy businessperson, can reap a huge following and profit. (No book does a better job of illuminating this claim than Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.)

But there are many components necessary to help the signal cut through the noise. A great product and intelligent accounting are no brainers. But what about being funny? Getting consumers to enjoy the product and like the people who make it?  Maybe even, at times, giving the product away for free?

Cards Against Humanity is a game that’s not for the faint of heart. Imagine an R-rated Apples to Apples, and you’ve got the concept. That might not be your cup of tea, but what’s interesting is this article by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin. She does a good job illuminating the Cards Against Humanity founders’ business philosophy. Money quote:

I called Temkin, the 26-year-old Chicago-based game designer and graphic artist who’s something of a ringleader for his co-creators of Cards, to ask if what he and his friends have created is merely an extraordinarily profitable hobby. He tells me the company behind Cards is indeed incorporated and that the company recently obtained a business address–a sort of small-scale co-working-space Temkin manages. (Temkin also takes graphic-design freelance gigs and designs other games.) But as a company, Cards Against Humanity isn’t trying to emulate corporations.

“To me a ‘company’ seems to be something with cost-benefit analysis, and that tries to make a profit at every turn,” he says. “Our main priority is to be funny–and to have people like us.”

The article is fun to read in its entirety. The game creators definitely run a unique business. I love this excerpt from the article:

On Black Friday this past year, Cards ran something of an anti-sale, pricing the box at $30, with a note, “Today only! Cards Against Humanity products are $5 more. Consume!”

Counterintuitive, and it worked. More orders were placed on 2013’s Black Friday than the year before.

The tools are out there to create a business, market products, and communicate with consumers. But successful people need creativity–now more than ever.