The assumption that underpins all of your work

… is that people can change, and that things can get better.

If you didn’t believe this already you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

The question is, do you act as if it’s true?

  • Which areas of your own life and skill set do you turn a blind eye to: “I can grow in these areas, but I’m just not an X person”?
  • Which people do you – consciously or not – treat as if they can’t change?

One of the keys for unlocking growth and learning in yourself and others is taking firm hold of the believe that growth and learning are possible for anyone – and helping others to see this too.

We also need to recognise that change – especially in habits and ways of thinking – is often slow, hard work. It’s slow, hard work in our own lives, let alone in the lives of the people we serve – our students, children, friends, clients. We don’t change unless we (or they) recognise our need for change and have a will to make it happen (this may take a “Holy Sh!t Moment“).

It helps to recognise that rather than being a sign of stupidity, struggle is often a sign of opportunity. It’s precisely in the struggle – and in persevering, and finding a way – that we do our most valuable learning.

This makes perseverance and tenacity incredibly valuable learning tools. In the absence of a motivating crisis, you may find it helps to learn with others, and for others (in the sense of service, not approval.)

No mistakes. No regrets. (2)

Mistakes of technique

… are to be expected and – to a degree – accepted. You’ll drop catches, make miss-hits, typos, errors of arithmetic. These things happen.

Yes, we can improve our technique, and we can improve the system where these mistakes occur. But we should accept that mistakes likes these are part of what it means to be playing the game – and especially to be playing towards the edge of our comfort zone.

These are mistakes where we know what the mistake is going to be, can predict roughly when and how it will happen, and do our best to avoid it.

Mistakes of tactics and strategy

… are more often mistakes where we don’t know the right answer – because we’re doing something new, or something new to us and our organisation. We can read a lot and do our best to learn from others, get advice… and then do our best and see what happens.

We might fail because we don’t know what the right approach is, or because we can’t execute our plans, in which case we’re back to mistakes of technique or inadequacies in our systems.

Mistakes of character

… are my least favourite, and the ones that haunt me the most. I’m most troubled when I feel I’ve come across as self-interested or superficial, and I find it really hard to let these mistakes go and move on.

I find it an interesting quirk that it’s the same self-interest and superficiality that I fear revealing that causes me to agonise over my slip ups long after everyone else has forgotten them, if they even noticed at all in the first place.

Which brings us back to where we started yesterday: what kind of godlike, super-mega-ultra-lightning babe do you think you are, that you wouldn’t make mistakes of character?

Of course you will make mistakes. Be honest about them, and keep going, keep building a body of work and those long-term relationships of trust with people who know that you are not your slip ups, and who will give you the benefit of the doubt.

And while you’re at it… show up to the next meeting you attend, article you read, family gathering with a generous load of benefit-of-the-doubt for others.

No mistakes. No regrets. (1)


As in, what kind of godlike, super-mega-ultra-lightning babe do you think you are? Of course you will make mistakes, and regret making some of them.

New mistakes

… are utterly essential to progress. Of course it’s foolish to seek to make mistakes – but we must consistently seek situations and opportunities in which we’ll make them. It’s not enough to be theoretically open to new situations – we need to make sure that we regularly put ourselves in them. I’m not talking about taking outrageous risks and burning our bridges – that’s almost always foolish – but most of us are in far greater danger of wrapping ourselves in cotton wool… and suffocating.

Old mistakes

Mistakes that you’ve already made are not repeated. It’s fine to regret making them (for a while), as much as it helps you to learn from them and move on.

It might be that what looks like an old mistake is actually a new, higher-level mistake. You might forget your password, then make a system to fix that problem… and then neglect to apply your own system. Different mistakes, same outcome. It helps to be clear about what kind of mistake you’ve made in order to know how to fix it.

Coming tomorrow: Mistakes of technique, mistakes of tactics and strategy, and mistakes of character.

Seth Godin on good teachers

Here’s the secret, I think: teaching is empathy.
If you have a bad teacher, who is strict for no reason, who says “there will be a test,” who is strict for no reason, who glosses over things that the class doesn’t understand, or spends time on things the class does – that teacher is a bad teacher because they are selfish.

What it means to be a good teacher is to see the world through the eyes of other people.

This is frustrating… So if we’re in an airport and you get to a door and you can’t figure out how to open it, the person who designed the door has lacked empathy. They said, “I know how to open the door, I just need to don’t make it obvious.”

No. You do.

So empathy is where it all lives, for me, and the only way I know how to develop that as a teacher is to teach, is to figure out how to find a human and get them to be able to ride a bicycle. Or to write a letter. Or to juggle. If you can teach someone how to juggle, you can teach somebody almost anything.

Seth Godin – Instagram live 8/28

Podcast recommendation: Econtalk – Andy Matuschak on Why Books Don’t Work

This is a fantastic interview that takes Andy Matuschak‘s controversially titled essay as a springboard for a not-really-controversial but fascinating discussion of teaching, learning and tech informed by Matuschak’s work at Kahn Academy.

Highly recommend. Highlights to follow.

Postbox: good info

Crikey, it’s a very long photo of a postbox – read on for some thoughts about information architecture and the Royal Mail.

From a distance

  • Everyone knows what a postbox looks like – if you’re looking for one, they’re easy to find
  • Anyone who isn’t looking for a postbox can ignore the postbox at no cost to their time and attention
  • Most local people will remember where this one is even if they’ve never used it – so they know where to go when they do need it, or when others do. (Top British Question: “Excuse me, but do you know if there’s a postbox nearby?”)

Close up

When you want it, when you’ve found it, it’s got all the info in the right place, in the order you’ll ask for it:

  • Is this postbox in use? (answer implied)
  • When’s the next collection?
  • What’s the latest I can drop my letter today and have it collected? (If I’m happy with this, I can stop reading straight away).
  • If I’m in a hurry, where’s the nearest place I can go for an earlier collection?
  • If I’ve missed that too, what’s my last chance at a collection?
  • If I have other questions, where can I find answers or who can I call?*

*With apologies that I was in too much of a hurry to architect the second photo well enough to include everything!

Seth Godin on transforming education

Seth Godin has written a lot about education – Stop Stealing Dreams (TED talk and longer e-book) is a good place to start.

Then it’s worth checking out what he’s actually doing:  the altMBA reverses the usual 90+ percent drop-out rates of most online courses, and the Akimbo workshops (including The Marketing Seminar, The Bootstrapper’s Workshop and The Freelancer’s Workshop) get rave reviews.

In this article on Medium Seth lays out some of the core principles of his approach.

Also check out the videos at the Akimbo Workshops link above – especially the one at the very bottom from Creative Mornings, where he sets out his thinking behind the model.

The problem vs your feelings about the problem

Are you dealing with a difficult maths problem or with difficult feelings about a maths problem?

Is the struggle with the work itself, or with your feelings – apathy, disillusionment, fury – about doing it?

It might help to shift your attention to those feelings instead of the problem in front of you. So your focus is no longer “write this article” or “make this thing” but “master my feelings about this work” or “inspire myself to finish this piece of the project.”

It might not help, of course, but working with our feelings often turns out to be the hardest part of doing good work. If you can work with them, there’s a double satisfaction in a job well done.

Education for the future: Key tools

Here are some tools that don’t go out of date:

  • Tools for thinking, learning and understanding (the tools that help you acquire new tools);
  • Tools for communicating and teaching (the tools that help you find and enlist others in your work, and help them to learn new tools);
  • Tools for planning, organising and leading (tools that enable you to work effectively with others);
  • Tools for making new tools (all of these tools fall into this category, but it applies to more technical skills too, from using a hammer to building a website).

Learning through use: Kevin Kelly on technology finding its way

I’m a big believer that the way we steer technology is through engagement, by use. I find that most of the inventors don’t even have any idea what the technology will ultimately be used for.

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, and we have his journals of… what he thought this new ability to record sound was going to be, and his very first idea was that it would be used to record the last words of the dying, and then his second idea was that we could record sermons and distribute them. And he had a whole list of things, and at the very end he was like, well maybe we could do music – and he was the inventor of it.

So I think it’s only through use that we can find out what these things are…

Kevin Kellya16z podcast: Not If, But How – When Technology is Inevitable