Contagious Audacity

So, one of the things that I absolutely love about life is the opportunity to connect ideas.  This past week I have been re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and I was reminded of his take on contagions: either the social or the disease kind.  Great stuff that I certainly can relate to changing education, especially here in Colorado.  I think there are enough variables changing within the learning environment here in the state that we are preparing to reach a tipping point.  I have often associated the word contagious with disease but Gladwell reminds me that I use it sometimes to describe hilarity or inspiration.  His story of the Hush Puppy resurgence in fashion was entertaining but, more than that, it was how he used the word contagious to describe a positive change that really resonated (another word I love) with me.  See, I have taught in two great schools and I have had the opportunity to support other great schools and every person in every building knows change is desperately needed.  The conditions are ripe on many levels, we just need to connect them.

This past Sunday, while at First Unitarian, Beth Cronister gave a sermon on the “Audacity of the Civil Rights Movement.”  In this sermon she presented three definitions for audacity from Merriam-Webster:

  1. to be intrepidly bold & recklessly daring
  2. contemptuous of law, religion and decorum
  3. marked by originality and verve

Marked by originality and verve…I like it.  So it was with those words from Beth and the words of Gladwell that I decided that to transform the teaching profession and thus education we need a contagious audacity.

Scenario Planning & Education


In recent months I have been attempting to explore how other fields of study deal with change and strategically innovate.  My purpose for this research is to identify the mindset and methodology combination that will provide an opportunity to create positive change in education.  One approach that I came across is called scenario planning.

How Scenario Planning Works

by Ray Kurzweil

The future is inherently unknowable. Paradoxically, if we were to be told by an omniscient being what was going to happen a year from now based on our current beliefs and desires, that forecast would immediately become false as our plans would change. The future may be unknowable but it is not completely unknowable. We can forecast some aspects of the future with varying degrees of confidence. We can set aside some possible futures as unlikely and others as plausible and make contingency plans. We do this whenever we invest, buy insurance, or put on a safety belt. Unlike some other approaches to understanding the future, scenario planning does not pretend that we can predict the actual future. Instead it builds on existing knowledge to develop several plausible future scenarios. These can then be used to construct robust strategies–strategies that will play out well in several possible futures.

If we are to be able to test the robustness of strategies, we will need to ensure that each scenario differs substantially from the others. The goal should not be to make any one scenario completely plausible (though each should follow with strict logic from its assumptions about driving forces). The actual future is likely to contain elements of several scenarios. The scenarios may seem exaggerated because they take differing logics further than we might think plausible. (Though actual events have a way of upsetting our beliefs about plausibility.) But by constructing logical yet distinct scenarios of future worlds, we can more powerfully test the hypotheses implicit in existing and alternative strategies. A portfolio of distinct scenarios allows us to highlight major underlying forces that will form the future. Scenarios are not about successfully predicting particular events, but about making better decisions in the present, and knowing when to change strategy if events move onto a different track.

In brief, scenario planning involves just a few steps. It begins by identifying a specific issue or decision. This might be a narrow decision such as whether to increase marketing of a particular product, or it might be a broad strategic decision about the positioning of the company. In order to understand how decisions might play out, we need to identify the main driving forces already at work in the present. It is these forces, along with possible future events, which will shape the future. Driving forces of differing kinds must be considered. These will include technological driving forces (such as the growth in broadband access or the development of proteomics), economic forces (such as trends in international trade, the availability of skilled workers), social forces (demographics, value issues, lifestyle), and political issues (shifts in the political balance of power, new regulations, and anti-trust litigation).

Once the driving forces have been identified, we need to separate out the elements that we have good reason to believe unalterable, leaving us with the uncertain factors. These uncertain factors will be critically important when considering the focal issue. In each scenario plot, the driving forces, unchangeable elements, and uncertain factors play out in a logical manner. We will then find that some decisions appear to work in all of the futures we have envisioned. Those are the decisions that we can implement with confidence, knowing that they are robust. Others will work in only one or two possible futures. These decisions present difficult choices. We may hedge our bets, or proceed full force but now with a careful eye on early warning signals that tell us that we are heading into an alternate scenario. This last point makes it clear that scenarios are not only for choosing an initial decision. They also play a vital role in monitoring the continued fit of a decision or strategy with changing conditions. Having worked through the scenarios, we will have effectively rehearsed responses to critically changed conditions, and we will spot those changes more quickly.

Introduction to an Experience Designer

I wanted to change the lives of young people as an educator through immersion and authenticity.  Now, I want to change education through a deeper understanding of learning through the creative, collaborative and interdisciplinary potential of design.

As a designer who integrates anthropology and learning into experiences, I am looking to go beyond something that simply engages–I want it to envelope people, take over their senses and realign their perspectives. A key concept in the work of this type of design is immersion: the ability to create physical and intellectual spaces that become a complete universe in which all who enter are not observers but key characters of the story.

I made the shift in practice from engagement to immersion through the realization that I not only love learning but I am an “extreme learner.”  An extreme learner is someone who does not rely on a “curriculum” defined by others but one who blazes their own learning path in the school of life.  Life is full of valuable “experiences” and yet we often design schools and other spaces that are disconnected from the authenticity of the real world. Making connections and recognizing patterns is part of what it means to be human and this is why human centered design is my methodology.

I combine human centered design with a basic understanding of complexity to design learning landscapes and experiences filled with endless opportunities for others.  It is the designing for others, both teachers & learners, that has led me to where I am now and is what guides my every move. Having a passion for design thinking, learning and doing is never enough to fill my cup, I only feel fulfilled when I help others dream, design and do.