The Worksheet Conversation

I was having a conversation with a teacher the other day, that does some very innovative things in the classrooms and is a master of relationships with students. She does amazing things, and by the end of the year, kids are better for having her as their teacher.

One comment she made to me, really made me think about some of the things that we say in education. She had said that sometimes she will give students a worksheet, because sometimes that is what works for students. Although she does this, she feels guilty because so many people talk about how you should never use “worksheets” with a student, but sometimes in her class, she feels that is what is sometimes needed.

Personally, I have talked about worksheets in the classroom, and I would say that I used to speak in absolutes, but now I say that once in awhile, if a teacher deems that it is beneficial, there is nothing wrong with a worksheet. If using worksheets is a consistent practice though, that is an entirely different story. I have actually had some parents say to me that it this practice is sometimes beneficial to their child because of the structure that it provides.  Their voice matters.

If you think about it, how many amazing teachers do you know that have used worksheets in their practice? I know many. My fear is that when we make statements that are absolutes, we marginalize a lot of great teachers in the process. It is important that we always question our practice, but it is also important to understand that if a teacher is really great, they should know their students better than anyone, and that based on those relationships, they make decisions on how to best serve those students.

There is not one thing that works for every community and for every child. Even a totally “innovative” practice that becomes “standardized” for every student, all of the time, does not serve all students. Standardization is standardization. Choice and variety is essential. Some things that work for us, might not work for our students, and vice versa. Although we need to challenge what school looks like, we also have to trust that there are many teachers that are doing a variety of things to ensure that students are successful.

Could that sometimes be in the form of a worksheet?

Questions to Challenge Practice

Recently in a workshop, I told participants that I was about to ask a question that might bother some of them. Then I asked the question, “in school today, what do you think is more important to teach today; how to write an essay or how to write a blog?” I told them that this was meant to challenge them a bit, and that, if you really think about it, is it more likely that a student writes a blog after school or an essay?  Some people were visibly bothered by the question.  That was kind of the point.

One teacher started to challenge the question, and said, “part of my job, is to prepare kids for their next step, and many of them will have to write an essay in post-secondary.” She then told me that the majority of her students were probably going to go to university and writing a proper essay is crucial.

I then asked, “what if you were teaching students that weren’t likely to go to university; would the answer change?” You could see that she was thinking about if the answer would change. We then talked about the idea of writing an essay and sharing it through a blog. Would a student writing for more than a teacher, but for an audience, improve the quality of work?

Ultimately, I don’t have a position on the question. I never did. Different students will need different things, and writing a blog post and an essay could be helpful with different aspects of learning, and a combination of both could also be powerful. The more a student writes, the better they will become at writing.

The point of the question was not to get an answer. The point of the question was to think about why we do what we do. If you have students write essays because students have always written essays, that is not a good answer. It has to go deeper than that.

The more questions we ask to really think about what we do in education, the better off we are. What would your question be?

A Fine Balance

I was sitting in Starbucks, listening to music, and reading blogs, when I came upon Amber Teamann’s post titled, “Collaboration…who doesn’t have time?”  I thought about her post, and linked it to my own thoughts on collaboration, and honestly, sometimes our over-emphasis on collaboration in schools. We tend to swing from one extreme to another in education, and I think about my own experience in the profession.

As I have become older, I have become more of an introvert, and my time sitting in a coffee shop, with headphones on, NOT talking to anybody has become pretty important to my development as a learner.  Many schools have adopted “common planning time”, with the idea that it is beneficial to work in teams to learn from one another while also ensuring that we work together to create the best learning opportunities for our students, shifting away from “prep” time alone.  In my opinion, a balance is important.  I need time bouncing ideas off of people and having conversations, but it is so necessary for me to make my own connections to my learning.  If you think about a teacher’s work, you are spending the majority of your time with students, then on the times, you are in meetings or professional learning with others. Where do we have built in time for reflection, connecting, or processing, which are so crucial to our learning?  If we don’t build that in to our own professional time, why would we build it into our classroom time?

Years ago, I heard of a school that actually had two hours a month on a professional learning day where you were NOT allowed to talk to anyone else on staff. No conversations, no phone calls, no emails.  You were on your own.  Some people might hate the idea, but in a time where our lives are seemingly becoming faster, the idea of slowing down seems kind of nice.

I spent the weekend with a friend and he was talking to his son about his “quiet” time later in the day.  It wasn’t a time for a nap (necessarily), but just about having some time to be on his own, for his development, not just for the sake of being alone.  It really got me thinking about our time as professionals,  Would slowing down, having some time to process, connect and reflect on our own be as crucial as collaboration for our growth?  Is that time built into our school year?  I think in an “always on” world, the opportunity to just be on your own for some time is crucial.

8 Things To Look For in Today’s Classroom (Visual)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on “8 Things To Look For in Today’s Classroom”, and it has been something that has helped my own learning, and hopefully others as well.

Sylvia Duckworth, who has been recently putting together a great series of visuals on different articles, made one specifically on the “8 Things” post.  Check it out below.

3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School

There is a great commercial on TV right now, where a candidate for a position goes in for an interview to become an engineer, and as the interviewer is asking him “what makes you qualified for this position?”, which then follows him sitting down and breaking the chair.   The person applying then comments about the design of the chair and how it is not made to hold someone with “all that weight”.  Obviously, the interview is over immediately after that, with the point of the commercial being that it is not enough to just “have the skills” to do the job, but there are so many other skills for any position.  You can understand all of the elements of being a “great teacher”, but knowledge is not only important, but also the skills to do the job, and the ability to even obtain a position in the first place.

So how are schools helping students create opportunities for themselves both during their time in school, and after as well?  In my time in school, I remember going over how to make a resume, and looking at how to create a paper portfolio.  Both were relevant to me at the time, but not necessarily helpful to our students today.  Mashable has an interesting article on “The 10 Reasons Why I Ignored Your Resume”, and a lot of the tips deal directly with a person’s digital footprint and networking:

Job hunting is hard, so don’t make it harder that it has to be. Do yourself a favor and don’t give a company a reason not to hire you before you even get to the interview. Marketing has changed, adapt your job search strategy accordingly!

Although this article is geared towards marketing, there are many elements that would be applicable to a wide range of careers.

I recently saw educator Joti Jando share an article about her business students taking part in a “Dragon’s Den” activity, which went way beyond “creating something” and becoming engaged in the classroom, but giving them real world skills and understanding of the opportunities that exist:

Students presented their business ideas – including a breakdown on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, competition, management and operations, related government regulations and financial analysis – for assessment by the panelists.

This type of real-world exercise raises the level of student engagement, Jando has found.

Textbook and theoretical lessons don’t generate the same kind of enthusiasm or practical experience, she (Jando) suggested. Furthermore, an opportunity to meet and network with successful business people and entrepreneurs may hold as much value as this project-based learning.

So although the examples I have shared seem to be specific to “business”, there are a lot of takeaways for all of our students in helping them to not only learns content and skills in school, but actually helping them to create opportunities for themselves in our world.

Here are three things that I would like to see all students have by the time they graduate from our schools to help create opportunities for themselves.

1.  Students should be connected through a social network with other people in their field of choice.

Teachers love Twitter, and although there is great learning that happens there, many educators have created opportunities for themselves simply being connected and networking with other people.  I know several teachers that have obtained positions in new schools because they had someone interested in their work that they shared through Twitter.  There are a lot of possibilities for anyone.  For our students though, Twitter may or may not be the place.  YouTube, Instagram, Vine, LinkedIn, Google Plus, or probably ones that I don’t even know about, have a plethora of communities in any given profession.  Students should not only be able to learn from people in the field, but also network and create connections with others.  I am sure we have all heard the saying, “it is not what you know, but who you know.”  The adage hasn’t changed, but the opportunities and ease of access to one another has.  We need to help students connect.

2.  Students should have a digital portfolio. 

There have been a lot of articles shared that the “resume is dead“,  and that our social networks are more crucial than ever.  Although a resume has a place in many institutions, a digital portfolio definitely can be seen as giving someone an advantage as it gives a deeper look into someone’s skill sets, and is accessible 24/7.  Recently having my own wedding, if you were a photographer that did not have a digital portfolio of your work, we were not even going to consider hiring them.  They didn’t even exist in our considerations.  Being able to find someone online is one thing, but having the opportunity to look deeper into their actual work is crucial.  Whatever the format, or the medium (written, images, video, podcasts, and so on), it is necessary for an employer to go beyond the resume. A resume can be a part of this, but it only tells a small part of the story.

3.  Students should have an “about.me” page.

About.me is a great way to share a “digital business card”, and I have likened it to your Internet cover letter.  It is not overwhelming with information, but it has links to much more.  (Here is an example of a student’s page that was actually featured on the about.me homepage!) Having your about.me link as your email signature is a great way to not overwhelm future employees with some LONG quote at the end of each email, but also gives them the opportunity to connect with more information if they are interested.  The other reason I really like the thought of students creating their own about.me pages is that it actually links to their other social networks, which if they are thoughtful about it, probably be a lot more appropriate if they know potential employers or post-secondary institutions are looking at what they are sharing. In a recent article from US Today, Marymount University coach Brandon Chambers was quoted as saying, “Never let a 140 character tweet cost you a $140,000 scholarship.” Having an about.me page is sending a different message.  It is saying, “here are my social networks and I encourage you to look at them.”  What impact would this have on student’s not only on their future, but their digital footprint today?  I think having the ability to bring everything together could be very powerful for our students.

Of course, there are no absolutes in what a student should walk away with, but if schools focused on these three areas as part of what a student would leave a school with, would it not also help tremendously with many of the “digital footprint” issues that we are seemingly having in schools?  By placing an emphasis on using these tools that are at our students’ fingertips, we hopefully can not only help them share their abilities, but help them make the connections to utilize those same abilities to their fullest.

What’s your one word?

I was reading my friend Tony Sinanis’ blog and his post on “Dear Sucky Teacher”, which was preceded by “Dear Sucky Administrator“.  I have had a lot of conversations with Tony, and I can tell you that he is one of the kindest and most supportive people I know, but I will admit, the title threw me off.  I have said before that nobody gets up in the morning wanting to be terrible, and although there are teachers out there that don’t love their job, there is always more to a story than we know.  In no way is this meant to be a challenge on Tony’s post, but it just made me think and connect to my own learning.

One of the comments that I made about the post would be on changing the title to, “Dear Struggling Teacher”.  What would that say?  I know some amazing teachers who have not lived up to their own standards themselves, and have had tough years.  I know that I have had my own tough times and I have not lived up to my own standards whether it be personally or professionally.  Some people actually excel in their jobs when things are bad in other areas. It is often how they are wired, sometimes it is the superior ability to compartmentalize, and sometimes it’s avoidance.  As someone who wears their heart on their sleeve, you can see when I am having a bad day from a mile away, and I know it can affect what I do.

So in light of Tony’s post and people sharing their “word” for 2015, I have thought about a word that has kept popping up into my head over and over again; empathy.  I have especially thought about it a lot in a world where technology so dominates us, that we often forget that there is a human being on the other side of that connection.  It has made me step back and really think about how it is so easy to go online and complain about a bad customer interaction, not really knowing more to the story. I know that I have been prone to push in person and online, so I have tried to step back and ask more questions than anything, and as Stephen Covey would say, “seeking to understand”.

Empathy is crucial to innovation and design thinking, and that is being mentioned quite a bit, but it is also crucial to every interaction that we have. So personally and professionally, So in 2015, I am going to focus more on asking questions and trying to understand, as opposed to being stuck to an opinion.  Hopefully this goes way beyond this year.

What’s your word?

3 Ideas on Innovation in Education from Vine

I have really started looking at Vine as a social media platform, and have been really interested in how it is being used.  Over the Christmas holidays, I could easily get lost in going through the posts of others and seeing what they have shared, and an hour could disappear in seemingly seconds.

If you don’t know what Vine is, here is the summary from Wikipedia:

Vine is a short-form video sharing service. Founded in June 2012, it was acquired by microblogging website Twitter in October 2012, just before its official launch. The service allows users to record and edit five- to six-second-long looping video clips, and to “revine”, or share others’ posts with followers. Some Vines are revined automatically based on what is popular. The videos can then be published through Vine’s social network and shared on other services such as Facebook and Twitter. Vine’s app can also be used to browse through videos posted by other users, along with groups of videos by theme, and trending, or popular, videos.

When I first heard of the platform, I didn’t think it would ever catch on.  I mean really, what could you do with only 6 seconds in a video?  But quickly, it has become one of the largest platforms for sharing videos, and there are many people (many of them in their teens), who have acquired millions of followers from their highly entertaining videos that they have shared.  Like any social media platform, not all content shared is something that I would be interested in, or even appropriate, but there is a lot of really interesting things being shared through the service.

This one made me really laugh, combining a “viral video” from the past to today’s popular music:

As I look deeper into the idea of “innovation”, especially as it relates to schools, there are some lessons I have noticed from the use of Vine.

1. Innovation can still happen with constraints.  As mentioned earlier, there was not much I thought that could be done with a 6 second video, but people are making some pretty amazing videos. Check out the following time lapse of the Northern Lights:

Or this one of a simple leaf:

Instead of focusing on what people “don’t” have in the use of Vine, they focus on what they do have, and many, try to create something amazing within the system.  There are many people that would love to totally start school from scratch, and sometimes I agree, but the reality of our world is that this is not likely to happen, and we are going to look at what he have to not always think “outside of the box”, but figure out how to be innovative inside of it.

2.  Multiple ideas can often lead to multiple great ones.  Some of the most followed “viners” post something new daily, and although many of the things they share are great, some of them are duds.  Instead of quitting, they continue to share different videos and make something new consistently.  In education, we might try something new and it doesn’t work the way we expected, but we need to continue on pushing new ideas and focusing on what works best for kids.  Even in my own blog, some of my posts are better than others, but I focus on continuing to write instead of focusing on something that I feel did not turn out the way I wanted it to.  Many teachers self-identify as “perfectionists” but here is the reality; if you are waiting for “perfect”, you will be waiting forever.  Being “perfect” and “learning” do not go hand-in-hand, so we have to keep trying and taking the good with the bad in our pursuit of growth.

3.  You are more likely to grow if you support others, as opposed to only focusing on yourself.  One of the things that I noticed about some of the most followed “Viners” is that they don’t just share their content, but the content of others.  It is their way of pushing the community and helping everyone to get better, not just trying to be the best.  In education, the people that are often the most successful are usually the ones that connect and support others.  People are drawn to those that give themselves to others, and that often comes back to the individual when those come back to support them.  In leadership and education, the people that are the most successful, are the ones that support and make those that surround them better.  A teacher’s and leader’s  legacy is not in what they do, but what is made by those they support.

As I wrote this post, I realized that these ideas for innovation that I connected from watching Vine, are universal in so many other areas.  How will you apply them in your work?

Higher Expectations, Higher Responsibility

On the suggestion of Ariel Price, I decided to read the book, “The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools“, and it talks extensively about bringing the best out in people, as opposed to doing the opposite.  As leaders, it is essential that we focus on how we “unleash” talent, even though we have come from a place where “management” of people often means controlling them.  Let’s be clear; micromanaging people not only sucks the life out of them, but it is more work.  Control should never be the standard we are trying to achieve in leadership and this book really focuses on how to get more out of people, leading to better schools for our kids.

One of the ideas that was shared was the notion of “pressure” vs. “stress”. Shared beautifully through the story of William Tell and his son (I won’t tell you the whole story), when William, an expert archer, ran into trouble and had to shoot an apple off his son’s head or they would both face execution:

The father and son both simultaneously experience a flood of relief; however, they actually had very different experiences in the preceding moments. While he stood taking his aim, William Tell felt pressure. His son felt stress…We feel pressure when the stakes are high and when we must perform at our best. We feel stress when we have no control. (Multipliers)

Control is important here, but it is dependent upon who has it.  I know many teachers would feel a lot of stress because many of the decisions that make a significant impact on student learning are out of their control, as well as many decisions made at the school level.  If we expect more out of people, we are going to have to give them, as sportswriter Bill Simmons would say, “skin in the game“.

A powerful idea shared in the book was to “supersize” a person’s job, meaning to “…assess the person’s current capabilities and then give him or her a challenge that is a size too big.”  As a tech lead in my school several years ago, I remember my then principal pulling me into her office and asking me to decide on what technology would be purchased for the following school year.  In the past, I had know this to be an administrator decision, so I was a little thrown off by the request, but I was excited to have the opportunity to make the decision.  I asked her why she asked me in the first place, to which she stated, “If you are the lead in our school in technology, shouldn’t you have an impact on the decisions?”  It was exciting to have been trusted to make such a big decision that I knew would help others.

The more I thought about it though, the more pressure I felt because if people were going to complain about what we had in our schools, it would have been because of my decisions, not our administrators.  I put a lot of thought into it, and from my work with teachers, I had made several suggestions on how we could have moved forward.  The principal knew that since I worked with every teacher in the school in the area of technology, that I would have had tremendous input from others, but that I would work harder to make things successful in the school.  This not only lead me to feel more empowered by the process,  but want to create that same experience for others that I had worked with.  If you want people to feel empowered, you have to be willing to part with control.

This is one of my favourite quotes on the topic:

“Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.” ― Harriet Rubin

Pressure and stress are not only something that we can feel, but something that we can create for others.  Higher expectations need to come with higher responsibility if we are truly going to unleash the talent in others.

An Acronym Leading to Empowerment in Schools (CEE)

There are so many acronyms in education, that it could become a little overwhelming.  Not only because they are so many that educators could remember, but because they are often targeted to a specific area, not education as a whole.  Although acronyms are meant to be simple to remember, they can often lead us to focusing on something other than deep learning.

For example, many educators love promoting the use of the SAMR Model (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition) for technology use in the classroom.  The idea behind it is solid; what are you doing with the technology that you couldn’t do before? But the idea that a teacher that struggles with technology is going to start talking about “redefinition” in their use of technology is unlikely, and might even scare them away.  I also think that it can also push educators to lose focus on students as individuals, as learning is something that is very personal.  For example, if I am the student, and I write a complex novel using a word processing platform, technically that would fall into the “substitution” category, since a student could have simply written the book with a pencil, but would they have done that?  I write more now than I ever did as a kid, but I don’t necessarily do something I couldn’t do with a pencil. Does that model sometimes get us to focus too much on what we are doing with technology, and not enough on the personal elements of learning?

I know there is more to the SAMR model than what I am probably suggesting, but I still think that some of the best learning that can happen doesn’t necessarily need Internet access or “technology” in the way that educators refer to it. With so many initiatives in so many places (assessment, healthy living, self-regulation, and so many others), is something focused solely on the use of technology in the classroom helpful or does it become another “thing”?

So I was trying to think of an “acronym” that would be applicable to all aspects of learning, although not all-encompassing of all it’s intricacies.  I thought about something that would make people think about how we are getting students to a new level of their learning, and in my head popped up these three words; Compliant, Engaged, and Empowered (CEE). Although I see the three as separate, with empowerment being the most crucial part of this process, they are not necessarily exclusive from one another.

Bill Ferriter really got me thinking about this last year when he talked about how “engagement” and “empowerment” are not necessarily synonymous, and I love this visual that he shared:

Engage or Empower?

 

And although compliance has become a bad word in education, there are elements of it that are necessary in education and our world today.  For example, I look back at my childhood and wish that I would have stuck with piano although it did not make much sense why I would do at the time.  You do not get to the “deep” learning without sometimes starting at the surface level.  Even if you look at how some people would consider teaching their “calling”, I rarely hear too many teachers talk about their excitement in doing report cards; we often do report cards because we have to, not because we want to.  If schools build a culture that focuses only on compliance with teachers, it is not going to be a place where students want to be.  Empowered teachers often focus on empowering students.

“What we model is what we get.” Jimmy Casas

In some areas, compliance is never something that a person goes through, as they can be immediately engaged (that was how I felt about learning to play basketball), if compliance is the beginning of learning and maintained throughout the duration, it will also be the end.  It is important to move to the point of engagement and ultimately empowerment, although the two are connected.

To try to make more sense of this, I tried to sort “Compliance, Engagement, and Empowerment” into a few areas to go deeper with the idea.  I wanted to try to write some quick definitions of each area in their connection with learning, understand what it looks like in school, put it on the “Simon Sinek” scale of understanding the “why”, and then put it into an example of learning in a particular area (using Twitter for professional learning as the example).  Here is what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 7.59.52 PM

As stated earlier, some of the parts are not mutually exclusive.  You will not be “empowered” unless you are “engaged”, but you can be “engaged” without being “empowered”.  It is also important to note that simply “making” and “creating” does not mean that an individual is empowered.  The process of “making” can still be very compliant if the learner does not connect on a deeper level as an individual or see the process as meaningful to their own work. Creating is not simply “empowerment” unless the learner sees value to what is being created and connects with the learner on an intrinsic level.  Also, being empowered is not necessarily something that is achieved in all areas of learning, but if it is never achieved with a student, then why would they ever want to be in school.  Being “empowered” shows the student they are valued for their strengths and passions.  This is essential to success in all facets of school.

What is also important that this acronym (for lack of a better descriptor), is not exclusive to technology, nor should it be.  I asked a friend to put in their thoughts with the same table on the subject of learning “dance”.  This is what they came up with:

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 8.10.35 PM

Remember “square dancing” when you were in school (or was my school the only one doing this)?  That is something that I did because I was told to do, and even though we “choreographed” our own dances, this was not an “empowering” time for us in school.  Looking back, I wonder if this was taught because “dance” was in the curriculum and this was the easiest way to teach us, because I am not sure why we spent so much time every year doing this.  Now with all of the different options that we have to learn different styles of dance from sources like YouTube, from people all over the world, it is more likely that there will be something that our students will connect with, and want to create on their own.  I have seen our students want to dance more than I ever did, and I think options matter when we are looking to empower our students.

This idea is in it’s early stages and I am still trying to wrap my head around it, but with all that we do in schools, I am hoping that this is simple enough to help us think about how our learners feel about their experiences in school and what we are creating.  I am hoping “simple” leads to “deep”. 

Motivation is key to learning, and this table could be used easily in terms of leadership (I am planning to write about that in the near future), but in school, compliance should not be the standard that we are looking to achieve, and engagement is not enough.  A student that is empowered will know that they are valued and are more likely to be successful in so many areas.  That is the ultimate success.

The “Answer” is Not Always the Right Answer

I was listening to an interesting interview from CBC shared on Jordan Tinney’s blog discussing the use of “letter grades” in school.  This is an interesting topic because it is something that is so deeply rooted in tradition in our schools, and to change this, there will be a lot of challenging conversations.

In the podcast, one of the people calling in (at about 17 minutes), has an interesting comment:

“…these children will eventually graduate into a workplace where it doesn’t matter how hard you try, if you don’t have the right answer, you don’t have the right answer, and that’s all there is to it.”

This argument, that is often used about the “real world” and the workplace is not as simple as it seems.  Yes, people need to know information, but information changes and it is more important that we are able to think than simply know an answer.  Thomas Friedman has a great quote on what our “world” is looking for in his article about on “How To Get a Job at Google”:

“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).” Thomas Friedman

The interesting thing about the article is that from Friedman’s research, “grades” or “test scores” are not a determining factor for success with the company:

Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.”

The culture at Google is known for many “soft skills” that cannot simply be graded, and are  more focused on a person’s ability to be able to think, lead, be creative, be flexible and adaptive (which are really tough to grade). According to Superintendent Chris Kennedy, the word “smart” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

This is just not at Google.  Many organizations are focusing on people to think beyond the “answer” and go outside of the lines, to be honest, in fear of losing profits long term.

Here are two situations that I personally encountered where the “answer” wasn’t the right answer.

Just recently I was collecting stamps for a Starbucks specialty drink promotion over the Christmas break.  I was only needing one more to reach five and get a free drink, when I was informed that the promotion was over, and then they wouldn’t be handing out any more stickers.  When I said, “Aww that sucks..I already have four and just needed one more.” Immediately the barista went to her colleague, grabbed a stamp, and gave me the last sticker for a free drink.  She didn’t have to go to the manager, she just went to someone who had the stickers and gave me one.  That simple.

At Avis recently, they have a policy that if you bring the car back an hour after the designated time you are supposed to return the vehicle, the customer will be charged for an extra day.  Arriving late to the airport due to weather, I was 90 minutes late for my deadline, and without hesitation, the employee waved the fee although I had signed a contract stating the rules.  They didn’t have to talk to a supervisor or ask permission, they just knew what was best.

Now my circumstance with these two companies might not be the norm (although they have been with me).  Simply put in both cases the “answer” was not the “answer”, but was on a sliding scale dependent upon the circumstance.  Some facts are not “concrete” and change over time, but the ability to think is something that is needed consistently.

You might think that both of these cases were simply a matter of common sense, but in the past for many organizations, “common sense” was not allowed as it would lead to a loss of money.  If you look deeper though, it is only a short term loss.  Starbucks lost five dollars because they gave me a free drink when they didn’t have to and Avis lose fifty dollars by having an employee changing the “answer” on the fly, but long term they created loyalty because they were allowed to change what the “answer” was and think for themselves and do what is best in the situation.  Short term loss was worth long term gain.  More and more companies are understanding this and they need people that don’t simply know the answer, but can think for themselves and understand the best thing to do in any situation.

I like to think that both of these people that I encountered thought about the situation, put themselves in my situation, and thought about if the roles were reversed.  Barry Schwartz talked about how this type of empathy is crucial to “wisdom”:

“Most of us think about empathy as a “feeling” or an “emotion.” It is. To be empathetic is to be able to feel what the other person is feeling. But empathy is more than just a feeling. In order to be able to feel what another person is feeling, you need to be able to see the world as that other person sees it. This ability to take the perspective of another demands perception and imagination. Empathy thus reflects the integration of thinking and feeling.”

The “answer” is not always the right answer. The “real world” is expecting people to be able to think for themselves and not simply follow a manual, but to do what is best, sometimes in spite of what the answer tells you.