Thoughts to act upon.

I realize it might be poor etiquette to clip and post nearly the whole text of the recent Google Blog entry titled “Our Googley Advice: Major in Learning,” but in light of what I am charged with helping to create lately, these skills and the messages that define them really hit home.  The highlights are my own.

At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving
. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a
matter of course. After all, that’s what most education is concerned
with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create
competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative
thought and tenacity.

analytical reasoning.
Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a
decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk
about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

communication skills. Marshaling and understanding the available evidence isn’t useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

a willingness to experiment.
Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no
formula for success
. A well-designed experiment calls for a range of
treatments, explicit control groups, and careful post-treatment
analysis. Sometimes an experiment kills off a pet theory, so you need a
willingness to accept the evidence even if you don’t like it.

team players.
Virtually every project at Google is run by a small team. People need
to work well together and perform up to the team’s expectations.

passion and leadership.
This could be professional or in other life experiences: learning
languages or saving forests, for example. The main thing, to paraphrase
Mr. Drucker, is to be motivated by a sense of importance about what you

These characteristics are not just important in our
business, but in every business, as well as in government,
philanthropy, and academia. The challenge for the up-and-coming
generation is how to acquire them. It’s easy to educate for the
routine, and hard to educate for the novel. Keep in mind that many
required skills will change
: developers today code in something called
Python, but when I was in school C was all the rage. The need for
reasoning, though, remains constant, so we believe in taking the most
challenging courses in core disciplines: math, sciences, humanities.

in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are
not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your
success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free
market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.

I read that and thought of the possibilities that lay ahead for us, and the ideas we have yet to have.  I get excited at the prospect of a whole life filled with change and refinement of thought–how can we do this better?  What about what we are already doing works well and can be translated to new situations?  What should we leave behind?

Nevertheless, as we returned from BLC and came back to our realities of working within a strict system, we began to have some doubts about the differences we can make.  Looking through our notes I pulled this one from Ewan’s keynote:

All mankind is divided into three groups: those that are immovable,
those that are movable and those that move. — Benjamin

And the coup de grace:

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing
new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down
new paths.
–Walt Disney

I started thinking about this Disney quote (we watched Meet the Robinsons last night) and thinking about an opening day with staff speech.  Can you weave this into the message that you give to you staff on opening day?  Would it not move them to higher action.  Unfortunately (I should watch what I say) I don’t have that responsibility this year, but if I did, these messages would be interwoven into what I would deliver.  We always need to be moving forward, and we need to remember how to learn.


3 thoughts on “Thoughts to act upon.

  1. There’s an easy assumption to make (and often a wrong one) that a ‘strict’ system, or a system of any kind, with its rules and regulations makes the kind of things I talk about not possible. But they are. In fact, they need rules to work properly. I’ll be writing up my own notes soon, but one example I used in another seminar was the notion of a flashmob. It needs rules to work well, otherwise it ends up failing. I think innovation and creativity are just the same.

    Best of luck in your new term!

  2. Ewan,

    I get that idea, and in fact one of the best lines I co-opted this year was from one of Alyssa Miller (from Google) where she used the idea of “creativity within constraints.” What I took from that was just as you said: innovation and creativity do need a measure of boundary in order for them to work best; if there is nothing to butt up against, there is no structure or form to the outcome.

    This response came about from a few meetings we have had since returning from BLC, and being faced with the process of changing the culture within our schools to reflect some of the practices and methods we saw. It can be daunting, at times, to ask someone to create anew what they’ve been working with for years. We won’t let that stop us from moving forward, however.

    Thanks for the comment, and for a great keynote.

  3. Patrick,

    Some thoughts I often ponder on when I think about schools (and 1st day speeches, which I need to write myself as well)….

    -The Disney quote talks about curiosity and change. The tacit challenge to teachers is that by being curious, we will often look to try new things in the classroom for the benefit fo student learning.

    With that being said, where is the balance between improving and perfecting something you started, say last year or the year before, versus trying something new each year? As an analogy, should I play out Guitar Hero Aerosmith on the Medium level, have fun with all the songs and then move on to a new game OR should I try to master the Hard and Expert levels to be REALLY good?


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