The art of noticing.

My daughter borrowed KooKoo Kookaburra by Gregg Driese from the school library last week (absolutely beautiful story) and as we were reading I came across this gem. You have two eyes, two ears and only one mouth. So you should look and listen twice as much as you speak. It was a key theme for the book and Zara and I spent a long while talking about the meaning. We talked about the importance of truly listening to people. Afterwards this conversation kept turning over in my head. In meetings or conversations, am I truly listening to the words and meaning or am I hearing and preparing to reply? How about you? In the busyness of life, it is so easy to forget.

The story reminded me of a great technique employed by IDEO in their Human Centred Design approach. It is called “Listening with your eyes”. The technique requires you spend time watching and truly observing and noticing. Noticing the detail, the interactions, the movements in your environment can tell you so much about a situation. Taking the time to notice the human detail in a situation can paint a really interesting picture. I spent time in a cafe and while it felt wierd and slightly voyeuristic, I did pick up on so much around me. There is so much detail if you take the time to notice. Take a minute to stop and just observe. What do you see? How do people interact? How do they move? What stands out? What subtle details can you see?

Ten years ago my brother passed away suddenly and time in my life stood still. Days went for weeks and weeks for months. Time crawled. I remember nearly every moment.  Since his death, it’s sad to say but there have been so many days that have gone by the wayside unnoticed. I wouldn’t say unmemorable just normal. We’ve all had that sensation. Think of a drive you’ve completed recently where you arrived at your destination and then realised that you didn’t remember a thing about getting there. Your brain was on autopilot. Now we need the autopilot in our lives but there is so much to see if we take the time to notice. When Kev died, I noticed the warmth of the sun more than ever. I still do. Whenever I run on a warm day and I’m listening to our shared taste in music, I feel like it’s a warm embrace. That sensation makes me feel like he’s running with me. When he passed, it was the middle of winter and there was a streak of hot days and so this sensation is really important to me. We were also inundated with butterflies. They were everywhere…..or maybe I just noticed them more because of my headspace. Whatever it was, the butterfly is a symbol that regularly catches my eye. My daughter even now calls butterflies Uncle Kev. Noticing the butterflies can change my mood in a heartbeat. For example, the other day I left my house in a stink of a mood and as I was closing the door, a butterfly landed on my shoulder and I had a moment with the universe.

In education, there is so much to notice if we take the time. Whether it’s how students transition between classes, the interactions between teachers and students in a classroom, the look on a child’s face, whatever it is, you can capture so much “real” data by stopping, looking and listening. Capturing this information can also help problem find and problem solve in your schools. I take a notebook everywhere with me so that I can write down the little details and this curation has assisted me so much with planning future strategy. NoTosh create Project Nests to capture this detail as it can lead to brilliant insights. For the team at Google Ventures, it contributes to the War room, a space to layout strategy and to see the whole playing field. This collection of field notes can help to provide the colour to a black and white problem and can allow for new and exciting innovations to develop. It can allow you to see what Amy Herman calls the “pertinent negative“, the details or behaviours that aren’t there. No matter what it is, there is much to gain from listening with your eyes.

Sensory deprivation and reflection

Image source:

For Father’s day, I was given a gift voucher to a floatation tank venue. I had never heard of this before but as usual it was my wife’s keen interest in exploring it and her preference for me to be the guinea pig to test it out. I walked in with no idea about what was to go down but I went in with an open mind. A floatation tank is a sensory deprivation pod filled with salts that enable you to float. The experience is designed to block out the stimuli of the world and to allow you to be alone with your thoughts. The session begins with music to help you transition but after ten minutes you are on your own. Silent, floating, thinking, still…for 60 minutes. There are no screens, no emails, no noise and it is so incredibly peaceful. The mind still tries to move at the pace its used to but it soon runs out of steam and you’re left still, distilling and reflecting. In our world, there is not enough time for reflection. Taking stock of the journey travelled is as important as travelling the journey itself but reflection is often beaten by the bell or by the conveyer belt of the school day. At the end of the 60 minutes, I left recalibrated. It was the strangest feeling. It felt kind of like a rebirth.

The sensory deprivation/floatation tanks are popping up all over Melbourne at the moment and I think it is reflective of the times we live in. People are seeking escape from the noise, from the abundance of decisions, information and challenges. I get it. On my drive home, I was left with a clarity of thought that I hadn’t had in ages. I kept thinking about the world we live in and the world our students/children live in. There is a reason mindfulness is growing in popularity in schools and across the world, people need it. Being still, being present is becoming more and more challenging for people. There is so much competing for our attention and it is so easy to give in to it.

For me, the float was amazing. I got to really spend an hour with myself. I was present. I experienced a new sensation and I saw the world from a new perspective. It has led me to try to find new fresh perspectives to explore. I try to do these daily as a way of getting off the conveyer belt of the day and to stop and smell the roses. So much of our day can be on autopilot and so we need to explore ways to grab back the steering wheel and be present.

How do we disrupt our thinking?

Innovation is a constant theme throughout my blog. It is a constant theme throughout the books I choose to read, the blog posts I choose to read, share and comment on, the podcasts I listen to. I am enthralled by the process, the mindset and by those who do it well. The more I read, the less mystical it becomes and in the same breath the more difficult it can seem. Largely my reading leads me to business innovation as there is so much to learn from looking outside education, especially when it comes to how large corporations (insert schools here) adjust their path (quickly) and innovate. Innovation is the reason behind the CoLearn MeetUp. I wanted to move past interest and more into action and the themes of our MeetUps are based around developing innovation cultures, mindsets and tool sets. Education needs innovation now more than ever but innovation is not a person or a thing. Innovation is a way of thinking, a way of questioning and as I wrote in a previous post, a process. Maybe my obsession stems from my love of punk rock. I like seeing the world through alternative lenses, challenging the status quo. The challenge is moving away from the way we have always done things, to disrupt the current status. Disruptive innovation, a term made popular by innovation guru Clayton Christensen is defined by Wikipedia as

an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances.

Now that’s all well and good in business but how does that translate to education. What is the education version of Uber or AirBnB? I’m not sure on that one but once again it is the thinking that jumps out at me.  How do you disrupt your thinking? According to Luke Williams, author of DISRUPT: Think the unthinkable to spark transformation in your business, there are three steps. A key part to these three steps is being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Silly ideas, crazy ideas, whatever ideas, the key is to defer judgement. Let them swill around in your brain and let them be possible. As the famous cliche goes, you need to think outside the box.

Step 1. What do you want to disrupt? 

The area of focus needs to be high level. Think big.  Let’s say for example I want to disrupt the shape of the day for schools. Time is always listed as a constraint for schools, for learning. I want to disrupt the shape of the day so that we can discover better examples for our use of time.

Step 2. What are the cliches?

Williams describes cliches as “the assumptions that influence the way insiders think about the situation”. The assumption about the structure of the day is that it works for all learners, for all ages. Another assumption is that everyone learns best between 8.30 and 3.30pm.  Whatever suggestion, let the idea swill and defer judgement. Wear it for a while.

Step 3. What are your disruptive hypotheses? 

Start provoking the status quo. What lies in the adjacent possible? What can you invert? What can you deny? We need to defer judgement on our hypotheses and let them swill around in our brain. These are what ifs, fresh perspectives. Let’s say we start the day at 11am. Studies show that a later start would work for the developing teenage brain. What about if school followed the Spanish lifestyle and we had a siesta in the afternoon, followed by our creative subjects. It works for Don Draper! We would have to minus the scotch though. Whatever you land on, the thinking is the hero. From here you need to test and validate that your assumption works.

Now I know what you’re thinking. This is exactly the definition of innovation that parents think of when they hear teachers and schools talk of innovation. Experimenting on their children. It isn’t. It is seeing the beauty in new possibilities and finding out (quickly) whether or not this works. A great framework for how school’s can use this thinking can be found within Richard Olsen’s Inquiry Oriented Innovation process.  The strategic component of the framework has four categories.

1. Educational goals 

This is largely the purpose of school. The why. It can differ from school to school, school segment to school segment but it is the overarching vision for the school.

2. Stakeholder expectations/beliefs

What does the school community expect and believe? A strong correlation and connection between the educational goals and the stakeholder expectations is extremely important. Many families chose schools based on the school’s beliefs, goals and values. Many families Ieave schools because of the same thing. The strength of this relationship is paramount. The same goes for teachers. Teachers need to feel that they are valued and that the school that they work at aligns with their values (well at least they should!).

3. Student needs

According to Olsen, these are the pressing, changing or unique social and emotional needs, content, skills and traits that learners possess or require developing.  The needs of the students needs to drive all innovation in my opinion. Contributing to the development of young people is our core business and so should drive all quests for improvement.

4. Compelling opportunities

What are the great opportunities at our feet? What local, community, technological, global opportunities present new pathways? Identifying these can help develop innovative opportunities in your school. We can start to bring in the disruptive thinking process here. Most innovation is from recyled or repurposed ideas and so we can start to let the great, crazy and zany ideas swill around in our heads. Remixing ideas or smashing two or three ideas together. Using the ten types of innovation to see new possibilities. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

From here we develop our innovation thesis, our hypothesis. I’ll touch on this more in my next post.

If you are keen to know more about this process, come and join us at Collective Campus on Wednesday September 28 at 6.30pm. This MeetUp is for Melbourne based educators at the moment but the next MeetUp will be online. More to come shortly.

As always, comments welcome. Thanks for reading.

How do your innovations stack up?

In my last post, I talked about disciplined innovation and the Ten Types of Innovation.  In this post I want to spend a little time unpacking the ten types.  The work that Larry Keeley and his team have done is tremendous and I implore people to spend some time engaging with it.  Keeley and his team defined innovation as a “viable new offering” and through extensive research over the past thirty years have determined ten types of innovation.  These are broken up in to three categories, Configuration (what’s under the hood of your school, business or enterprise), Offering (core product/s or service/s) and Experience (how you deal with your students/parents/clients).  Below are the ten types of innovation and a brief explanation.


  1. Profit Model – How do you sustain your organisation and create value for individuals (or make money)
  2. Network – How you connect with others to create
  3. Structure – How you organise and align your talent and assets
  4. Process – How you use signature or superior methods to do your work


  1. Product Performance – How do you develop distinguishing features and functionality
  2. Product System – How you create complementary services or products


  1. Service – How you support and amplify the value of your offerings
  2. Channel – How you deliver your offerings to customers and users
  3. Brand – How you represent your offerings and business
  4. Customer Engagement – How you foster compelling interactions

Definitions taken from Ten Types of Innovation book

The language is very business centric but the categories can be reworded to suit education.  The key to using the categories is to not see innovation as solely living in one.  In fact, Keeley and his team say that real innovation should be innovative in a combination of categories.  It is this approach that is exciting.  You can use the ten types to assess your innovation and as a guide to adding value to it.  A remix of categories can lead to the “adjacent possible”, bringing to light new ways of looking at a problem.

The best way I found to engage with the ten types of innovation was to take an existing innovative project (what I believed to be anyway) and assess it against each category.  Was is it innovative in any category?  Was it innovative in more than one category?  Looking at the project through the lens of each category also opened up new possibilities, had me raising new questions.  How could I improve the delivery to students?  Could I connect with others to create more value?  Was there any other complementary services that could plug in and amplify the project?  Using this approach was a really simple way to continually improve the project.  The great people at Doblin have also got a Ten Types iPad app which provides great explanations and innovation tactics for each category to help spark ideas.  It is free but you have to pay to get all the features.  Nevertheless it is still worth checking out.

As always comments welcome.

Can you teach someone to be innovative?

I asked this question at a recent CoLearn MeetUp to a fellow colearner and he was quite taken aback by the question.  It is a tough one and I think the question quickly pegs down your beliefs about how we learn.  Are some people just born innovative or can you follow a process to be innovative (and in essence be taught how to be innovative)?  Replace innovation with creativity in the question and what do you think?  Can you teach someone to be creative?  When we think of innovative thinkers and doers, we often would also think of them as being creative.  Is the capacity to see and discover new opportunities or possibilities a genetic predisposition or a process that can be taught?  In my opinion, I believe you can teach someone to be innovative and creative.  It all comes down to discipline.  Let me explain.

Currently I am reading and rereading (such a good book!) Larry Keeley’s book Ten Types of Innovation.  The byline is “The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs”.  Keeley and his colleagues have spent the past thirty years living and breathing innovation and had me hooked by the second page when I read the following provocation.

What do you do when the problems are real, the stakes are high, time is short, and abstract answers are inadequate?

Larry Keeley

Education = real problems, high stakes, no time and no tolerance for ambiguity.  So where do we go from here?  Through analysing innovation over thirty years, Keeley and team of Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn and Helen Waters have discovered that there are ten types of innovation.  A “periodic table of innovation” as they eloquently put it.  The below image lists the ten types.

Ten Types of Innovation

I will unpack the ten types in a later post but I want to focus on the demystification that Keeley kicks the book off with and return to my original question.  He firstly defines innovation as “the creation of of a viable new offering”.  He then dispels common myths about innovation by stating the following:

  • Innovation is not invention

  • Think beyond products

  • Very little is truly new in innovation

  • Innovations have to earn their keep

  • Innovation requires discipline

The last point is one that keeps popping up when I read works from innovation leaders and experts from around the world.  Valerie Hannan and her team at the Innovation Unit have developed the Disciplined Innovation Model and believe that for lasting change to occur, innovation needs to systematic and disciplined. Eric Ries, the pioneer of the Lean Start Up uses the discipline of the scientific method and fast feedback loops to drive innovation success.  This process has revolutionised business all over the world.  Jake Knapp and the team at Google Ventures have a developed a five day design sprint method designed to reduce assumptions and build solutions that work and this process is disciplined and systematic and has helped organisations like Slack develop and improve.

Innovation = disciplined.

Great innovation follows a process and so can be taught.  I’ll finish with a provocation…

Do you believe creativity can be taught?

Thanks as always for reading.

Learning space design inspiration

This is a collation of inspiration I collected for learning space development at Ivanhoe. I hope it inspires conversations at your school.


I often struggle with writing.  I type, I edit, I edit, I type, I edit.  I read and reread posts and have as many drafts unpublished as I do published posts. This is my first step to break that routine. It is the first step in my deliberate practice routine. Deliberate practice is a phrase coined by Anders Ericsson from his research into expert performance. Ericsson determined that expert performance was less about ability and talent and more about the dedication to a strict and specific practice routine. His work has been made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Outliers where Gladwell highlighted the 10,000 hour rule as a key to mastery.  Practice for 10,000 hours and you will be an expert.  Ericsson disagreed with this interpretation. It isn’t about the volume of practice but the quality of practice. Feedback is key and this is where you kind folk come into play.  My deliberate practice routine is called Read, Think, Write.  Twenty minutes of reading, twenty minutes of thinking and twenty minutes of writing.  The practice routine will take place five times a week and I will post once a week.  My rationale for this routine? To develop as a thinker by standing on the shoulders of giants. The source of my inspiration for this week is the amazing book, Ten Types of Innovation by Larry Keeley, Brian Quinn, Ryan Pikkel and Helen Waters.