McKinsey & Company and The Atlantic magazine are co-sponsors of an especially important series of responses to this question: “What’s the single best idea to jumpstart job creation?”
Here is Michelle H. Rhee‘s response. She is Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst and former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools
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Americans are currently engaging in a spirited debate over how to improve our schools. I believe this national conversation will lead to solutions to the problems plaguing US education. We can accept nothing less. If we don’t teach our children critical skills, how can we expect them to create and land jobs in the twenty-first century and beyond?
There is no single policy that, on its own, will fix all the problems in our public schools. But if I had to pick one step to improve student learning, it would be to invest in our teachers. Research shows the most important factor affecting student achievement is teacher quality. Parents know this. Moms and dads I know will do whatever it takes to get their kids into the best teacher’s class.
Having a highly effective teacher several years in a row can literally change a child’s life trajectory. Similarly, being stuck in ineffective classrooms for consecutive years can have devastating consequences. Knowing that, we have to rethink how we evaluate, train, reward, and retain our teachers.
First, we need to put in place fair and rigorous teacher evaluation systems. In most districts, teachers are evaluated maybe once a year, and they rarely get the feedback they need. Typically, there is no link between a teacher’s evaluation and their success in helping children make strides. That doesn’t make any sense. Teachers should be observed throughout the year, and great teachers should be asked to serve as role models and mentors. Similarly, educators who need help should get it.
When success is demonstrated, we should reward excellence. Currently, our teachers are paid in lockstep, receiving small salary increases for time served or other measures that are not necessarily linked to student success. Instead, great teachers should be better compensated and should be afforded new career and leadership opportunities. When ineffective teachers fail to improve, administrators must have the power to move them out of schools.
We also have to make sure we retain our most effective teachers. We can’t allow them to continue to fall victim to policies that emphasize length of service over the quality of work. For example, we have to stop using seniority as the determining factor in teacher layoff decisions during tight economic times. Instead, we should make these difficult decisions based on job performance.
Ensuring students have effective teachers in front of them every day will go a long way toward putting our kids on a path to success in college and in their careers. Anything less shortchanges our kids and shortchanges our country.
To read the other responses and follow the debate, please click here.
In this especially lively as well as informative video, the authors of The Granularity of Growth explain why the best strategies begin with a precise understanding of market and product opportunities.
Companies need to look beyond averages when making decisions about when and where to compete. McKinsey’s Sven Smit and S. Patrick Viguerie, along with Alchemy Growth Partners’ Mehrdad Baghai, discuss “the granularity of growth.”
To watch this turbocharged conversation, please click here.
You may also wish to check out their book, The Granularity of Growth: How to Identify the Sources of Growth and Drive Enduring Company Performance, published by John S. Wiley (2008)
Mehrdad Baghai is the co-author with James Quigley of a more recent book, As One, published by Portfolio/Penguin Group (2011).
The August 13 edition of the New York Times included an informative article by Neal Gabler entitled “The Elusive Big Idea.” Gabler is the author of a book about Walt Disney and a senior fellow at the Annenberg Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California.
His thesis in the article is that we are drowning in information, with neither the time, nor the desire to process it.
Think about this for a moment. Just 15 years ago, you would not be doing what you are doing right now – reading a blog. There were no blogs. Your phone would not beep when a new development in the news occurred. Everyone has knowledge to share, and everyone has the capability to access it. But, in what ways are you processing, implementing, or transforming what you know?
As a result of all this access to knowledge, your big idea is easily lost. As Gabler says, “If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forbears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world – a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t be instantly monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are diseeminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passe.”
He goes on to say that in the past, “we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful…[now] we prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information.”
And much of that information is personal – where you are going, what you are doing, who are you meeting with, and so forth. The early days of Twitter popularized this method of sharing personal knowledge.
The problem is that we now have fewer thinkers, and fewer people who transform the way we think and live. We have no shortage of information. We know more than we ever have before. The question is what are we doing with it?
Gabler’s article suggests that we won’t be thinking about what we know. “What the future portends is more and more information – everests of it. There won’t be anything we won’t know. But there will be no one thinking about it.”
So, he ends by saying, “think about that.”
I don’t believe many people will think about it. They will just turn to the next blog entry, the next page, the next news channel, and so forth, filling themselves with short-term knowledge.
What do you think? Let’s talk about this really soon!
“Just One Thing at a Time” – More on the Myth of Multitasking (reflecting on Cathy Davidson, Now You See It)
Cathy Davidson loves, loves, loves everything digital. “She likes anything that departs from the customary way of doing things, especially the customary way of educating children.” Her new book is Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. She leads an interdisciplinary program at Duke.
But Annie Murphy Paul pretty much rejects everything about her view and approach in her Slate.com article: Who’s Afraid of Digital Natives? – Let’s not get intimidated by kids and their Internet savvy. She especially rejects Davidson’s fascination with the idea that the digital age is teaching us how to multitask. Here are brief excerpts from the article:
Her position ignores the inflexible and near-universal limits on our working memory, which allow us to hold only a few items of information in our consciousness at a time, or the work of researchers like Clifford Nass of Stanford University. “Human cognition is ill-suited both for attending to multiple input streams and for simultaneously performing multiple tasks,” Nass has written. In other words, people are inherently lousy at multitasking. Contrary to the notion that those who’ve grown up multitasking a lot have learned to do it well, Nass’s research has found that heavy multitaskers are actually less effective at filtering out irrelevant information and at shifting their attention among tasks than others.
…focusing one’s attention, gathering and synthesizing evidence, and constructing a coherent argument are skills as necessary as they were before—in fact, more necessary than ever, given the swamp of baseless assertion and outright falsehood that is much of the Web. Some day not too far in the future, the digital natives may find themselves turning down the music, shutting off the flickering screen, silencing the buzzing phone and sitting down to do just one thing at a time.
You should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive. When you don’t have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings. Just shut up and get to work. You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.
Here’s what I know. When I close my e-mail program, close Safari, put on just the right kind of soft/truly quiet background music, open a book, and dig in, with no interruptions, I seem to “get” the book better.
Here’s what I have come to think – at least about myself. I really can’t do two things at once. I just can’t.
Anyone who writes any book, paper, or even everday correspondence is well aware of the features of auto-correct in word processing programs. These do not alert you to a misspelling – instead, they fix it for you.
I found a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News by Sue McAllister entitled “Auto-correct can be a Fix – or Put You in One” to be especially useful (August 22, 2011).
This function is designed to correct mistakes we make when we are in a hurry, compose sloppy messages, or simply do not know how to spell a word. In fact, some systems claim to actually learn the words that a writer uses most often.
Here are some funny examples that auto-correct ended up with:
“I like fried children.”
“Is your sister busty?”
“Juan Urine” – instead of Juan Uribe of the Los Angeles Dodgers
The article reports that the iPhone’s auto-correct system contains a dictionary of between 40-60,000 words. Some software allows you to keep your original spelling, and others allow you to disable the feature.
What have you seen across your screen that you don’t think the writer intended? Send them to me through the comment function so that others can see!
The results of countless research studies leave no doubt that 80-85% of the impact during face-to-face contact is determined by body language and tone-of-voice. Only 10-15% of the impact is determined by what is actually said.
Non-verbal cues can derail otherwise effective leaders. In this video program, Carol Kinsey Goman, the author of The Silent Language of Leaders, will explain the essential body language signals for effective managers and shares which well-known executives possess them. Goman reveals the new gesture Steve Jobs made more than a dozen times in his most recent public Apple presentation and what it may mean.
Please click here to see it and several other excellent video programs.
Here in a single volume, just about all you need to know about high-impact communication
In Chapter 3, Peter Meyers and Shann Nix acknowledge their appreciation of Chip and Dan Heath and especially of what the Heaths share in their masterwork, Made to Stick. I share their high regard for this book and its co-authors. The Heaths’ book and As We Speak complement each other almost seamlessly. For example, the Heaths provide a brilliant explanation of the “what” and “why” of stickiness whereas Meyers and Vann provide an equally brilliant explanation of the “how” as well as of why their recommendations can be so effective.
Here in a single volume is just about all you need to know about high-impact communication, especially after checking out the Heaths’ book and reviewing the Six Principles that all sticky ideas demonstrate. (Please see Pages 16-18.) They are Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Telling Stories. Meyers and Nix have decades of experience helping people whose ability to think exceeds their ability to express themselves. “We develop the language and content, put them on their feet, rehearse them, and give them the tools they need to rise to the occasion.” However, and it is impossible for me to exaggerate the importance of this one point: their book offers more – FAR MORE – than “how to do it” advice for public speaking.
They carefully organize their material within five Parts: Content, Delivery, State (i.e. presence), High-Stakes Situations, and Finding Your [own] Voice and Making It Heard. They are determined to help each reader’s thinking gets the expression it deserves, “that the quality of the ideas is matched by the vitality of the [reader’s] presence. The potential applications of what Meyers and Nix hare are almost unlimited because there are so many opportunities to achieve high-impact communication. The audience could be a single person or members of a governing board or several thousand people. The same principles apply: outstanding content + compelling delivery = high impact. As Warren Beatty suggests, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
After explaining in the first chapter how to ensure that a speech is outcome-focused, relevant, and on point, Meyers and Nix note that when taking the next step, “you can’t just start slapping bricks together. First, you need to know where they go. You need a design. So now it’s time to put together the architecture of ideas.”
The architecture consists of three parts: Ramp (the beginning), Discovery (the middle), and Dessert (the end).
Meyers and Nix suggest three “Master Tips”:
• Get the I/You ratio right: Use ten “You’s” for every “I.”
• You have only seven seconds at the beginning in which the audience decides whether or not they’re going to pay attention.
• Don’t bury the lead. If you don’t hook them right up front, you’ve lost them forever. There are no second chances.
Here are the opening strategies they recommend:
1. Open with the word “You”
2. Use a powerful statistic (i.e. a “sexy number”)
3. Ask an intriguing question.
4. Shock them.
5. Make a confession.
6. Use the word “imagine” to serve as an invitation.
7. Tell an historical anecdote that is relevant to your key point.
8. Tell a story: setting, characters, conflicts, tension, key developments, resolution, etc.
This book is a “must read” for those who want to develop the mindset and the skills to communicate with high impact, whatever the circumstances may be. That assumes, of course, that the content is of a very high quality and appropriate for the given audience. Hence the importance of rigorous preparation. I agree with Peter Meyers and Shann Nix: Ultimately, “It’s not about you. It’s all about them.”