Category Archives: Leadership

More Important to Teach Principles than Facts

This week I read The Leader in Me, Stephen Covey’s new book about teaching the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to elementary school students. Schools in North Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, Guatemala, Singapore, and elsewhere have successfully incorporated 7 Habits into their curriculum.

As an outsider to education, what most interested me were the chapter on teaching effectiveness principles in the home (chapter 10) and the following thoughts on curriculum.

Parents, teachers, and business leaders recognize that simple transmission of facts is no longer a sufficient education, as it may have been many years ago. This is what makes teaching effectiveness principles so attractive. Principles and habits transcend facts.

While factual information remains a key factor for survival in today’s world, it is no longer sufficient. With the massive spread of the internet and other digital resources, facts that at one time were closely guarded trade secrets and only available from the top universities can now be accessed in most every nook and cranny on the globe at the click of a mouse. As a result, many of the so-called elite professions that once required extensive schooling are today being passed on to computers or to people at far lower education levels and wages across the planet. Factual knowledge alone is thus no longer the great differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not. (Stephen R. Covey. The Leader in Me. p. 7)

What’s needed, in Mr. Covey’s opinion, is a greater emphasis on “meta” skills such as being proactive, setting goals, resolving conflicts, and listening well. (I previously wrote about “intellectual self-sufficiency”, which I believe is one of these meta skills that is larger than other academic skills.)

Perhaps we could teach better by teaching less:

“It is time to recognize that the major flaw in the de facto curriculum of American public schools is not that schools do not do enough, but that they attempt to do too much. Even though American students have fewer school days each year than their Asian and European counterparts, they are expected to learn far more curriculum content. Confronted with a curriculum that is ‘a mile long and one-half inch deep,’ teachers have become preoccupied with ‘coverage.’ They feel unable to teach for student mastery of knowledge and skills because of the race to cover content. One of the most meaningful steps a school can take to promote significant improvement is to develop a process for identifying significant curriculum content, eliminating non-essential material, and providing teachers with time to teach the significant curriculum.” (Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker. Professional Learning Community. p. 165. Quoted in The Leader in Me. pp. 197-198.)

“U.S. mathematics textbooks address 175 percent as many topics as do German textbooks and 350 percent as many topics as do Japanese textbooks. The science textbooks used in the United States cover more than nine times as many topics as do German textbooks and more than four times as many topics as do Japanese textbooks. Yet German and Japanese students significantly outperform U.S. students in mathematics and science.” (Robert J. Marzano. What Works in Schools. pp. 26-28. Quoted in The Leader in Me. p. 198.)

I’m not saying these are magic answers for education, or even that they’re new, but I thought they were interesting. As the internet makes it easier to connect with people and access any information, I see wisdom in learning and teaching better personal effectiveness skills.

Eric Hoffer said, “It is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

Amtrak series: Pick good metrics and stay on track, if it matters

As I mentioned, this weekend I came from Sacramento to Provo by Amtrak train. I flew to Sacramento on Southwest Airlines, buying a one-way ticket so I could decide later whether to depart from SAC or San Francisco. But at the last minute I instead decided to indulge my long time desire to ride a train. (I had long talked of hopping a train with my college roommate, but we never learned if it’s a misdemeanor or a felony and I didn’t think want to risk the latter.)

The ride took 21 hours, which afforded lots of time for reading, listening to music and talks, and taking pictures. I also met several people: a guy moving with everything he owned to start a new life in Denver, an artist-musician couple vacationing (the wife said Steve Case, founder of AOL, asked her to high school prom but she turned him down), and a guy from Wisconsin who’s been in the military for 24 years and thinks we should have gone to Darfur long ago. All very different and interesting stories.

The price for this trip, not including dinner in the dining car, was $74.00 or $3.52/hour. Compare that with my Southwest flight which cost a whopping $37.92/hour.

But when did the price per hour of a trip ever matter?

If you want to accomplish something, you must measure it:

If you don’t measure something, you can’t change it. The process of leadership is one of painting a vision, then saying how you’re going to get there, and then measuring whether you’re actually getting there. Otherwise, you risk only talking about great things but not accomplishing them. (Source: Mitt Romney)

I like the idea of using metrics to incent the right behavior. For example, “cars with realtime MPG usage displays tend to make people more efficient drivers.” (source, also) If you keep track of how often you read important books or go to the gym, or how meaningful your time is with your family (even in a subjective sense), those things are sure to improve over time. Pick your own metrics and stick to them.

More on metrics: High resolution mistakes by Seth Godin and Domino Rally business models by Paul Allen

So what could possible be meaningful about a trip with a low price per hour? That metric could only incentivize inefficient, slow-paced trips with no regard for urgency or schedule. Or in other words, I was just in this one for the ride.