Outcomes, not outputs

You may have noticed that our culture is enamored with claiming success by getting a task done or hitting a predetermined target:

“She’s carrying a 3.8 GPA.”

“They announced earnings of $1.56 per share.”

“It’s set to launch by the end of Q1.”

If we can move it from the inbox to the outbox, victory is declared. If the “expectations market” has been addressed, we can breathe a sigh of relief. The reason we do this is because this is how everyone else does it, and how it’s always been done. We focus on tasks. And while tasks are not always easy to perform, the act of doing them is easy to understand.

It’s not like all these tasks are getting us nowhere. They’re getting us somewhere, but we’re not exactly sure where that is. Is it closer to where we want to be? Is it at least in the right direction?

The Educational Assembly Line

Few would argue that our educational system needs rethinking. Our current model was built to train workers, preparing them to be interchangeable cogs that fed a vast managed manufacturing economy. This system values averages and test scores. A standard has to be maintained. But this type of learning no longer prepares children for the world in which they will need to compete in—a world in which their defined competition has changed.

I realize that I may be in a lucky minority, but upwards of 75% of my work life is spent working collaboratively. My son Charlie is currently a senior at Whitefish Bay, one of the better school districts in the state. When I asked him how much of his school day is spent working collaboratively, he responded somewhat derisively “less than 5%.” If our country’s economic competitive edge hinges on our ability to innovate, that’s a pretty big issue.

“If we keep teaching the same way, can we
expect different results?”

President Obama has asked that we allow schools the flexibility “To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test.” There is no better example than the breakthrough teaching strategies pioneered by the late Harriet Ball which champion teaching styles that best suit and captivate the interest of each student. Her Fearless Learning method understands that as humans we absorb information in multiple ways—via audio, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic. This approach enables each student equal access to learning because they are taught in their strongest learning mode. That’s a big departure from assembly line education, a process—perhaps not by accident—that has created an educational caste structure in our country. In their landmark book Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain, Caine and Caine establish the Principles of Brain-Based Learning which include the following discoveries: Learners learn by seeking connections to what they already know; The brain seeks patterns; Each brain is unique, and since learning changes the brain, the more we learn the more unique we become. That sounds like a road map for learning in the connection/innovation age.

Some might argue that in the “real world” everything isn’t tailored to the individual, so why should education? But if digital age has taught us anything, it is that mass is no longer the norm. Content is no longer a scarcity, and no longer the proprietary property of media companies and publishers. We get exactly what we want, when we want it. If user-centric is becoming a widely agreed upon practice, shouldn’t student-centric be the next big thing?

Conventional Wisdom, Inc.

In a brilliant Forbes piece from earlier this year, Steven Denning begins the article with an excerpt from the book Fixing the Game:

“Imagine an NFL coach,” writes Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, in his important new book, Fixing the Game, “holding a press conference on Wednesday to announce that he predicts a win by 9 points on Sunday, and that bettors should recognize that the current spread of 6 points is too low. Or picture the team’s quarterback standing up in the postgame press conference and apologizing for having only won by 3 points when the final betting spread was 9 points in his team’s favor. While it’s laughable to imagine coaches or quarterbacks doing so, CEOs are expected to do both of these things.”

If you’re like me, you probably read an endless amount of books and articles on innovative companies—how they think, how they do business, and how they delight their customers. But we are in the minority. In the world of large, publicly held corporations, more often than not business decisions are made on maximizing shareholder value. This management philosophy leads to a shareholder-centric focus instead of a customer-centric focus.

Innovation-driven companies are predominantly customer-centric, focusing on the real reason a business exists: There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer. But even in the startup community how often are the stories—“they just closed their round”—about an output? The preferred outcome of course, is an exit. This makes me wish for more voices like Jason Fried in the startup community. His metrics are all outcome based: Are you profitable? Are you building something great? Are you taking care of your people? Are you treating your customers well?

The Marketing Factory

Until very recently, in order to market a product you needed a great amount of advertising. So your outputs were TV, print, radio, outdoor, and direct mail. Line up the right agency(s) to do the creative, launch, and repeat with another new “integrated” campaign in 12 months. Then technology threw us web, mobile, social, etc. etc., so there were even more outputs to deal with. All of these tasks needed to be integrated. But in essence, none of these tactics have ever really been very well integrated at all, just a loosely strung together series of stunts.

These outputs are products of the marketing industry’s assembly line. The challenge is we are now in the connection age, and there is a greater need for the unique ability to see the bigger picture. Outputs no longer reliably lead to outcomes now that there is competition from a million different voices using a million different devices.

Many organizational cultures dictate that none of the output creation can even begin without the SOW (Scope of Work). The time put into specifying “What exactly do I get for my money?” is often more valued and scrutinized than any outcome the work will deliver upon. Partners are judged and evaluated based on what outputs their SOW will provide, not the possibilities of the outcomes they can produce for the business. The granularity demanded for these documents often leaves no room for fluidity, the ability to pivot based on findings, or providing flexibility for exploration down a newly discovered path.

What if?

The connection economy rewards the leader, the initiator, and the rebel.
The Icarus Deception


What if a school turned out a graduating class without a cumulative grade average, but a cumulative story of problems solved? Or a measurement of the dots students connected between music and mathematics? Or the number of common threads discovered between art and science?

What if you could major in being a pirate? Or instead, the most sought after employees didn’t have an MBA, but an MPS—Master of Problem Solving?

What if we stopped measuring returns solely as financial? What if a company published charts that measured growth in learnings v. earnings over a 1 yr, 5 yr and 10 yr period? What if a business had a balance sheet for measuring connections? Or experience? Or art?

What if marketing wasn’t so “stunt-driven”, but built on messages, experiences and touch points that all created a unified brand experience platform? What if we started measuring brand utility in addition to brand awareness and affinity.

When you approach the work you’re doing today, are you just delivering outputs? Or can you be afforded the chance to take a step back, ask why things are done the way they are, and then deliver on a bigger, greater outcome? Think bigger. Go higher. Connect the dots. See the common threads. Think, plan, and create for an outcome.

The world is drowning in outputs. What it needs is better outcomes.


You are a mentor

It is true. I know it may be hard to believe. “Mentorship” is one of those words that can be big and scary. One that can often bring up the self-questioning thoughts that often echo in our psyches:

“I really haven’t accomplished enough to be able to mentor someone else.”

“The skills/position/experience/(fill in the blank) really isn’t mentoring worthy.”

“I wouldn’t know where to begin with a mentoring process.”

It’s not true. Everyone has something that is completely unique, that they are experts in that no one else can claim. That is the story of their own experience. When you share your story a relationship is formed, and you put on the table examples, learnings and inspiration that only you can. It doesn’t matter if what you share is directly relatable in terms of topic or question to those listening. When you share your story connections will be made and new, usable perspectives will be uncovered that can help inform and guide the questions or struggles the audience may be experiencing.

I have experienced this personally. I had the opportunity recently to speak to the Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership class at George Washington University. I, like most, spun for a while on what I could share or teach that would seem worthy for the class to spend their time on. In the end, I decided to simply tell my story. My background, my journey, my decisions and what I learned from them. Where I succeeded, and where I fell. The dialog, appreciation and feedback I received from the class was amazing and humbling. I had helped, and it was so easy.

We need more people to step up and mentor. It’s the most effective and meaningful way to learn. There is a secret though–It must be your story, and not a report on chronological events. Timelines and resumes do not equate to experiences, and the nuances of experience are where connections and learning occur. So share your stories. And ask for others to to share theirs. Learning is a two-way flow. You will be amazed by how easy it is, and how impactful it can be.

Add “mentor” to your list of accomplishments. It’s a worthy goal.


Translator Chats: Digital Education

Cindi: Mark

Mark: Cindi

Cindi: hi

Mark: hi

Cindi: so… that discussion we were having at lab the other day

Mark: which one

Cindi: you know, that one


education, and the lack of digital in it

Mark: at the university level

Cindi: yes… I’m still floored that there is so little attention paid to exposing students to designing/working in the digital space

I mean, a class here and there on learning a software program really doesn’t cut it

Don’t even get me started on the impossibility of finding any representation of UX

Mark: yes, but it’s still an emerging discipline

there’s not going to be any formalized curriculum around it

other than at BDW

and that’s because a group of agencies and professionals have taken it upon themselves

educators are going to be slow to catch up

Cindi: that’s ridiculous. then flexible curriculums need to be developed. Science is always changing, we haven’t stopped teaching that.

The thing is it’s never going to slow down enough to plan how to teach it

Mark: well then the curriculum should match the environment

or the culture

and i would add

it should be taught at a much younger level

kids are digital natives by the time they’re 9 or 10

if not younger

why wait?

they’re already creating content

Cindi: Having digital or a separate track to study even if it was available seems like the wrong way to go anyway.

Digital is engrained in everything we do… it should be part of every curriculum.

Mark: that’s what i was saying

the curriculum should mirror culture

everyone is trying to learn this on the fly

although some have chosen to ignore it

i think the very nature of higher ed is slow to adapt

which is diametrically opposed to how digital evolves

one moves like a glacier

the other

a wildfire

and actually

all the practitioners are doing

not teaching right now

which means as practitioners

it’s not enough to just do

we must also teach

Cindi: then why is higher education a measure of proficiency?

seems backwards

Mark: heh

i’ve never bought in to that

but you’re talking to a guy who doesn’t have a college degree

Cindi: you seriously have to teach yourself once you get out of school. I think I’d rather hire people who didn’t go to college.

Those 4 years would be better spent on learning, not attending.

Mark: well, and testing

Cindi: but to your point about practitioners being the real teachers…

I think that’s a core shift and role for the “new agency” everyone is trying to figure out.

Clients need us to be mentors, not just marketers, just as up and coming talent does.


that’s a money slide

did you get that?


Mark: yes

there have been a couple of money slides

this gets back to that blog post someone at ideacouture wrote the other day

about social learning

they talked about the studio system in architecture

you not only learn from direct instruction

but from the instruction you hear given to others

that’s a learning and experience culture

and that’s what the new agency should be about

i think there’s been some aspect of that at really good traditional and digital shops

but it’s always been behind closed doors

i think it’s our responsibility to open the doors

to let people see how it’s done

to teach

and to do

Cindi: ooo… I wanna work in a place like that

oh wait…

Mark: ummm

you do

Cindi: :)

Growing up with hope, growing up with digital Pt. 2

I originally wrote and published this post way back in March, before the Translator site had even launched. Subsequently, it never got tweeted or spread, because we were busy writing new stuff that got sent out into the digital ether. But this being the first day of school, I thought it would be a good time to give this story its due. The post is about my memorable experience at Milwaukee College Preparatory School as a guest speaker during career day.

It’s interesting to see what has changed in the five months since I first wrote it. The iPad isn’t new anymore, and it’s beginning to show up in schools. In fact, my alma mater Racine St. Catherine’s (yeah, St. Kate’s) is using them this fall. I’ve also seen some of the wonderful things Spreenkler and Romke de haan have done to foster community development, getting kids involved in digital projects.

Of course, the one thing that hasn’t changed is change: the constant, daily evolution and increasing pervasiveness of digital. It’s an ever-expanding, never-ending story. For all of us working in the business, that makes every day the first day of school.

Here’s a link to the original story: Growing up with hope, growing up with digital

Growing up with hope, growing up with digital

Recently I had the privilege (I do not use that term lightly) to speak to three different groups of students at Milwaukee College Preparatory school. The students ranged from third graders to eighth graders, and my talk was part of  the “Career Day” the school puts on each year. The topic of my presentation was—surprise—careers in digital. As part of it, I covered the incredible innovation we have witnessed in the last ten years. What took me a bit off guard was how pervasive digital has actually become—the sheer reality is staggering. Sure, we talk about it, tweet about it, and blog about it. But until I actually went and gave a presentation to kids who have never lived with anything else, I really didn’t understand the magnitude the things we do have on our culture.

Unbridled enthusiasm for all things digital.

The interaction with the kids was fantastic—it was unbridled, spontaneous, ebullient. But let’s be honest. It’s not like I’m Marty the insurance salesman or Frank the plumber. We were talking about cool things like Facebook, iPhone apps and Nintendo Wii. Of course they’d be into it. What I wasn’t prepared for was how many of them (virtually all) had Facebook profiles. Every single one of them had sent a text message (even third graders). And when I talked about the iPad and how it might soon replace the 30 lb. backpack they carry to school each day, they wanted one tomorrow.

But here’s the kicker. As much as every one of these kids loved digital, and used it in their daily lives, not one had ever considered it as a career. After each class, I had a couple of students, usually eighth graders, ask me “Where do I go to school for this?” “How do I make a website?” “I’ve got ideas for games, how do I build them?” Think of that. I told them about USC’s Game-Pipe Lab, and what’s going on at Boulder Digital Works. While I’m sure they thought the surgeon who attended Career Day was interesting, how far removed are they from actually performing a surgery? We could teach them enough about Flash in just a few hours to get them going on their own. Who knows if even a small push like that might lead to one of the premiere digital academies one day.

Which is more formidable? The Trojan football team, or USC’s game-pipe lab?

One of my slides read “You are living at a time of the greatest opportunity since the industrial revolution.” I didn’t feel I needed a source for that, because I believe it. Anyone in digital believes it. Read just about any Tom Friedman column and he’ll inevitably talk about how innovation is the way to job growth and the way out of our financial mess. I’d add that starting to teach digital skills to inner city kids is the way to stimulate growth, harness enthusiasm, and tap into new ideas from kids whose life experience is far different than ours. The bright young faces I saw and connected with deserve every chance to participate in this opportunity.

Near the end of my conversation, I told them while researching my presentation I had come across one of the best definitions of innovation I had ever seen. I opened my sketchpad and read this to them:

I am not awed by the challenges of reality, but believe that I can change the world and establish my legacy in it. I am self-determined, self-generated, self propelled, and self-reliant. I believe that this is my time and my place. I will find a way to achieve excellence, or I will make one.”

That is the final paragraph of Milwaukee College Prep’s “Declaration of Excellence.” Students recite this at the beginning of every single day. I only had to read the first 9 words—the students earnestly finished it for me. I concluded by talking about the Obama campaign, how it had proved that a web-enabled grass roots movement could do the unthinkable. I told them it no longer mattered where you live, whether you were a boy or a girl, black or white, what mattered most was what you had learned, how you think and how you could articulate it. It was clear what they were learning in this school each and every day would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The best experiences are those when you are brought in to inspire, and instead, walk away being inspired. I walked on air for the following two days. Tom Webster eloquently riffed on Chris Brogan’s post We Could Do So Much More—which is exactly what I left thinking. Could we do more than a career day for inner city kids? Could we guide them through building a website, concepting and designing a game, or writing their own blog? What ideas, experiences and talent would we uncover? How would that change the world? If we believe the true power of digital is inclusion for all, then imagine what it could mean for these kids. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Milwaukee College Prep is an inner city charter school in its 13th year. From the first day children arrive, they are continually reminded the goal of their efforts at the school is to prepare them for college graduation. Banners line the hallways showing the future dates of their college graduating class.