Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I Drank the Koolaid

by AJ

OK, I admit it. Im a fanatic... a raving fan... a koolaid drinker, when it comes to Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users site. This site has more to say about great education than any education site (or book) Ive ever read.

Id love to go through the entire site... replacing the words "user" with "student", "company" with "school", etc...

Her most recent post begins with a quote from Steve Jobs.... in which he talks about how great, super-cool, innovative ideas get ground down and destroyed in most organizations:

Here's what you see at a lot of companies (schools); you know how you see a show car (course idea) and it's really cool, and then four years later you see the production car (actual course), and it sucks? And you go, What happened? They had it! They had it in the palm of their hands! They grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory!

What happened was, the designers (teachers/students) came up with this really great idea. Then they take it to the engineers (other teachers), and the engineers (other teachers) go, 'Nah, we can't do that. That's impossible,' And so it gets a lot worse. Then they take it to the manufacturing people (administration), and they go, 'We can't build that!' And it gets a lot worse."

That pretty much sums it up. Sierra uses the term "grind off the sharp edges" to describe this process... whereby super-cool ideas are watered down, taken apart, run through focus groups, debated, criticized, and made "realistic".

But I see a very big positive in this post.... which is, its possible to break this process. The thing is, you dont do it through "reform". I knew better, but I joined a big organization anyway. Frankly, it was my mistake. One person against a giant tradition bound organization is no match at all.

But Jobs shows the way... and the way is to stop resisting and complaining.. or even subverting (my pointless activities, thus far) and get busy CREATING something on your own. When you shift to that approach, a feeling of power (and terror) surges through you. When you strike out on your own... there is no safety net (thus the terror). But there are also no more organizational obstacles. Its total accountability time.

And I love that. I love that I can now focus on DOING something rather than banging my head against a wall... trying to slip occaisional cool ideas under the bureaucratic radar (a skill Im clearly no good at :)

Sierra ends her post with this advice:

So have faith. When you're really really on to something magical, you can guarantee there will be devil's advocates, naysayers, and viscious critics every step of the way. Yes, sometimes those critics will be right, but if we aren't brave enough to fight through it when nobody knows for certain, then everything good will be stuck in the concept stage, and we'll be left with... all of the boring, undifferentiated, or lame products (courses, schools) we have now.

Or as my friend Chris is fond of saying, "Charge on!!!!"