From ‘yes, but’ to ‘how can we?’ and ‘why not?’
As my colleague, John Nash, regularly reminds me, design thinking facilitators know that whenever any sort of change or innovation is discussed, the yes, but objections are inevitable. However, instead of allowing those resistance points to dominate and defeat promising ideas, design thinkers work hard to try and reframe opposition into possibility by asking the question how can we?
I absolutely love the idea of spending our time talking about how can we? instead of yes, but. The former focuses on adaptation, forward progress, and collective effort and efficacy. The latter doesn’t do anything except keep us stuck. That’s not to say that concerns shouldn’t be aired. Challenges, barriers, and other issues absolutely need to be put on the table and addressed. But too often we get mired in negativity and defeatism instead of recognizing that, both individually and collectively, we usually have the ability to do and be so much more than our current reality reflects.
As much as I love the how can we? reframe, I think there’s another question that needs to be asked as well. Read the following excerpt from Chris Lehmann’s graduation speech to his high school seniors this year:
You have completed nearly 10,000 benchmark projects over the last four years. And at least three or four of them were completed before the night before they were due.
You have been Student Assistant Teachers in over forty 9th and 10th grade classes, helping students in class, in our halls, on Facebook and anywhere you were needed – guaranteeing that our younger students know what it means to go to SLA.
You created SLAMedia.org — setting a standard for on-line student journalism for high schools all over the world.
You have furthered the partnership with The Franklin Institute, creating Project SPACE, teaching 9th graders, presenting at the National Science Teachers Association conference and setting a new standard for how our students interface with the people of this institution.
You have furthered Rough Cut Productions, creating original documentaries, short films and filming 100s of hours of SLA functions.
You have created a permanent art gallery in the third floor ballroom, created a mosaic that will hang for years to come, and have pushed us to consider what happens when students treat the very halls and walls of their school as a gallery of their ideas.
You created an incredible robotics team that exceeded everyone’s expectations in its first year in existence. But that should come as no surprise, as it seemed like no matter where the bar was set, you all always exceeded it.
You have met Michael Dell, and, by the way, we were told that your questions were among the best he has ever had.
You have run thousands of miles with Students Run Philly Style, running the Philly Marathon, the Broad Street Run, and so many Saturday morning training runs that I am tired just thinking about it.
You have played — and won — on the fields and courts of Philadelphia, never letting the lack of a gym or a home field stand in the way of your desire and ability to compete, always wearing SLA’s colors with pride and representing us with dignity.
You have spoken truth to power – rallying in the streets, speaking at SRC meetings, and going to City Council to ensure that your voice was heard when it came time to support public education in your city.
You have hosted thousands of educators from all over the world who came to see how you learn. They often came skeptical that high school students could do what you do, speak the way you speak, learn the way you learn, but to a person, they left convinced, recommitted to the idea that schools should be places where students — and learning — matter greatly.
And last week, you presented the culminating work of your time at Science Leadership Academy – your capstones. The projects were as varied as you all are. You created businesses, you wrote original plays, you created engineering projects, you put on events, you did profound scientific research, you curated galleries of your artwork. In all, you took our core values – inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection – and applied them to your own ideas, your own passions, and in doing so, created incredible artifacts of your learning. You stood in front of your community and said, “This is the scholar I have become. This is what I can do.” And in doing so, you reminded all of us of what young people can do when given the freedom and the support to dream big.
Incredible stuff, right? Now read Jesse McLean’s thoughts on fostering students’ entrepreneurial spirit:
Why couldn’t our students utilize a site like [Kickstarter]? Why couldn’t we embrace this interesting phenomenon and use it to get kids excited and engaged in active learning and exploration of the “Entrepreneurial Spirit” in a completely authentic manner? Why couldn’t this be the new roadside lemonade stand?
One of the new ways I decide if an idea is within reason is by a simple test – Could students already be doing this independently without us? Of course the answer is yes, so why not find ways to get this in our high school classes, or maybe even in our middle school classrooms?
Kickstarter offers members a page called “Kickstarter School” where it defines 8 steps to making the site work for their projects.
- Defining Your Project
- Creating Rewards
- Setting Your Goal
- Making Your Video
- Building Your Project
- Promoting Your Project
- Project Updates
- Reward Fulfillment
Just think of all the places students could take their learning in these 8 steps. Now if a project doesn’t get the funding necessary, NO money goes to the project. So if a student wanted to build a rocket powered skateboard (probably not the safest project) and had a goal of $10,000 to develop it, but only had supporters pledge $200 by the time limit, then the project gets declined and the backers don’t contribute at all.
Now maybe you don’t want to get into the money side of things, we all know things can get messy when money is involved, so maybe you take the idea and put your own spin on it. Maybe you run the same system where students have to make proposals for their projects but they present to you, or maybe a panel of local business owners. Maybe they are vying for seed money, and maybe you find people willing to donate that seed money. Maybe they have to present to their classmates and win their approval rather than financial support. There are a lot of ways this could go, but I would show students the actual site, because there is always that chance that you have a budding entrepreneur sitting in your classroom just looking for a way to get started.
Cool idea, huh? There are some interesting possibilities worth unpacking there…
Note that instead of yes, but both of these school leaders adopt the perspective of why not? What a wonderful question with which to approach any proposed change or innovation: Why couldn’t OUR schools and classrooms do these sorts of things too? As Chris says, instead of teaching our students a bunch of stuff so that they can do amazing things and make a difference later, why not have them do amazing things and make a difference RIGHT NOW?
We give too much attention to yes, but and rarely, if ever, embrace the more powerful questions of why not? and how can we?
Image credit: Ask your own Why Not? question