I asked my students this question:
“How many times were you told to take a risk or break a rule by a teacher in a classroom?”
“Call it out,” I said, and I cupped my hand behind my ear and looked down to concentrate on the answers. I heard, “0,0,1,0,0,never,once,twice,zero,zero,never,once or twice.”
“Isn’t that amazing?” I asked. “Did anyone have another experience?” A student of these 60 said, “I had a teacher who hated MLA and Chicago style and told us to format any way we wanted.”
Many laughed. I could hear others say, “wow, that’s crazy” and I saw students look amazed — presumably that a teacher was such an irresponsible iconoclast, destroying students’ SAT potential. I was amazed that there was just this ONE student who had a solid example of a teacher encouraging them to get out and risk and break a rule.
The next day in my class of 40 students we repeated the experiment, and I got the same nearly totally unanimous answer: ZERO times were they told to break rules and take risks. I asked for exceptions. One student raised his hand and said he had an English teacher who told them all the time to be risk-takers. And one young lady said her school constantly taught them to try new things and take risks. “And did you?” I asked. “All the time she replied.”
I shared this Math with them:
100 students (between my two classes)
12 years (pre-college)
180 days (per year)
5 classes (per day)
1,080,000 class periods
3 years in college
2 semesters x 4 classes/semester x 30 class meetings
1,152,000 total class meetings.
Over a million class meetings, and only 3 students had any stories of being told to take risks.
It is a wonder there is a worker, neighbor, churchgoer, manager, teacher anywhere in America who takes risks and breaks rules.
One of my best clients, a CEO came to talk to these students. I asked him in front of them, “As you seek to create a culture that is dynamic and encourages smart risks, what do you most tell your employees? What are you looking for from those you hire?” His answer, “Don’t ask, ‘What does the CEO want?’ Ask, “How can I best add value? What do I think we need to do?”
If you, like him and like me as a teacher, want your people to be generators, leaders, innovators, then we’ve got to remember the gale force winds — of compliance, safety, and passivity within them that — we are steering into, the powerful current we must swim against to get real innovation to break loose.
If you want some cool, LEADING results this week, encourage some risk taking, celebrate some mistakes, give some power away, don’t solve all their problems, and
Lead with your best self!