On learning – “Consider everything an experiment.”

I’m a teacher’s son, and I think it’s rubbed off.  It perhaps explains a lot about my presenting style when I get in front of a group of people, and I reckon it’s been useful so far.  What good is it talking about the communication of knowledge if you fail to get it across?  (So, firstly, thanks Mum)

This year I’ve been working on a few interesting projects around education, and I’ve been thinking about two at opposite ends of the career spectrum; the Squared programme, developed by Google, and the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme, with the team up at the Said Business School.

What’s interesting is how they’re both trying to extend the experience they offer further.

Squared started as a programme for new grads in the advertising industry.  They arrived fresh-faced at agencies on their first day, yet agencies found it hard to rapidly give them the sort of training they needed most, to understand more about the complex digital world.

Squared was born to create a different learning experience for them; the course so far has been taught in intensive six-week bursts in London, and the feedback from both the alumni of the course, and the agencies they’re working at, has been phenomenal.

squared! (2)

And off the back of that success, they’re launching Squared Online, a six month version delivered online which you can read more about and sign up here for if that sounds up your street.

As was highlighted by Sarah Tate, the programme leader of Squared, at The Talent Revolution event last month, it can’t be just an online direct learning course, however; there has to be the right sort of spaces for the students to talk and exchange views  about the subject matter.

I know this sort of learning experience is vital, from previous work with the IPA Excellence Diploma – learning in isolation of others is really hard, because so often it is in the articulation of explaining something you’re trying to understand that you discover what it is you think.

When I think about this style of learning, it now reminds me of something I read on Brainpickings last year – a brilliant list of ‘rules for students and teachers bu Sister Corita Kent, written in the late 1960s (one of which is the title of this post):

corita kent

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

It’s the second one that I find most useful when thinking about the distance learning thing; “pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students”.  There is an implied need to be around the people you’re learning from, and learning with, in order to get the most out of the experience.

It’ll be exciting and interesting to work with and watch the Squared guys use everything at Google’s disposal to create ways in which we can do that without having to physically be there.


At the other end of the career trajectory, “being there” is a massively important part of the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme (OSLP) at the Saïd Business School .

It’s a course for the leaders of large organisations who want to learn in a different way from the dry, textbook approach that a lot of business courses can put people through.


What I especially love about the course is the way it takes leaders out of the everyday learning approaches they’ll be used to working with, and make them think about themselves in a completely different way; for instance, this quick overview presents the way in which people on the course are taught about the physicality of what it is they do:


We’re working together on a project to open up the OSLP to a wider audience.  It’s been running for thirty years, and it’s a highly successful programme, but perhaps too much so; intra-company recommendation is so high that every course will be full of the same sorts of people and same organisations.

As the world is changing so quickly, in terms of new companies, industries and emergent economies, it’s vital that the mix of people on the OSLP represents the world as it transforms into whatever comes next.

What we’re doing is something much more akin to “The Workmanship of Risk” than “The Workmanship of Certainty” as David Pye put it in The Nature of Art and Workmanship, working with brilliant people at Saïd, and an awesome crack team on our side.  It’s also arguably the Smithery analogy writ-large, so I honestly can’t wait to share more about it.

That project begins today – you can follow it on the Tumblr here, and I’ll post regular updates on here too.