Monday, March 28, 2016

Passion, Mission, Vocation, Profession

My daughter is in India for a couple of weeks getting ready for her final exams.  I took a look at what she was doing today, and she was studying art and politics in Weimar Germany.  Recently she did her MA dissertation on female iconography during the French Revolution.  I think I've mentioned before that there were times when she doubted that art history would lead to a career, but it has: only a few days after she graduates in June she will start work as a travel consultant.  Her nomadic childhood and her love of art will help her to design custom tours for her clients.

In her book How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haimes writes "study what you love and the rest will follow".   She writes that when you love a subject you are motivated to attend all the lectures, to read around the subject, to meet with your tutors and to formulate your own thoughts and ideas.  You might end up with a good grade simply because of this intrinsic motivation, and even if you don't you are sure to get a good letter of recommendation about your curiosity and determination.  She writes, "If you have the guts to study what you love regardless of what other people say, it leads precisely to the kind of success you're looking for."

It all comes down to purpose.  Parents cannot give a child purpose, but they can help their children to find it.  Here is what Julie recommends:

  • Embrace the kid you have - value and love what they are interested in, rather than trying to push them into what they are good at.   Know when to pull back.
  • Listen for clues - encourage them to be creative and experiment and support promising options.
  • Remember children are wildflowers, not bonsai trees - accept that it is about your child, not you.  Pay attention to their interests, what concerns them, how they like to participate.  Purpose is the centre of the diagram above, your job as a parent is to "fan the flames".
  • Support their strengths rather than focusing on remediating their weaknesses.  Help them to find mentors outside of the family.
  • Prepare them for hard work, building relationships and perseverance and don't do too much for them.  It's important that they are the ones to make it happen.
  • Find your own purpose and share your passions with your children.  Let them be inspired by how you are pursuing your own dreams.
  • Let them go - your children are not living extensions of you.

Getting (international) schools from good to great

A couple of weeks ago, at the end of ASB Un-Plugged, I wrote a post about the "wolves" that could be unleashed in international schools, based on the Keynote by our Superintendent, Craig Johnson. I'm posting Craig's entire Keynote below, and am also summarizing his key points here.

Craig spoke about how he had contacted 100 heads of international schools in order to confront the brutal facts about international education.  He asked 3 questions:
  1. How satisfied are you with the state of international education?  Around 60% of these heads of schools indicated they are dissatisfied.
  2. Looking out to 2020 what would you consider the most important and relevant challenges and opportunities facing our schools?  It turns out the #1 challenge is independence of schools -v- interdependence of schools - there are a large number of 3rd party tails wagging the dog - so a balance has to be struck so as to be a relevant as possible for our own community while not becoming irrelevant to the international ecosystem in which we exist.  Craig pointed out that no international school can transform on its own - we need coalitions and collaborations.
  3. What are we doing that we should not be doing?  There is a long list here, for example:
  • salaries based on years of service and degrees
  • 185 school days
  • classes allocated the same amount of time
  • saying no to apprenticeships and internships
  • % grades, class rankings, GPAs
  • parent teacher conferences only happening twice a year
  • teaching so much archaic content
  • limiting time on skills and dispositions
  • teaching -v- learning
  • different subjects in isolation
The important thing to realize is that while we believe we should stop doing these things, we cannot stop doing these things alone .....

If you have watched the video about how wolves change mountains, you will know the question is what "wolves" can we release into our schools.  Here are 4 "wolves" that the heads of school agreed on at Un-Plugged:

  • listening to student voice and choice
  • making wellness a core value
  • sharing talent
  • time (any time, any place, for anyone)

The talent task-force meets for the first time tomorrow - I've signed up for it.  As this is going to be a design thinking process, we'll start with empathy and ideation.  I'll be sharing our ideas and asking for feedback from my international PLN as the process unfolds.

Craig's 40 minute Keynote is below.  It's well worth watching.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

How good do you want to be?

Over the Easter weekend I've been dipping into some more professional reading - books that I've had sitting on my coffee table for a while, waiting for the opportunity (time) to start on them.  One of them was a very quick read, but I've done a lot of thinking since - it was the book It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good you Want to Be by Paul Arden.  Here are 3 gems taken from this book:

1.  Do not seek praise - seek criticism.  I think that often what stops us doing our best is that we are praised, think we are doing something good, or maybe that everything is OK, and we stop at that point.  As Jim Collins says "good is the enemy of great".  Instead we should ask "What's wrong with it?  How can I make it better?"

2.  Do not covet your ideas - give away everything you know and more will come back to you.  Paul Arden points out "they aren't your ideas anyway, they're someone else's.  They are out there floating in the ether.  Ideas are open knowledge - don't claim ownership."

3.  The person who doesn't make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.  Arden writes about a company he previously worked for saying,  "you would not be fired for being wrong, but you would be fired for not having initiative."  And while we are on the subject of getting fired, Arden tells us he has been fired 5 times and each time his career took a step forward.  Whereas at one time this would have been a negative on your CV, now some employers see it as an asset because it shows initiative.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mindful apps for adults and children

About a month ago I decided to try out some of the mindfulness apps on my phone that our school counsellor has been using with students.  As it's the Holi holiday in India this week, it seemed like a good opportunity to spend the week exploring a number of these apps - and since it's the holidays I also have the time to write a blog post about them.  I spent the week in Rishikesh, which is one of the holiest cities in India.  It's on the Ganges in the foothills of the Himalayas, and is famous as a centre for studying meditation and yoga.  The banks of the river are lined with temples and ashrams, and when we arrived it was the last weekend of the International Yoga Festival.   It seemed like a great time to explore a bit of mindfulness.

Those who know me will know that I really dislike flying.  I know it's totally irrational, and it's never stopped me wanting to go to places, but I hate the feeling of flying.  I was therefore keen to try out these apps, as two of them have specific meditations sessions for flying.  In the Headspace app, one of the free "singles" sessions is called On The Go, where there are 2 free meditations called Fear of Flying.  I listened to both of these at the airport while sitting down waiting to board and have to say I fell asleep during the second one (so I guess I must have been relaxed!) I played the second one again once I was sitting in my seat on the plane and fell asleep again.  My first reaction was that it seemed very effective.  The other app I used was Buddhify which has a section called Travelling and within that there's a 5 minute meditation called Flight.  This one is really interesting because you do it during the flight and have to concentrate on your breathing, and when you feel your mind wandering you ask yourself are you thinking about something that happened in the past (in which case you say the name of the departure city) or something that is going to happen in the future (in which case you say the name of the arrival city).  It's worthwhile to see which way your mind mostly goes when it starts thinking - past or future.

Over the past week I've explored four apps, including one for children, and I'm going to share some thoughts about them here.


Headspace markets itself as your own personal trainer.  You can download the app for free and use the Take 10 programme for 10 minutes a day for 10 days.  That's a sort of introduction to mindfulness.  After that, apart from the free Fear of Flying solo sessions, you need to subscribe to unlock hundreds of hours of other sessions.  The aim is that you will become more focused, have less stress, sleep better and so on.  The app claims that mindfulness meditation leads to peace of mind and wellbeing, greater creativity and better relationships, as neuroscientists have discovered that after only 11 hours of meditation there are physical changes in the parts of the brain that monitor focus and self control.  It also activates the "rest and digest" part of our nervous system helping with stress management, and it promotes divergent thinking allowing new ideas to be generated.  Mindfulness also helps with filtering out of other mental processes during creative tasks, so those who meditate stay on task longer and make fewer task switches.  I can certainly see how this would be beneficial to many students!  In Headspace all the sessions are devised and narrated by Andy Puddicombe, who trained as a Buddhist monk in Northern India.   I found him extremely easy to listen to and really enjoyed my 10 free sessions - which no doubt I will go back and play again and again.  Several of the sessions include short animations which are useful introductions to the topic being covered that day.  Beyond the 10 days, however, you need to take on a monthly subscription.  A year's subscription works out at £9.99 a month and unlocks all the sessions including the 3 foundation courses, and the series on health, relationships, performance and so on.  My personal preference would be to pay one-time for all of these (however this costs around £300) so the jury is still out as to whether I will continue with the subscription.  One thing I did appreciate is this message on the website:
To help us fulfill our mission of improving the health and happiness of the world, for every Headspace subscription purchased, we will donate one to someone in need.
If you want to know more about Andy and Headspace, the video below is a useful introduction.


I used this app a lot during the past week - sitting by a waterfall, sitting on a bench at the Beatles Ashram, sitting on the balcony of my room, and also (as mentioned above) when flying to Rishikesh. This app has 80 guided meditations that are custom-made for whatever you are doing at home, work, travelling and so on.  This is a paid app and all the meditations are included in the one-time purchase price.  The app is beautifully designed and was created by Rohan Gunatillake, the Director of Mindfulness Everywhere, a Glasgow based company.  Ronan has written about 3/4 of the content of the app, but the narration is done by a variety of voices, male and female, British and American - I found some voices I liked much better than others.   The idea behind Buddhify is to use everything around us as a prompt for mindfulness, calm and compassion.

The app is designed as a wheel.  that contains over 11 hours of meditations divided into 15 different sections, including travelling, being online, going to sleep, being outside in nature and pain and illness.  In total there are about 80 different meditations that range from 5 - 30 minutes as well as a solo meditation timer and 2 sections called Just Meditation .  The app is designed for beginners and for people who don't have much spare time to think.  The app is priced at £3.99 (which makes it better value to get started with than Headspace).

Stop Breathe & Think

This is a free app that will help you develop and apply kindness and compassion in your daily life.  It involves 3 steps:
  • Stop what you are doing and check in with what you are thinking and feeling
  • Practice mindful breathing to create space between your thoughts, emotions and reactions
  • Broaden your perspectives and become peaceful and calm.
To begin you answer a series of questions about how you are feeling mentally, physically and emotionally, and the app then suggests several meditations that match what you currently need.  There are lots of different meditations and for several of them there are choices of the length of meditation, for example with Mindful Breathing you can choose a 3, 5, 10 or 20 minute meditation.  There are numerous free meditations and also some you can pay for (the cost is cheap - less than £1 for 3 new meditations on a particular topic), and the paid meditations help fund the in-school, after-school and summer school programmes for teens run by Tools for Peace.  There is also a self-meditation timer which involves you signing up with an email address.  The timer can be set for 1 minute through to 1 hour.

The app seems to be designed to be used in schools.  It is designed to develop skills that support academic and professional achievement and to promote more positive interactions and relationships through learning to deepen your awareness of your thoughts and emotions and to recognize those feelings in others, to settle yourself down and manage your emotions and reactions, and to approach people and situations from the perspective of kindness and compassion.

The app is designed by Tools for Peace, an organization that inspires people of all ages to develop kindness and compassion in everyday life.  Founded in 2000, TFP has partnered with over 20 organizations, universities and schools, and continues to strengthen and support emotional and social intelligence as well as academic success.   You can find out more about the organization by watching the video below:

Breathe, Think, Do

This app is aimed at young children, probably up to Kindergarten. The aim is to develop skills such as self-control, problem solving and persistence.  Children tap on the app to help a Sesame Street monster to calm down and find solutions to his problems.  There are 5 activities which young children often find difficult:  getting dressed, saying goodbye to a parent when arriving at school, building with bricks, taking turns and going to bed.  There is a parent section built into the app.  Parents can personalize encouraging phrases that their child will hear as they use the app.

Have you tried any of these apps yourself of with students?  I'd love to hear how you got along.  Do you have any other mindfulness apps that you would recommend?

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

What makes an effective leader

I read a Harvard Business Review post today about the most important leadership competencies. These were grouped into 5 themes:  ethics and safety, self-organizing, efficient learning, nurturing growth, and connection and belonging.

Ethics:  some of the highest rating attributes of leaders are high ethical and moral standards and communicating clear expectations, both of which create a safe and trusting environment.  In my cognitive coaching course I learned about how the limbic system in the brain works to let us know we are safe - and only when stress is low then people will be open to situations of high challenges such as innovation and creativity.  The HBR concludes that "making sure that people feel safe .... should be the #1 job for leaders".

Empowering others:  when I read this I thought about Daniel Pink's autonomy, mastery and purpose. An effective leader will provide direction and at the same time leave room for autonomy as people organize their own time and do things in their own way.  Empowering others to me also means distributed and sustainable leadership and is completely opposite of being micro-managed which is a stifling and suffocating feeling.

Connection and belonging:  we all want to feel we belong and that we are useful and productive members of a team or organization.  The HBR shows that emotions are contagious - watching something unpleasant happen to someone else depletes us emotionally whereas experiencing something good happening to someone else makes us feel good too.  Once our brains tell us we are safe, the next thing we crave is belonging and cared for.

Openness to new learning and ideas:  great leaders encourage critical thinking and trying new things rather than just sticking to the status quo.  They also appreciate that new learning may involve failing - the best leaders support risk-taking and help everyone to learn from each other's mistakes.

Nurturing growth:  when leaders show they are committed to our growth we are motived to feel loyal to them and to "go the extra mile".  At ASB I have really appreciated being nudged in new directions by members of the administration, and the time that our Superintendent gave last year to run before-school leadership sessions for anyone who wanted to learn and grow.  They were well attended - even though they started at 7am!  Even though I've been at ASB less than 4 years, I feel I have been encouraged to grow more than I have in the previous 20!

As I've moved out of the classroom and into more of a leadership position myself I am reminding myself to keep these 5 attributes in mind.  I hope the teachers I work with know that I'm principled, and that I value their ideas and am committed to help them to grow and move forward too.

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Unfair treatment

Generally I think we do a good job of promoting the responsible use of technology at school, but of course there are times when students do things that are unwise or inappropriate and I'm called upon to step in.  At the start of every school year I take the time to talk to students about our Responsible Use Policy and with our older students about issues such as security, privacy and cyberbullying.

Sadly it's not only students who have to deal with bullying.  I've had colleagues in different schools who have been subject to bullying by their students - for example setting up a fake Facebook account in their name, or having photos of themselves posted publicly with inappropriate comments.  The reaction of schools to these incidents has varied and has not always been supportive.

A friend posted a link to this article about workplace bullying this week.  It contains useful information, especially the bulleted checklists.  If you think you are being bullied I would definitely recommend reading the whole article as I'm giving just a short summary of it here.

Bullying at work happens when there is a concerted attempt to undermine a person's reputation, self-esteem, self-confidence and ability to perform.  When I saw this happen in a previous school, the teacher involved was made to feel useless and responsible for the situation she found herself in with her students.  Because the admin did not support her, the psychological impact was that she became less and less able to do a good job, which led to more bullying.  She resigned, but in a way it was constructive dismissal because the school could have intervened when the issue first came to light and put an end to what was happening.

I've watched this happen as part of an appraisal process too.  While evaluation can be very valuable, providing data to help you become more self-directed as to how to improve your performance, it can also be done in a harmful way.  For example, I've seen it used to build a case against someone, even though the teacher himself was at the time unaware that he was doing anything "wrong".  By the time an evaluation meeting was held, numerous trumped up allegations were  put on the table, and some colleagues had even been coerced into making statements about his performance. Meetings like this are a "done deal" with the teacher involved being unable to present his or her own viewpoints, and coming away feeling that they have been stitched up.

In schools teachers who are bullied may find themselves marginalized and treated differently - often being deliberately excluded or denied information or resources that would help them to enhance their performance.  I have also seen people being overloaded with "busy work" or being given tasks to do that were way below their abilities.  The article talks about people having their responsibilities increased by their authority removed.  Teachers being bullied often have the feeling they are being controlled, for example through micro-management.  Maybe they don't have access to a policy manual (at a previous school I told that the policy manual existed only in the head of the director of the school!) so there is no due process, or maybe they do not have a job description for a position they have been moved into, so are unclear of exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  Sometimes in an attempt to steamroller a new initiative through, teachers are given unrealistic goals.  At the same time they may be constantly criticised both to their face and behind their back, and they may be lied to and lied about.  Finally something that I've seen happen on a number of occasions is that a teacher has been invited for a chat, only to find out that in fact what is happening is a disciplinary meeting designed to either get them to resign or to dismiss them.  Because this is simply a "chat" these teachers are often alone in such meetings without anyone representing them, supporting them or even taking notes.  The threat is always to "go quietly" or else not get a reference.

This sounds a bit extreme, and thankfully the vast majority of international schools where I have worked have not been subject to workplace bullying.  However I felt it was still important to write this post, as there are many dodgy schools with dodgy management, and if this post reaches out and gives hope to any teacher being bullied I feel it will have been worth it.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

All the 8s

Last night I was looking to see how to turn this blog into an app.  I know I did it before when I lived in Switzerland because I have the app on my iPad, but I couldn't remember what I'd used to do it.  After a bit of a hunt around, I discovered I'd used Como.  I played around a bit with it to see how it looked on different mobile devices and in general I like it because it seems "cleaner" than viewing the blog in a browser.  I wanted to upgrade it to a different design but it seems to be expensive to do this as you have to pay a monthly subscription and I'd have to resubmit it to the app store.  I'd love to know some more tools that would do the same thing though, as I'm thinking that many people read the blog on an iPad or iPhone or other mobile device and would probably prefer to read it using an app than a browser on their devices.  If anyone has any good ideas or suggestions, please let me know.  I'm certainly willing to invest the time to try something different.

As I was checking on the stats for this blog yesterday to see how many people were using mobile devices to view my posts, I noticed that the number of readers has now gone over "all the 8s" - I now have more than 888,888 readers!  I'm also guessing that this is the last time I'm going to post statistics like this.  Last June I had three quarters of a million readers, and if I'm looking at big numbers from here on I guess the next big number will be 1 million, which is truly mindblowing!  After that I think I'll stop counting.

By the way if you want to have my blog as an app you can get it here.  If you are on a mobile device I think you can click the upload icon to add it to your home screen.  The one I played around with yesterday was a slightly nicer appearance (this link is still to the old one I created ages ago), but I'm not so sold on the new design to want to spend money on it just yet.

Have you turned your blog into an app?  What do you recommend to do this?

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Digital Relationships and Connections - Web 5.0?

Another fascinating thing I learned from Scott Klososky's ASB Un-Plugged session was about Web 5.0. Up to last month I'd only every heard about Web 1.0 - 4.0 and even some of that was very sketchy! This is how he described the evolution of the web:

Web 1.0 - Connected Organizations
Organizations gave information to consumers and they could connect to the organization via a website. This has been called the “read-only web”  as the early web allowed users to search for information and read it. There was very little in the way of user interaction or content contribution.

Web 2.0 - Connected People
Now the web was mobile, social and in the cloud.  This has been called the "read-write" web as people had the ability to contribute content and interact with others.  This was the era of blogs, social media, video streaming and other forms of self-publishing.

Web 3.0 - Connected Devices
This is what we are calling the "internet of things" or M2M (machine to machine) where almost every device will become internet connected.  It's likely that this will dramatically change our world.

Web 4.0 - Connected Information Platforms
This is "ambient intelligence" with lots of data streaming.  It will consist of rivers of real-time information that anyone can access.

Web 5.0 - Connected People and Technology
We will start to see implantable technology and what it means to be transhuman.

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Dumping information

I've been thinking a lot over the past couple of weeks about something that Scott Klososky mentioned in his extended session at ASB Un-Plugged, about what students do with information that we give them. He said that as we give more and more information to students, he has noticed a pattern of dumping information - storing it temporarily like a post-it in the brain, memorizing it short-term and then dumping the information because they don't think they will need to retain it. This allows students to get a good grade on the test, but they have no memory of the content several weeks later. Students explain that they dump information because it is all available online and so they don’t believe they need to keep it in their brain. This is called the IK Cycle - with information being transferred to knowledge temporarily.  The worrying thing about this is that information never really leads to understanding and so it cannot become wisdom - it will therefore not be factored into a decision later in life.  Dumping information cuts down a student's ability to make meaning and be a creative problem solver.  Information cannot be applied, reflected on and then become embedded with values and beliefs.

Have you noticed your students dumping information?  What do you think we can do as teachers to prevent this?

Monday, March 7, 2016

To be human is to be transhuman

Another interesting idea presented by Scott Klososky at last month's ASB Un-Plugged is the notion of transhumanism.  He shared a video which I'm posting below.  He asked the question:
When we augment ourselves enough with technology, will we even be human anymore?  Ray Kurzweil predicted that we will become hybrid.  The question is:  will this be possible for humanity? And even more to the point:  The question is not CAN technology replace a human activity, the question is WHY should it?

Changing the humalogical balance from human activities to technology performed tasks

At the end of last month it was ASB Un-Plugged. I always enjoy the extended sessions, and this year I attended a 4 hour session run by Scott Klososky on humalogy, the integration of technology and humans to get processes done.

Scott talked about the way that we are living in times of historical transformation - because technology changes the underlying economy and what young people need to know. He claims that looking back 100 years from now we will think in terms of before the internet -v- after the internet. Before the internet will come to be seen as the "dark ages". We are now in a time of information immersion - we can ask any question at any moment and get an answer. In fact he said that 80% of everything learned by teenagers today is from a screen (not a book or a human being).  

Soon we will be connected to everything. Technology will connect people, organisations and devices that have not been connected before. The Internet of Things will be the next big change, which Scott referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution. There will be a huge difference when all devices are connected as they will be able to talk to us and to each other - he said it will feel like our devices have come alive.

At the same time we will live in a time of frictionless communication where anyone in the world can talk to anyone else - almost for free. For example today if you write a blog - millions of people can read wherever they are in the world. In recent years we have seen the rise of citizen journalism as anyone in the middle of an atrocity has the ability to record it and upload it for everyone to see using video, photos and tweets. The news has come out of the hands of the media and into OUR hands.

Robotics and intelligent software is also replacing the jobs humans do. Over next 30 years Scott predicts that 35% of all jobs will be replaced by machines - automating at an increasingly fast rate. Yet this is not a dismal prospect as we are creating jobs as fast as we are replacing them and these jobs are not repetitive mind-numbing jobs but involve more human skills such as creativity, problem solving and emotional connection.

And here is the warning: teachers need to keep up! When businesses get behind in technology, they go out of business. But when teachers get behind in technology it’s not teachers who pay the price, it’s their students.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Unleash the wolves!

On our first day of Un-Plugged last week, ASB's Superintendent, Craig Johnson, made a speech at which he referred to how wolves that had been introduced into Yellowstone Park, ended up having a huge impact on the physical geography of the area.  He got this information from a video called How Wolves Change Rivers.  While we didn't have enough time to watch it during the opening day, by popular demand it was shown at Saturday's closing.

If wolves can change rivers what could we do to change schools?  Craig tasked us all to return to our schools to unleash the wolves.

What wolves would you like to release at your school?

Getting used to the new normal?

Over the past couple of weeks the BBC has reported on several businesses that have closed down in Europe. For example the department store Vroom & Dreesmann that was founded more than 100 years ago in the Netherlands declared it was bankrupt in December 2015 and closed its stores 2 weeks ago. Earlier this week I was reading that Dixons has also announced it is closing its shops. In fact according to the BBC, the retail sector is facing the loss of almost a million jobs and the closure of thousands of shops over the next decade.

Jobs are shifting or even disappearing entirely - often because of technology. At ASB Un-Plugged last week Scott Klososky talked about the concept of humalogy - finding the balance between humanity and technology. He said that we are sliding from a human world to a human-tech world. Often things we do these days are 50% human and 50% tech - for example driving a car where the driver is human but the car is technology - but this may change as more and more we are seeing ways of eliminating the human: self-driving cars, self-checking on airlines, online bill paying and a rise of companies who do not engage with customers such as Amazon and YouTube. While there will still be a place for humans in many areas that need empathy and understanding (funeral homes, doctors visiting, job interviews, creating art and so on), many other jobs will simply disappear.

What is the new normal? What is different today:
  • iTunes, the world's largest music retailer, has no stores (and within 3 years of its launch it was the No. 1 music retailer) 
  • Uber, the world's largest taxi company, has no taxis 
  • Facebook, most world's most popular media owner, creates no content 
  • AirBnB, the largest provider of rooms, has no real estate 
  • Skype, largest telecom company, has no infrastructure 
  • Some of the fastest growing banks have no money 
  • Twitter is the fastest form of news (approx 1 minute from event to publication) - yet has no reporters, no tv channels and no magazines 
  • Alibaba, the world's biggest retailer, has no inventory 
  • Netflix, the largest movie provider, has no cinemas

What implications do you think the "new normal" has for education?
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