Software Trials – learning enough to buy…but not too much.

How do you get a prospect to experience enough during their trial to be confident it will solve their problem, but not get bogged down in details?  If you’re the salesperson responsible for building trust and progressing the sale with prospects once they’re trialing, here’s a simple way to look at it.

Start with Value

What is valuable to THEM? What problem do they need to solve? What’s not working or needs improvement?

You probably know the top value propositions of your solution, your ideal customer profiles, and hopefully the top buyer personas. It’s your job to take all of that and provide personalized interactions that provide value every time.

The prospect will be educated on your solution before they ever meet with you. You are there to provide personal attention: establish trust, give them confidence in the company’s ability to execute and connect the dots between the solution and the problem that they need solved. Make their trial experience as personal as possible by aligning everything to their goals and pain points.

Get to First Value FAST

Is your software rather complicated? I worked for one company whose software didn’t really get customers excited until they’d migrated or uploaded some of their own content into the trial – generic examples were great in theory but not in practice. We didn’t want to spend too long setting up the solution or taking them through a dozen technical content migration steps, before they were able to see the software working for a real scenario, solving their problem. So even though we could have taught them how to do it, we always set up their content ahead of time, and gave them an overview of how we did it instead. This kept the trial completely focused on their desired outcome. This helped a lot.

When you’re doing a software walkthrough – give them context and a basic understanding of how the software works, sure, but DO NOT walk them through everything – focus on what they are trying to accomplish. If you’re in love with the product you’re selling and know it inside and out, it can be hard to hold yourself back, I know  (oh, look at this fantastic new feature we just released that lets you do X…).

Teach them just enough to accomplish their goals. Best to leave “mastery” for later, once they’ve bought – leave that to your onboarding team! Another reason not to encourage them to master your software during the trial is:

Another reason not to encourage them to master your software during the trial is:

Time and Effort are LIMITED

Buyers will have a certain amount of time AND EFFORT that they expect to devote to their trial evaluations, whether they know it or not. Every time your prospect reads an email or watches a tutorial or learns an Admin task that they don’t care about, it is using up precious time and energy.

I vividly an insurance call center prospect of mine who was a lovely person, so enthusiastic in the beginning, keen to test. Unfortunately, on Day 1 of the 30-person trial pilot (which took 6 weeks to arrange), we ran into an I.T./Active Directory issue that put it on hold. They stood down the pilot group, had to start over so their IT team could look at the A.D. info we used and vet that it was OK.  Enthusiasm dried up  – testing was harder than they thought and they got exhausted. We rescheduled for 2 months out after the busy season, but her will was gone – we’d used time and she’d used up some of her internal credibility on us. We did not succeed in getting the trial going again.

Years ago, I ran into this on the buyer side – I’d run across something on email marketing integration with, and reached out to find out more. The sales rep didn’t answer my request for basic info, but booked a call with me instead. I thought he’d answer my questions, but instead, he proceeded to ask me a heap of context/qualification questions for 30 minutes. I had to book a SECOND session with his technical specialist for the demo! You’d think it would have been wonderful – after all, they had more info on our organization’s situation than anyone else, but no…1.5 hours for a tech-savvy sales exec to get a basic understanding of the product’s capabilities was way too much time. If it was this hard to get the info I wanted out of them, imagine what a trial or pilot would take!

The more efficient and targeted-on-their-pain-point you are, the more effort and time you keep in reserve for the rest of the process. 

If you do this right, there will be times where the prospect surprises YOU! Once when working with an I.S. team for a Fortune 500 company, I’d understood their pain points, walked them through testing the single product we had that would solve it, and provided all the rich technical documentation they wanted to review.

They seemed happy at the time but then stopped communicating. After a few ‘value’ emails, I called to find out what was left to test, worried that something had happened I wasn’t across. They were sold! They’d included our solution in their budget and were working through internal approval processes. It met their needs perfectly, we were easy to work with, and the product was easy to use. They’d seen probably 40% of what most of our customers did.

PS: if they do not have a specific pain point or desired outcome in mind, or you don’t know what it is…might as why you’re working on it…


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What IS “Critical Thinking” anyway?

One of the important skills for the future, which all kids need to develop (according to a growing number of researchers and forecasters), is ‘critical thinking/problem solving.’

But what is critical thinking, and how do you learn it?

Critical Thinking is…

Critical Thinking Background Concept

crit·i·cal think·ing  noun

  1. the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.
    “Professors often find it difficult to encourage critical thinking amongst their students.”

But what does that mean? And what does this look like, when we’re living in a world with SO MUCH available information, areas of specialization, that it’s impossible for anyone to take the time to analyze and evaluate every topic or decision point that comes their way.

Next, I searched on Tony Wagner (author of Creating Innovators, Closing the Global Achievement Gap, and most recently Most Likely to Succeed, books I’ve read that stress this future skill).  Here’s a summary from Tony Wagner’s site on critical thinking and why it’s important:

“The idea that a company’s senior leaders have all the answers and can solve problems by themselves has gone completely by the wayside…The person who’s close to the work has to have strong analytic skills. You have to be rigorous: test your assumptions, don’t take things at face value, don’t go in with preconceived ideas that you’re trying to prove.”
—Ellen Kumata, consultant to Fortune 200 companies

And in an older article of his, I found this:

To compete in the new global economy, companies need their workers to think about how to continuously improve their products, processes, or services. Over and over, executives told me that the heart of critical thinking and problem solving is the ability to ask the right questions. As one senior executive from Dell said, “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems.”

Last fall I went through this Udemy Course: Develop your Critical Thinking Skills – Easily! which I really enjoyed (once I found the speed controls anyway; the instructor speaks very slowly). It goes through how to evaluate a claim or argument as well as the evidence supporting it.  The authors say, and rightly so, that thinking critically is being able to think more logically and rationally and being able to present your point across in a clear and convincing way.”

So when talking about critical thinking, that’s what we mean – testing our ideas, thoguhts, beliefs, models, reasoning, etc. for soundness, validity, based on evidence.

How do you learn it?

Well, I suppose you could take the above Udemy class that I did!  That helped me recognize logical fallacies, bad evidence, encouraged me to look for my own biases…but well, it wasn’t applied learning, really – I can’t say I’ve picked up a habit of looking at real life or work issues more critically as a result.

So here are some other more tangible activities as well:

Notice and Wonder

This past weekend I heard a talk by Anna Sharfeld, 6th grade teacher at Hollister Elementary, on critical thinking and math. She has a lovely, simple technique to get her students starting to ask questions and explore a problem/scenario more deeply: Notice and Wonder.

screen-shot-2016-03-15-at-6-40-46-pmFirst, she asks her class what they NOTICE about an image/problem/scenario. Everything gets written on the board like the image at the right.

Then, she has them WONDER: ask questions. What do they wonder about the image?  Have a look at her blog posts on this particular lesson! Quite amazing. (I think I would have loved math if this is how it had been done when I was a kid.)

She described taking the numbers and question OUT of a word problem, for example, and then doing NOTICE and WONDER – the kids explore what info they would need, what the question they’re solving for might be, etc.

While this is not evaluating evidence for an argument, it is questioning assumptions and getting them into the habit of asking questions and exploring a topic from all angles!

Socratic Questioning – High Tech High

There are some good stories illustrating critical thinking in schoolwork in Most Likely To Succeed – both the book and the film! (But I have the book on Audible and it’s a nightmare trying to find anything.) Here’s another example from online resources at High Tech High, the school used as an example in MLTS: Socratic questioning.

In Socratic questioning, the teacher asks a series of questions that force the student to defend a claim. This essential step ensures that the [project] involves critical thinking. It is inspired by the dialectical method in Plato’s dialogues. The teacher opens with a question, the student responds, and the teacher asks another question based on that response. This back and forth continues until the student realizes that his reasoning is flawed, or not.

This process resembles the tying and unraveling of a knot. Prodded by the teacher’s questioning, the student will sometimes get stuck, unable to defend her reasoning. The teacher then helps the student unravel the knot by asking another series of questions, or by assigning a follow-up writing assignment that modifies the argument or rethinks the claim entirely.

In the following example, a student defends his claim that egalitarianism is the most just social philosophy. The teacher asks a question about an area of interest for the student—sports—in order to make connections with ideas studied in class.

Teacher: Do you believe the salaries of professional athletes are morally justified?

Student: Albert Pujols just signed that big contract with the Angels and he takes up 1/10 of the MLB paycheck. I don’t think you need 300 million dollars, or whatever it is. They don’t need as much as they get. I’d be fine playing for a million. 

Teacher: Okay, so, what’s an idea that can be used to make an argument that they shouldn’t be paid that much? 

Student: They don’t deserve it. They were born lucky. It’s all luck. 

Teacher: Really? Doesn’t Pujols take batting practice? Doesn’t he work hard?

Student: I’m sure he does, but how should I put it … I think it’s more like he doesn’t do as much work as others do. My neighbor has three jobs and he doesn’t make nearly as much. It’s not fair. 

Teacher: Can you think of a situation in which it would be fair for Pujols to make that much money? 

Student: If it benefits the disadvantaged.

Teacher: John Rawls called that the difference principle. Is that what’s happening now?  

Student: Not really, but people like to watch him. You can say they benefit from that.

Teacher: You started by saying athletes don’t deserve to make that much money, but then you said that they can make a lot of money if they follow the difference principle. Now, how can we apply that to your case study regarding water in Haiti? How can egalitarianism help Haiti?

Student: In Haiti, people don’t have homes or jobs after the earthquake. Egalitarianism can help make sure everyone has jobs.

Teacher: You might have to invest money for education and create incentives for companies to do business there. That would cost money. Where would it come from? 

Student: I’m not sure. Maybe we could give money to them. From taxes or charity.

Teacher:  Why should I have to pay taxes for the Haitian people? Forcing me to pay taxes for something I don’t care about is a violation of my right to benefit from my own labor. What’s your response to that?

Student: I don’t know. 

Teacher: Think about it. We will continue talking about this in the debrief.

At least two things are accomplished through this line of questioning. First, the student has to defend a claim using reasoning and evidence, which is the most fundamental aspect of critical thinking. The teacher’s questioning provides counter-claims with which the student does not agree and to which the student must respond. Second, the student applies general concepts to specific cases, and must be prepared to defend the efficacy of those concepts in support of his claim.

In the above example, the student was asked to apply the difference principle to a case we did not study in class, but which he studied on his own—the water crisis in Haiti. And there’s the rub. It’s one thing to defend an argument that has already been made, but since the goal is to learn how to think and not regurgitate previous arguments, the student is asked to apply concepts and argument skills to other examples. In this case, the student was asked to follow up in writing, but if more time were available the teacher could continue his line of questioning until the knot, previously tied, becomes unraveled.

And thank you, Buck Institute for Education, for this collection of further resources which I’ll start digging into: 

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Does your kid do anything that matters?

While reading a book on parenting and homeschooling by Teri Moore a while back, this passage hit me hard:

secular homeschooler

This is the book I’m talking about🙂

In America, our children are the most important part of our lives, and we tell them so, but we don’t actually let them be important(emphasis added).

WHAAAAT? of course not!  But reading on, it makes more and more sense:

Just like I did, American kids go to school all day, which teaches them facts but not skills and keeps them from participating in real life where they might apply learning (which helps turn facts into knowledge)…Instead of ‘doing’, American kids are ‘studying how to do’ and not doing.

Teri spent time in the Peace Corps in Africa, and contrasts American kids with what she saw there:

African kids are doing. Young people in the Third World do not seem to go through the adolescent psychological misery and angst that American children do. As soon as they are able, children in developing countries are given true responsibility. No one has to tell them they are important; they know they are, because of the consequences of failure.

Frankly, I could quote the entire chapter Teri wrote, to convince you, but let me summarize what she writes: African kids are given meaningful tasks to do, like herding or protecting the cattle, collecting water, repairing items, helping run the household, and if they don’t do their job or fail at it, there are real consequences, which affect themselves and others.

Go get some water

They have to think and decide how HOW to do their assigned work, and the actions they choose to take have an impact.


But what’s the problem if American kids don’t have important stuff to do?

Teri says a) they are not as motivated to learn, b) they don’t remember what they’ve learned since it never translates to the real world, c) they don’t build the life skills needed in the real world, and d) they are trained to defer to authority and don’t develop their own judgement or ethics.

For so many years, my high opinion of myself had been based on my high grades and what teachers thought of me instead of what I thought of myself based on my ability and ethics. In struggling for those big A plusses, I learned to cleave to someone else’s idea of what was important and let my own judgement atrophy through lack of use. Then I went out into the world only to find myself incompetent.

So I asked myself – is there something my kids do at home that lets them act independently and affects our family or community?  Does what they do matter or have a significant impact? 

You know what? The answer is mostly no. Teri’s right, I think. They are responsible for cleaning their rooms, for their own laundry, picking up their messes, for setting/clearing the table and helping with dinner, and occasionally walking the dog. And at school, their job is to learn…But the consequences that fall on them if they do these badly, or fail to do them are minimal.

And most of our family, school, and extra-curricular activities are set up FOR them, not by them – whether it’s volleyball, coding club, day trips, camps. Everyone’s doing stuff for their benefit, and they are the recipients of it, rather than instigators. (Sidenote: I think this also leads to the growing sense of entitlement. Why would’t you feel entitled if the world pretty much revolved around you your first 16 years?) 

But I’ve seen what it looks like when my kids feel like they are doing something important that has impact.

Two years ago, my 12 year old son participated in the YMCA PILOTS program, which is a teen leadership program for junior high-age kids – they get together with youth leaders and decide upon community projects, which they then execute. And I was struck by the SIGNIFICANCE he got from being in this group, and taking action! I think it’s one of the first times he felt like he was doing something important.

girl scouts gelsonsAnd for my younger girls – Girl Scouts is the closest we’ve come to impact, I’d say. They sell cookies to earn money for activities – and their actions matter.  They choose and present food, activites and facts about a country to present for Thinking Day, they help train younger girls for cookie sales…and their actions matter.

Right now we’re working on our Bronze Award as a troop and organizing a Pet Supply Drive for the Humane Society in town. As troop leaders, our job is to HAVE THE GIRLS DO THE WORK, and hold back.  I love, love, love Girl Scouts for highlighting this for me, and teaching ME to be ready to give them more and more responsibility the older they get. I can’t wait until the day comes and they feel the impact of creating something, making something happen that wouldn’t have existed without their action.

The other situation that comes to mind right off the bat is one that Chalene Johnson talked about on her podcast.   She and her husband told each of their kids when they were old enough to understand, we’re not going to buy you a car when you get your driver’s license, but we’ll help you figure out how to earn the money yourself and we’ll match what you earn.

So their children had to figure out what jobs to do, products to sell, businesses to start, to EARN THEIR OWN MONEY, as preteens. (That to me, sounds like you’ll know what you do is important and has consequences.)

Imagine if you had years of experience making an income of some sort before you even started high school?

Nowadays, teens don’t work half as much as they used to when I was a kid (make sure you say this in a crotchety, wavery voice in your head, so you sound OLD) – there are fewer jobs available and more time required to jump all the hoops required to ‘get into the best university possible’ which is still seen as the golden ticket (despite the massive evidence to the contrary that’s accumulating). But don’t get me started on higher education and the high school treadmill pressure cooker!  I’ll save that for another post, and leave you now so I can mull over what other actions I can take to make my kids actions and choices matter.

Anyone with good ideas, closer to actual household activities? Maybe I’ll let my kids plan our summer activities? Make a meal plan/budget and go shopping for the week’s food..take on deciding and researching what kind of car we want to buy (our Odyssey is close to the 250K mark, God bless it)…

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SuperSoul Session 2…thank you, Oprah.

Saturday I went to Oprah’s SuperSoul Session #2 in Los Angeles – a day spent listening to various speakers. I left thinking, “That was cool, useful, entertaining…” but I’d expected to be BLOWN AWAY and “breakthrough-inspired.”

I didn’t feel blown away though, at least not by anyone other than Oprah herself. (She is amazing in a way I can’t put into words.)  And IMHO some of the speakers’ content was confusing, boring or just okay.

But now I’ve had the most loving, happy time with my kids and family, beyond my normal (relatively happy) experience. Yesterday, I went to the gym, drank coffee, looked for and found the tax papers, did errands, got tired, made dinner, watched a movie, had my daughter get upset – what happened wasn’t especially different or exciting to any other day!  But I worried a lot less, appreciated a lot more, judged myself a lot less, loved more. And it was an extraordinarily lovely, lovely day. The happy, contented state I’m still in feels different.

SuperSoul Session #2 didn’t feel like a breakthrough then, but it does now.

Here are the key messages that I noted down Saturday.

  1. See the broken child within the person – connection. (Shaka)
  2. Live like everything is figure-out-able (Marie Forleo)
  3. Be truthful with yourself stop lying to yourself. (Cheryl, Oprah)
  4. Change your dreams/definitions of success if they don’t serve you. (Cheryl)
  5. Don’t avoid the pain or negative emotions – own it, it’s telling you something. “Life without pain is a wolf in sheep’s clothes” (Oprah, India)
  6. The emotional wounds you carry cannot be filled by money, success, accomplishments. (India)
  7. Solve a problem for yourself…then share it with others (Kris, Caroline, Oprah, Shaka)
  8. You need to COMMIT to whatever you’re doing. Are you committed? (Oprah)
  9. All problems stem from dis-alignment with the source, being disconnected (Oprah)
  10. Staying connected is a DAILY PRACTICE, a moment by moment practice. It takes effort! (Oprah)
  11. We teach children to look outwards for significance rather than inwards. Parent-child relationships are the main reason children learn they are not enough. We want them to be happy, to succeed, to achieve, to fix them, so we can feel better, so we can be good parents. (Shefali)
  12. Inner stillness is the only way to lasting happiness (Eckhart)
  13. Stop trying to fix yourself and just start showing up (Kerry)

2016-04-09 13.41.39

So personally, to keep this wellbeing alive, I’m committing to:

I need to get a good dose of positivity, inspiration, inner purpose, connectedness. I KNOW how important it is to feed your brain good stuff and limit bad, but I haven’t really FELT how critical this is.  My daily practice will include meditation, writing, and also time spent remembering daily:

  • I am not inadequate. There is nothing wrong with me. I don’t need fixing.
  • I am amazing and loved
  • Everything is figure-out-able.
  • The universe is friendly.
  • Just show up today.

FACE SOME PAIN. I’m going to work through these  – doing Byron Katie’s Questions on these.

  • Look at my definition of success. Create a NEW definition, let go of society’s definition. Let go of my broken record that I have failed to achieve financial/career success and my life should look like someone else’s.
  • Look at my aspirations. Are they working for me? Boil it down to the essence of what I must do (outer purpose), then take action and let go of whether succeeds or fails.
  • Look at my money/finance relationship. It’s time to face the pain and break through, rather than avoiding it.

COMMIT to my next career/purpose step.

  • What is the heart of my education change commitment?
  • Am I committed to my website/parent idea?
  • If not, what am I committed to?
  • Time to stop struggling, being unsure, being wishywashy about this.

Oprah, thank you very much for your SuperSoul work. Attending Session 2 has impacted me in such a good way, and has sparked positive action in my life.

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Device time for my kids…and for me

As a parent of elementary and middle schoolers, the device conundrum is hitting home! I think we’re too lax, and writing this out as a way to figure it out. I think the best place to start is on myself.  Monkey See, Monkey, Do, after all.

Thoughts on screen time for grownups.

I was going to say tablets/phones were about 12 years old – but I looked it up on Google and the first iPhone came out in June 2007- EIGHT AND A HALF YEARS AGO. Doesn’t that blow your mind, thinking about the shift that’s happened in this time period?

2016-04-07 14.17.21

I bring my laptop baby home every day, but rarely use it…after a solid work day on the PC I’ve had enough screentime!

I work in technology, and am on a computer myself for most of the day. I decided long ago I’d never have a tv in my bedroom…but like most people I expect, my cellphone lives next to my bed. Most nights I do a bit of browsing to wind down, once I get into bed. I don’t play video games. I know I’ll waste massive amounts of time on Candy Crush-type games, so I don’t have anything like it on my phone or computer.

My husband is on his A LOT. As far as I can tell, tracking financial markets, reading articles on the economy or playing a civilization type game!

But we’re not all bad –

  1. We don’t allow devices on at mealtimes or when we eat out.
  2. We go camping and on day trips often, which are primarily device free.
  3. Over spring break (when we got back from camping) we put all devices away at 10 am including my husbands and mine, and then got them out again late afternoon.

First, I want to first figure out the difference between good screen time and bad screen time.

What is useful, rejuvenating, meaningful screen time for me?

Watching TedTalk videos. Playing Minecraft with my kids! Kindle books on education. Reading something inspiring. Writing something, working, shopping for stuff I need. Doing Chopra meditations. Email, sometimes Facebook. Watching a bunch of Ellen or Graham Norton video clips.

What is bad screen time for me?

I’d say Candy Crush games are the worst. I LOVE playing these games, will keep going and going until my 5 Lives run out and Candy Crush forces me to wait.The problem is I get NOTHING done, and don’t surface afterwards refreshed or happier. I’m feeling good while I play the game, so it feeds some sort of need, but it’s a complete productivity killer.

What we set in place for our kids has to be consistent with what we do.

Thoughts on screen time for my kids….

  1. PRO: There are fantastic ways online for real, natural learning to happen. I’m not talking about learning apps or gamified math games. I’m talking about when you are building a parcours in a MineCraft world, for example, and get stuck figuring out how to set up a particular obstacle, and can search, watch a YouTube video or two, learn something new, and work out how to create what you want. Real learning can happen through a YouTube video, a blog post, etc.
  2. PRO: The skills that kids will need for the ‘65% of jobs that don’t exist yet’ in their future include technology and screentime. They need to be able to find answers, analyze data, learn on demand. Not giving them time to develop these skills naturally is a bad idea.
  3. PRO: 10,000 hours, mastery, specialization. Work is more and more specialized, and why would you cut off your kids from developing digital skills early? My son is 13, already decided he wants to be a computer programmer.
  4. CON: There’s horrible stuff out there, and if your kid is on his/her own online, exploring even YouTube, he/she could be exposed to bad ideas, bad people, bad images, and come to harm.
  5. CON: Soft Skills that are vitally important for future work are endangered – schools aren’t set up to teach them, and the time spent face to face with family, friends, in social situations is decreasing, being replaced by screen time entertainment.

    2016-03-28 14.18.23

    Gotta leave time for climbing trees (and bickering with your siblings, eh)

  6. CON: Handing out screen time as a reward seems to me like allowing a kid to have dessert if they eat their vegetables. Expert advice (I read somewhere ages ago) says this makes the dessert seem more desirable and makes kids more likely to want it/eat it/crave it. It reinforces the idea that dessert is more valuable. Won’t a parent screen time regimen do the same thing?

Our family rules now:

  1. We had a family meeting before school started in September and all agreed:
    1. 6:30-7:30 pm on school nights – if homework is done, chores are done.
    2. Weekends screen time before breakfast OK, screen time 3pm – 5pm…
    3. No YouTube or videos or sites with swearing, or content that’s mean
    4. No chatting/skyping/emailing with strangers, people you’ve never met face to face. Even if it’s Minecraft and you’ve been on a shared server with them for ages.
  2. The reality: yes, screen time starts at 6:30 but ends when we kick them off.
  3. The reality: my 13 year old takes his cellphone into his room and watches YouTube videos in bed.
  4. The reality: somehow my son’s laptop is no longer in the family room, but in his room on his desk again. I had him out in the public area, and I need to get him out there again.
  5. The reality: my son is an introvert, and I want to enable him to develop his collaboration/teamwork and complex communication skills. Right now home time makes it easy for him to avoid these things.

Proposed Changes

I’m going to bring this up at dinner tonight, give reasons why, ask for contributions (every time the kids get to suggest tweaks/changes, etc. and have good reasoning, the improve on my plan and are also much more vested in following it).

THE WHY: I maintain that screen time needs to be limited so:

  • you spend time with real people and engaging with what’s happening in real life
  • you have space to get things done at home, for school, for yourself
  • you can develop your imagination, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills in other ways. These are critical skills to practice
  • you spend time moving more to stay healthy

The current set up isn’t working as well as I’d like so I’m proposing changes.

QUESTION:  What is good screentime and what is bad screentime, do you think? What is it for you? (I’ll give example of how I see it)


  1. NetNanny on all devices to control daily time limits, so parents don’t have monitor and remember to kick them off and/or deliver consequences.
  2. NetNanny on all devices to protect us all from landing on bad content by mistake!
  3. NetNanny on all devices so we have visibility on how they are spending their time.
  4. Rules/Contract  – to discuss, but I say “do not Skype or chat or email with strangers, people you have never met in person. Do not post/talk badly about anyone online. Do not watch anything that is mean or has swearwords.”
  5. Tablets, Laptops, Phones to be used in Family or Living rooms, not in bedrooms.
  6. Projects. If you have a specific goal, project, creation and have run out of time, come talk to us. (i.e. schoolwork, Skype call with Karla, making a video,  researching R2D2 robot steps, working on or flowlab games, getting to Kahn Academy next level, etc.)

Will let you know how it goes!

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Cognitive Computing Age – think beyond school, Part 2

Continuing from Part 1


So let’s assume you don’t have access to a modern learning Charter school, or the money to pay for a modern learning private school: the GOOD NEWS is that this amazing age we’re in that has this skills gap, also has given us pretty much free access to solutions to the problem. [As Pavan from IBM Watson described several months ago, knowledge is no longer scarce and difficult to access; in fact, it’s growing at a massive rate and a commodity…]

I’ve found dozens of amazing people who’ve thought about this very issue way more than me, and can leverage their experience and ideas, and build on them.  So here are my ideas for you as to what to do.


I think you’ll want to assess each child individually – what traits, habits, academic achievements, interests do they have that you want to encourage, and what skills do you want them to start developing? Have they worked out what they’re interested in? [Though this SOUNDS obvious…have you ever sat down and done this? I hadn’t…here’s more ideas on it.]

I have one daughter who’s a people pleaser, and I see my job as helping her know what SHE wants, and develop internal motivation, not just make her teachers happy or me happy.

My other daughter DEFINITELY knows her own mind, and needs more chances to work with others, develop empathy, see other’s points of view.

I figure it’s a balance between focusing on their strengths, and developing at least a foundation in other areas (a la StrengthsFinder).


Once you know what it would be good for your child to learn or experience, just start looking for groups, activities, books, videos, etc.  There’s an insane amount of resources online, hundreds of people providing options.  The Secular Homeschooler is one of my favorite books with ideas and strategies for ‘modern skills’ learning, whether you homeschool or not.   There are fantastic Ted talks on modern education, and a kids channel too that can inspire.  20 mins of kahn academy, a tinker crate project every month, etc.


Project-based learning is fantastic for teaching some of these modern skills, having fun, and learning without it being a slog. This photo is from the makersfaire in San Mateo two years ago – Clara my daughter fell in love with R2D2, and we are now starting to build a full size R2D2 – there’s no kit; but there are a heap of passionate people sharing information and selling some of the parts online, documenting their progress. You could enter your family or friends as a team at the Goleta Lemon Festival and build a lemon launcher! We also do Girl Scouts and the Bronze, Silver, Gold Awards are great for project based learning. [If you don’t know what kind of project to do, check out teacher Kevin Brookhouser’s ‘bad-idea factory’ method of sparking inspiration.]


I suggest you pick afterschool activities based on what you want your kids to learn – my older son is an introvert, I couldn’t get him interested in Boy Scouts, but I found this great teen leadership program at the YMCA called PILOTS where they get the group to choose and organize community projects, and do a lot of fun team building  – he ran for president, got tons of significance from it, and is getting tons of experience actually communicating and collaborating.  You can also create activities yourself – I’ve been helping Caroline a friend of mine set up a Girls Who Code club afterschool at Goleta Valley Jr High – she researched options, pitched it to a principal who was very happy to see it happen, and there’s now 25 girls coding every Monday after school….


And most people are really happy to help a kid pursue their interests – my sister lives in Seattle and has friends that work at Xbox and other computer game software companies. This summer I’m sending my son (he’s 13 now) to stay with her for a week and he’s going to visit Xbox and shadow them, find out what it’s like. If your son wants to be a doctor, a marine biologist, an entrepreneur, a café owner – connect them NOW with grown ups actually doing this, get them excited. Reach out.


Look for signs of these modern skills in your schools, encourage them support them, and talk to teachers about Ken Robinson’s take on creativity, Will Richardson’s take on what we should be teaching, or project based learning. If you’re in a private school, check and see if they’re just doing old school with higher standards and better technology? Or are they adopting project based learning, are they starting to see teachers as facilitators, do they know what self organized learning entities are, flipped classrooms, PBL…for example.  If you’re in a public school, find out how much influence students have on projects they work on, what kind of group work is going on, etc.


Check out some of the modern learning models that are growing nearby.  There are many schools popping up, mainly private and charter, who DO see the need to develop these future skills and take advantage of our knowledge age in school – these are three – a fantastic teacher friend of mine and I are working to visit them soon and evaluate whether we can start a new school here in town or influence an existing school to change.


While schools are starting to change, it won’t happen fast enough for my kids, so I’m taking action to ensure they AND I HOPE, many OTHER STUDENTS, end up ready for the future of work and with the tools they need for success and satisfying lives.

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Cognitive Computing Age – think beyond school PART 1


Thanks to Bruce Dixon of Pecha Kucha Santa Barbara for choosing me to be a presenter at the February event, which happend last night! It was a difficult-but-very-useful-and-rewarding exercise to pare down my ‘big idea’ to 20 slides, 6 minutes 40 seconds (Pecha Kucha is 20×20= 20 slides, 20 secs per slide). I got some good feedback afterwards, which was encouraging as well. Here is part 1 of my slides, along with notes.


3 months ago at a work conference, I heard Pavan Arora, Director of Content at IBM WATSON spend an hour describing the cognitive computing era we’re entering, knowledge as a commodity, and the amazing ways technology is going to change the world – helping cancer researchers find DNA markers in days/months, rather than years, for example.  As example upon example stacked up, it became clear to me that there’s going to be an even bigger divide between low skilled, high substitute jobs (think retail), and highly paid, high skilled jobs.


My next thought was what about my kids? I see my job as a parent is to help them develop skills and qualities that will contribute to a happy, productive life. I was already feeling rather dissatisfied about their schooling, and questioning it. How can I help them get the skills that they’ll need in 10 years, 20 years to thrive? So this talk is about what I see as the problem, the future skills needed, and how to provide kids chances to acquire them.


I started doing a lot of research online, in books etc. and found some decent data, forecasting that yes, some high skilled jobs are at risk of computerization, which is rather new – technology has ALWAYS replaced human labor, first manual labor when we all moved off the farm 100 years ago, more recently we’ve seen outsourcing, automation in middle skilled jobs, but high pay, high skilled jobs aren’t a sure bet either now.


While the average salary of a college grad is higher than those who DON’T go to college, does anyone still think a degree all you need for success as a grown up?

Teri put it this way (in her book, The Secular Homeschooler: A Nonreligious Guide for Helping Kids Build Competence, Independence and Ethics Outside of a School Environment), after she graduated with multiple degrees, the ability to do GREAT in school and at university, but no idea how to apply her knowledge in the real world. College is just a starting point now, costs a lot and is losing value as a signal of one’s capabilities.


McKinsey Global Institute says that by 2020, there will be a shortage of 45 million skilled workers worldwide- even though many highly skilled jobs will be computerized, we’re still missing people with skills that organizations need. I think I’d like to have my kids perhaps look at these missing skills, and make sure they have them! Why not be at the high end of value rather than the low end?

How U.S. companies can fill the skills gap

CORRECTION: re-reading the article, I realized it actually predicts GREATER SKILLED LABOR SHORTAGE than I show on the slide – 40 Mil highly skilled, 45 Mil medium skilled…


There are heaps of studies/conclusions about the skills needed and this is my take on what it boils down to: data analysis – being able to access, assess and implement knowledge on demand, rather than memorizing facts, is the way we’ll tap into big data and solve problems. Problem solving, coming up with new ideas, being self directed, working with others in collaborative environments.

All of these are pretty key to the future of work.

“The jobs are there, but kids applying for jobs don’t have the kinds of skills they need.” Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well

National Skills Coalition
True Education Reform: Addressing America’s Growing Skills Gap


Image attribution:  Flickr

So when you think of school, do you think of those skills at all? Data Analysis, being self directed, solving problems? Knowledge used to be locked up in textbooks and teachers heads, and had to be transferred to kids, but now you can find the answer to a question or look up a fact in a minute or two online.

“We’re operating on a 200- year-old paradigm in a world that needs an entirely different skill set.”   Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well

The education system still is set up to teach facts, and have kids regurgitate them on tests (to show how much you’ve managed to stuff into your brain). Computers are better at this than us, and they’re doing it for us right now!


At his recent talk here in town, Sal Kahn of the Khan Academy pointed out that classes by age/grade, everyone forced to learn at the same pace, grades, teachers telling everyone what to do when – none of this actually helps learning and we don’t need it any more, now that personalized learning is possible. In the past, it wasn’t possible for each student to have their own tutor, work at their own pace, but now you can.


And if that’s too anecdotal and vague for you, there is some decent research saying K-12 isn’t working as well as it used to – surveys of college professors and surveys of employers say fewer students/grades have the skills needed – and guess which skills are on the list? Critical thinking, written communications, work habits, problem solving and research (which touches on data)).


So that’s why I’m not planning to depend on school to develop the skills and learning that my kids need. And I wouldn’t think you’d want to either.  What kids need to learn, as well as how and when they learn, needs an overhaul. And while change is underway and gaining momentum, and schools may very well catch up, it won’t happen in time for my kids.

NEXT POST: the Good News – solutions are there.

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