What Businesses Can Learn From Innovations In Education

The goal of the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit is exploring the power of entrepreneurs to transform public education for underserved children. But the ideas for supercharging education have benefits that go way beyond the classroom.


A question has been haunting us at Culture of Future: Is it really the end of education as we know it, and the beginning of lifelong learning as we have been hearing? Where does technology fit into this scenario and the future of education? 


With this question in mind, associate Emily Goligoski recently attended a summit in Silicon Valley where they discussed future learning technologies. I asked her to report back on any new thoughts or findings, and was struck with how technology solutions are becoming very human-focused–and how the lessons would apply just as well in business as in the classroom. 

Emily Goligoski: Re-Imagining Future Learning Technologies

At the recent NewSchools Venture Fund Summit in the northern part of Silicon Valley, innovators and educators met to re-imagine what future learning technologies might be capable of. The gathering of 600 policy makers, instructors, entrepreneurs, and creators included now-notable philanthropist and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, who recently donated $100 million to Newark schools. (When asked why Zuckerberg did so, he said he’s thankful for the education he received and wants to help others have quality school experiences.)

While the Summit (#NSVSFSummit) continued with its goal of exploring the power of entrepreneurs to transform public education for underserved children, ideas for supercharging education also seemed to have benefits beyond the classroom. Any organization looking to grow sustainably in terms of financials and employee productivity could also benefit from the major ideas shared.

Here are the four most important takeaways from the conference: 


1. Know What You Stand For

The importance of having clarity around what you do can’t be overstated. John Deasy, the new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, demonstrated this with a few mock introductions of people and their mission statements: “Bonny and Clyde–we rob banks. Cleopatra–queen of the world,” he said. “At LAUSD, we improve instruction.”

Richard Barth, CEO of the KIPP Foundation, explained that getting the heads of his organization to understand and communicate its goals isn’t enough. It isn’t until all students and teachers are in step regarding that mission–getting kids to succeed in college and life–that it’s actually meaningful and actionable.

2. Perfect The Art of Hiring


It is a transparent time in which much-needed contribution and leadership are coming from all places and all categories. It is more important to bring on people you’d want to work with if the roles were reversed. Or, as Zuckerberg said, “I wouldn’t hire someone I wouldn’t work for myself.”

As design consultancy IDEO shared its ideas for making good hires, a key theme was the importance of hiring people who won’t just do well but who will inspire a team during tough projects and long nights. How does one find these positive beings? By interviewing unexpectedly. Sandy Speicher, who leads IDEO’s Design for Learning efforts, suggested helping people understand more about a candidate through questions of the imaginative variety. “If you were a lollipop, what kind of lollipop would you be?” may generate raised eyebrows, but it should help in understanding how a candidate reacts to uncertainty.

3. Create Inspirational Spaces for Team, Project, and Purpose

Rich Crandall, an instructor at Stanford’s Design School, or “,” spoke to the impact that surroundings have on people. Being thoughtful in developing workspaces that people don’t want to leave can pay dividends in productivity and creativity–and getting away from them can also help goose the creative process.

Crandall shared the example of an MRI machine designer who had never seen his device in action away from the GE factory floor. When he saw a child crying because she was asked to get into the cold-looking capsule, he realized his design work hadn’t done right by her. A series of interviews with children, students, and designers helped him develop a more empathetic design–the machine itself didn’t change, but the room that housed it did. A “cozy camp” was developed with decals added to the machine to make it look like a rocket ship. The resulting bright space included a story about the importance of superheroes remaining still during their space mission (the MRI). Not only did patient reticence decease dramatically, one child asked to go back the following day. 


4. Provide Content That Captures People

Sal Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, a collection of more than 2,000 educational videos, has drawn more than 50 million users (for a site that doesn’t sell sex, that’s a notable feat). Khan didn’t get hundreds of thousands of students and their parents hooked on the interactive lessons by telling them what they should know. There are standardized tests for that. What did he do instead?

  • Khan created a platform for practicing skills and knowledge-building, giving learners the confidence that they can master exercises.
  • He recognized that not all students/users learn at the same rate nor operate in the same time frames.
  • He thought broadly about the quantity and breadth of content being developed.

5. Communicate Progress Broadly

The importance of keeping participants and employees updated on overall performance can’t be overstated. Greg Gunn, co-founder of education software company Wireless Generation, said that while the organization’s product launch was good, the real benefit came months later when he was able to dig into user data to convey a strong story of use, value, and impact. Employees benefited, not just from the feeling that they were privy to information otherwise reserved for board members, but because they were able to hear how much they are valued. Each day that every one of them came to work, another child was able to learn to read. That transparency was a repeated sentiment throughout NewSchool’s summer gathering.

Emily Goligoski is a Bay Area-based writer and cultural strategist. She has developed community outreach programs for the International Olympic Committee, Intel, and collaborated on Tiffany Shlain’s documentary Connected, among other projects. You can find her talking up a storm as @emgollie and at the Learning, Design & Technology program at Stanford ( Culture of Future copy editor Elizabeth Adams ( contributed to this post. 


[Image: Flickr user UNICEF Canada]


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About the author

A dynamic social researcher, cultural narrator, future trendhunter and strategic designer, Jody Turner works and speaks globally via her west coast company and the London group Client engagements have included Apple, BMW, StyleVision France, Adidas, Starbucks, The Gap, Unilever Istanbul and multiple others