building-Victoria-Falls-bridgeRecently, Scott Witthoft and Scott Doorley from the Stanford d.School, designers behind the book Make Space, were collaborating with Mount Vernon on a future design project. The d.School has been such an inspiration for us. With their recent presence on campus, it has caused me to reflect on the design thinking journey we have been on at Mount Vernon.

I first heard about this mindset called “design thinking” when attending a workshop at the National Association of Independent Schools 2010 conference in San Francisco. George Kembel from the d.School and Kim Saxe from the Nueva School captured my attention with this powerful process and hit me with a blow I was not expecting towards the end of the workshop. George and Kim ended the presentation with the design thinking story of Embrace. Representing various disciplines, “the Embrace Warmer started as a class project at Stanford University when a group of graduate students were challenged to design an intervention for neonatal hypothermia that cost less than 1% of the price of a state-of-the-art incubator.”

With that inspiration, I was curious if anyone at MV was familiar with design thinking.  To my discovery, no one had heard of it. I thought this would be an exciting opportunity to ship this idea together. It is amazing how a one-hour experience can change your trajectory and possibly the trajectory of the organization one represents. Bringing this unknown, never heard of design thinking idea back to MV has transformed our students, teachers, and parents. Hundreds of design thinking challenges later, students and teachers have impacted their local and global community. This idea has birthed the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation, annual design thinking fuse conference, Council on Innovation, innovative space redesign, and even a toolkit called Playbook.

Most importantly, design thinking has fostered a way of being for us (MV Contiuum). While I cannot take any credit for the how this idea has shipped, there have been many people, over the years, directly or indirectly involved in our design thinking iterative process. I refer to them as a corps of engineers: Stanford d.School, George Kembel, Kim Saxe, Mary Cantwell, Bo Adams, Shelley Clifford, Chip Houston, James Campbell, TJ Edwards, Trey Boden, Greg Bamford, Meghan Cureton, Chris Andres, Grant Lichtman, Ryan Burke, Scott Sanchez, Jenn Chan, Nicole Martin, Katie Cain, Emily Breite, Allison Toller, and many others I am forgetting. Most importantly, I am grateful for the cast of characters of MVPS teachers, students and even parents developing, iterating, and producing an empathetic approach to people-centered problem-solving. Thank you.

Five years later, we have design thinking examples from age 2 to 18. Designing something exceptional, I am looking forward to the journey over the next five.

A Living Question

jbrettjacobsen —  March 22, 2015 — Leave a comment


Had the opportunity to sit down with Trung Le and interview him on the podcast, Design Movement. Le discusses his early influences as an architect as well as his current passion for tackling education as a design challenge–teaching and learning is a living question rather than a fixed, prescribed standard.

We take a deep dive into a seminal work of his and others, The Third Teacher. He describes this timeless project as “a cabinet of wonders on how design can transform the ecology of learning.” We dialogue about what educators can do tomorrow to impact his/her classroom. He challenges us to look through this lens as an ecology of ideas rather than ideas that stand alone. In addition, he addresses the value add of incorporating ideas of the “third teacher” by creating as much diversity in the physical environment of the classroom as possible.

Le is highly sought out for his future-focused design–TEDx and Fast Company. He “co-founded WONDER, by Design – A Learning and Design Expedition. The Wonder team is an education design agency that lives at the intersection of learning, design and innovation. With a curiosity on the future of learning, the Wonder team collaborates with education institutions and communities to formulate systemic strategies for positive change.”

Multiply Your Time

jbrettjacobsen —  February 23, 2015 — 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 5.54.04 PM“Everything you know about time management is wrong.” Rory Vaden joins Design Movement to discuss this and other practical ways to multiply your time in his latest bestseller, Procrastinate on Purpose. Whether you find yourself in the corporate environment, education sector, or nonprofit community, time is a threat with a deluge of emails, meetings, requests while finding time to invest in your family. As a result, we can lose sight of our highest point of contribution, setting a priority, and ability to focus.

Seen below in The Focus Funnel, Rory asks you to take each task on a journey of elimination, automation, or delegation. As Rory would say, “Spend time on things today that create more time tomorrow.” You never hear successful people complaining about how busy they are (even though they are plenty busy) because they have embraced the permissions Rory describes and ultimately, have discovered how to multiply their time. Enjoy the podcast.

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Eliminate: Permission to Ignore

Automate: Permission to Invest

Delegate: Permission of Imperfect

Procrastinate: Permission of Incomplete

Concentrate: Permission to Protect



“As an entrepreneur, Rory is the cofounder of Southwestern Consulting, a multimillion-dollar global consulting practice with nearly 100 team members that helped over 7,000 clients in 27 countries to grow their business and provide a better customer experience. Rory shares his ideas for how to increase your self-discipline, overcome procrastination, grow your business, and get better control of your time so you can achieve your goals in life. His first book Take the Stairs was a #1 Wall St. Journal, #1 USA Today, and #2 New York Times bestseller.” Other resources include…

Consider This for 2015

jbrettjacobsen —  December 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Lot for any leader to think about in 2015. Understanding the transformative changes in the world, anticipating direction, and making a dent can be challenging and overwhelming.

First consider this–idea, mantra, question worth answering–for 2015:

The way of the Essentialist isn’t about setting New Year’s resolutions to say “no” more, or about pruning your in-box, or about mastering some new strategy in time management. It is about pausing constantly, to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” Essentialism is not about to how to get more things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

“Strategic subtraction clears the way for people to focus on doing the right things. As organizations grow larger and older, as the footprint of a program expands, and as the consequences of past actions accumulate, once useful but now unnecessary role, rules, rituals, red tape, products, and services build up like barnacles on a ship; to make way for excellence to spread, these sources of unnecessary friction must be removed. Scaling isn’t just a problem of more, it’s a problem of less too.”

1. Who is your next customer? (Conceptually, not specifically. Describe his outlook, his tribe, his hopes and dreams and needs and wants…)
2. What is the story he told himself (about the world, about his situation, about his perceptions) before he met you?
3. How do you encounter him in a way that he trusts the story you tell him about what you have to offer?
4. What change are you trying to make in him, his life, or his story?

You multiply your time by giving yourself the emotional permission to spend time on things today that will give you time tomorrow.

1. Eliminate
2. Automate
3. Delegate
4. Procrastinate (me…later)
5. Concentrate (me…now)

As Godin would say in his new book, It’s Your Turn in 2015.


Designing the Future

jbrettjacobsen —  December 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

My article in The Monthly Recharge, a Leadership+Design newsletter…

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As school leaders we are the designers of experiences–for students, faculty, parents, and the community as a whole. What does this mean? How do we develop the mindsets, skillets, habits, and practices of designers to enhance learning at our schools?

Designing something exceptional requires identifying and articulating a meaningful, compelling mission and a bold, directional vision. It’s not just about utility (plan, process, and methodology), but equally, if not more important, design is about significance (thinking differently, creating value, making a dent). Your mission should be a nonnegotiable imperative. How many in your community know it, understand it, live it?

As a result, lead learning designers must assist in answering the essential questions about their community: Why? What? How? Attempting to answer these significant questions, Greg McKeown’s work, Essentialism, challenges my core as a designer: “Essentialism is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution.” This exercise refines the meaning, tests the assumptions,and widens the options. A number of programs, events, and exercises have existed at our schools for decades because this is what we believe schools do. Look at the familiar as if you have never seen it before. As Jim Collins would advocate, conduct an autopsy without blame on the most sacred items. Understanding your highest point of contribution as a school in a transformative world is critical for students to innovate now, collaborate now, and create now. As an educational leader, I get one shot at impacting a generation of students.

Posture is the secret sauce to this journey. What norms has your school identified in order to cultivate a culture of innovation? This cannot be an area of ambiguity. Once identified, commit to them daily, discuss them consistently, test their meaning periodically. What if you gave out a “Mistake of the Year Award” at the end of the year faculty meeting? It would demonstrate how serious you are about risk taking in your community, allowing teachers and students to experiment.

Norms birth common language. Do not underestimate the power of common language. I stumbled into it during my leadership career and have discovered its impact in a community. Regardless of how an organization completes the design question, “How might we?” –  ”how might we” tells a story of how an organization is going to live, breathe, create, function, and act. While “how might we” infers access, opportunity, and infinite possibility, culture will strangle strategy every day of the week. Design purpose, principles, and product around common language. It creates clarity, builds momentum, and deepens institutional direction.

However, what got us here won’t get us there. In order to transform an organization, lead designers must be plugged in. In the 21st century, we have to be futurists. This is a tall order. Not sure there is a MOOC, Kahn lesson, or executive leadership program available for us. Being aware of the major disruptions and drivers of change around the world give us a platform to onboard our students now. As the Institute for the Future says, “New technologies, work patterns, and practices are disrupting how we learn, where we learn, and what we need to learn.” The flow of learning is no longer limited to time or setting. Lead your community to consider adapting current practices or adopting new methodologies or even disrupting the pervasive educational paradigm.

Ultimately, as a lead designer, I cannot be interested in red tape, fixed mindsets, 20th century expectations, and blending in.

Don Buckley and I dialogue about the compelling story of design thinking as well as the skepticism of it. According to Don, the sustainability of design thinking requires creating a culture of innovation–leadership, role modeling, the right people, and common language. Addressing complex, ambiguous problems and opportunities in the world will be difficult to make a dent utilizing a linear lens of yesterday. Design Thinking widens options, tests assumptions, produces a product, and makes an impact now.

Dedicating almost twenty years in education (science, technology, curriculum mapping, project-based learning), Don ”currently teaches a graduate course in Educational Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University and his current research interests are 21st century pedagogies, design thinking, and Education 3.0.”

Don Buckley’s Design Template

Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation Design Thinking //fuse Summit

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SQ > EQ + IQ

jbrettjacobsen —  April 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

What if EQ and IQ were not enough to lead and work for a high performing company or organization? Traditionally, IQ has been about identifying talent and EQ has been about fit. However, top performers may not be the most talented and top formers most likely do not fit. Jeff Moore joins Design Movement to discuss the creation of SQ, Striver Quotient Assessment Tool.

The Striver Quotient Profiles identify people as cooperative, collaborative, or competitive in 16 performance attributes within four workplace relationships to self, team, boss, and direct reports. Jeff starts with questions:

  • What are your workplace expectations?
  • Do your people perform well in an environment of incremental or rapid change?
  • Do your people excel in team settings characterized by harmony or creative tension?
  • Do your people work best with a manager who expects them to meet goals or stretch beyond defined objectives?
  • Do your managers work best with direct reports who are driven to meet goals or stretch beyond defined objectives?

“Strivers are driven by a purpose that transcends winning. They compete to move themselves, their team, and their company toward higher goals.” To that end, Jeff discusses how competition has become a negative term in culture, yet being competitive is the highest form of collaboration.

“During his 23 year career at the University of Texas, Jeff’s Longhorn Women’s Tennis Teams won 2 NCAA Championships, appeared in 2 NCAA finals, advanced to the Final Four 3 times, reached the Elite Eight 3 times, and won 18 conference titles.” Today, Jeff runs Moore Leadership and serves as author, presenter, and leadership coach utilizing the Striver Quotient Assessment Tool.

Strive On!

How to Scale #202

jbrettjacobsen —  March 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

bio-th-ken-kayKen Kay, Chief Executive Officer of EdLeader21, joins Design Movement to share his leadership platform for implementation.

1. adopt your vision
2. create a community consensus
3. align your system
4. build professional capacity
5. focus your curriculum and assessments
6. support your teachers
7. improve and innovate

EdLeader21 is leading a movement, joining public and independent school leaders committed to 21st century education. Educators from around the country are collaborating around the 4 Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) creating rubrics and performance tasks.


The Wrong Bet #201

jbrettjacobsen —  February 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 7.38.02 AMHow might being born into a Chinese peasant family foster a global entrepreneurial mindset? Find out in Season 2 of Design Movement as the podcast opens with an innovative, provocative, thoughtful educational researcher and leader, Dr. Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon.

I first met Yong Zhao at a conference in the fall and had the opportunity to engage with him about the future of education. He left me when some memorable quotes…

“faster you give answer to kids the faster you kill their curiosity”
“if you are not entrepreneurial, you are waiting someone to hire you”
“if you want to be managed, you are not employable”

Yong Zhao’s work has focused on the “implications of globalization and technology on education. He has designed schools that cultivate global competence, developed computer games for language learning, and founded research and development institutions to explore innovative education models. He has published over 100 articles and 20 books.”

In this episode, we discuss his latest book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, and dialogue about the missing link, the wrong bet, alternate paradigm, Lady Gaga, homogenization…enough of the tease…enjoy episode 1 of season 2.

Enjoy the Ride

jbrettjacobsen —  January 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

This is the final blog in “What does your mission require of you?” series. Starting with questions, serving the team, never creating for today, shipping ideas lose significance unless you enjoy the ride. Opportunities, challenges, setbacks, moments of acceleration, resistance, and success are an inevitable part of fulfilling your mission and executing on your vision.

Enjoy the ride is about having fun.

Enjoy the ride is about embracing whimsy. Bob Goff in Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, says “Don’t be afraid to embrace whimsy. Whimsy is the nagging idea that life could be magical; it could be special if we were only willing to take a few risks.”

Enjoy the ride is about savoring the moment. @JeffGoins tweeted out a nice challenge for us…”If I could choose ONE WORD to define your new year, it’d be this: ‘savor.’ As in, everything. Savor it all, every moment.” Jeff also says, “Many of us fail to recognize that the best moments are the ones happening right now.” So true.

Enjoying the ride is placing your palms up. Instead of closed fists, Dweck’s work on growth mindset is essential…always willing to learn, grow, and develop.

Enjoy the ride is showing up. On behalf of our students, let’s go do stuff together. Let’s go do stuff that matters. How might we make a dent?

We get one shot at today. We don’t get it back.

Enjoy the ride.