First drafts always suck.- Ed Catmull
I have been reading Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull and this line has been stuck in my head. It has resonated with me because I think this is exactly opposite of how we often expect learners to perform and to be perfect too often in school. Also, we don’t often call things out at bluntly in education and therefore, many people might not like this title.
Here’s a scenario that I see all too often:
Student gets an assignment
Student gets a rubric on how the assignment is graded, maybe
Student is expected to do the assignment on their own or for homework
Student is expected to turn in a perfect product
Grade is given based on the expectations of completing the assignment
This is NOT teaching. This is evaluating. #fixedmindset
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for evaluation and it needs to happen sometimes but it shouldn’t be confused or substituted for the learning process. We have this notion in education that “work” needs to be perfect when it’s turned in. When sometimes it’s the first time that the teacher has seen it and there is no opportunity for feedback or revision but the assignment is graded, recorded, and we move on. When we organize classrooms and learning experiences this way, we communicate that intelligence is fixed and that you either know something or you don’t, not that we can improve with effort. #growthmindset
From Suck to Unsuck
In Creativity, Inc, Ed Catmull, Pixar’s co-founder and president describes how their movies are always bad to begin with. Yes, this is the same company that has produced Toy Story, Up, Monsters Inc and so many more #1 movies. He shares that instead of creating systems that prevent errors and striving for perfection, he understands that creative process takes time and their motto is to create systems for feedback and support to take initial ideas for movies and move from “suck to unsuck.” He urges, “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.” At Pixar their movies go through multiple drafts, revisions and teams receive candid feedback from others to make sure the ideas are the best they can be.
When we only focus on the end result, we fail to communicate to learners the importance of sharing ideas early, getting feedback, and revising things to improve. If we don’t honor the learning process, we communicate that we either get it or we don’t. And as a result, we are negatively impacting learner’s confidence, creativity, and investment in their own learning and growth. Increasingly, there is a focus on failure in the learning process and it is certainly part of it, but the bigger picture to me is acknowledging that success isn’t black and white. Learning is a process and it takes time, effort, and growth to achieve success, even when we don’t see it. It reminds me of the image that George Couros has shared from comedian Demitri Martin on what success looks like.
I have been thinking about how they approach their work at Pixar and how they embody the Innovator’s Mindset and what it would mean for classrooms if we acknowledge that ideas are often not perfect when they are first conceived, first drafts aren’t usually very good and that we learn through the process of creating new and better ideas.
So if we go back to the initial scenario that I presented and apply the Innovator’s Mindset, it might look something like this:
Student chooses a problem to solve or investigate based on learning goals
Student gets a rubric on how the assignment is graded
Student generates some ideas
Student shares ideas with diverse people, gets feedback (kind, specific and helpful)
Revises ideas, creates something new and better (repeat as necessary)
Student conferences with teacher to get feedback based on learning goals and determine next steps
Student is expected to turn in a
perfec tproduct that demonstrates learning and growth based on learning goals
Feedback is given based on the expectations of learning goals
Lessons learned are applied to new problems and ideas and growth is documented along the way.
In either scenario, you can replace student for a teacher, administrator, or any learner. If we are honest, anything that is worth doing and learning takes time, feedback, critique and multiple revisions to get better. To maximize learning opportunities, it is important that there is not only room for mistakes but that we learn from them and build in opportunities to reflect, revise, and improve.