First Drafts Always Suck #IMMOOC

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. 

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 12.09.44 PM.png

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 perfect product 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.

6 Replies to “First Drafts Always Suck #IMMOOC”

  1. kia ora (greetings) The learning process needs to ‘discovered’ and provided for learners to follow, as there is a process here; it is messy but it is there. ‘The Future of Learning’ (200pp free download 🙂 from unpacks this and other useful learning things. The process should be on every classroom wall! ka kite ano

  2. Yes! Your post resonated with me as I support students and teachers as they dive into writing with Google Classroom. Students must have the opportunity to share without final judgment; the feedback has much more value than the grade! This is also a great reminder to me as well to not fret so much about that “publish” button. Share! Revise! Edit! Keep sharing!

  3. Time. That’s the elephant in the room of all classrooms. While we might not be able to affect the amount of time we have students, we can affect what we do during the time we have. And then we need to make sure that what we do with time is not linear. Learning is a process. It’s cyclical. If we continue to think of education and learning as an assembly line, we might get through the content, but at what cost? A huge cost!

  4. I love this 🙂 My favorite new phrase is moving from the “final draft” to turning in your “best draft” because it can always be improved… even after you turn it in. Even books are published as their best draft, at that point in time. That’s why there are future editions. This is wonderful. Thank you!

    1. Love “best draft” thank for sharing!

  5. It’d be perfect if the rubric wasn’t in there and grades. Rubrics are a crutch and they sap creativity. You need a mentor/teacher and a mentor text/product for learning to happen. Forget grades … but they are, admittedly, a necessary evil.

Leave a Reply