The strength of the Pack

Mowgli soon learned a vital lesson, the Law of the Jungle:

…For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

Ester showcased the Law of the Jungle in last Wednesday’s special edition. In that video, 4 kids follow a deductive process to understand the differences between living in the city and living in the country. They reach the conclusion that the city is an effective way of consolidating offer and demand (jobs, education, leisure options, …) but at the same time produces an unsustainable way of living (pollution, stress, …) The video shows how strong the method of collective thinking is, for each Wolf makes contributions and the Pack finally settles into a conclusion.

The Pack is stronger because it builds on the contribution of many. The Pack is stronger as long as the Pack remains united, as internal differences threaten to break it. The role of the coach is to handle that tension, not to guide or manipulate the conclusion. There are methods that facilitate this delicate balance. Thinking Based Learning is one of them. Design Thinking is another popular method for solution design that we’ve adopted at work, with great success.

Design Thinking uses this hourglass graph to illustrate what happens, emotionally, to the Pack applying the method.


Part of the session is spent fostering divergence among the Wolves. Divergence is good because divergence is creativity, is options, is outliers, is richness. Divergence at the same time is risky. It threatens to break the Pack, Wolves become Wolves, attached to their ideas and propositions, fighting hard to impose their individual points of view. The coach must have the tools and methods to turn it around into a downward slope of convergence. Convergence will bring the Wolves together and regroup them into a joint conclusion. There is nothing more powerful than a regrouped Pack that has struggled and has agreed. There is some emotional primal instinct playing here. We belong to the Tribe and we will die for our Tribe. A Tribe that successfully resolves internal conflict is stronger. A coach helps create the conflict, and guide its resolution.

When I was a kid, we would every now and then have group assignments. Group assignments, without a guiding hand that manages this dynamics, turned people into Lone Wolves. Everyone that has gone through this know what I’m talking about: the clumsy split of tasks, the guy that does not commit to deliver its part, the other guy that simply won’t follow what was agreed, the endless discussions, the one that finally stitches it all together and curses. I think most of us hated group assignments. Today, I crave Design Thinking sessions. What is different then, if both imply a group of people working towards a common objective? The method and the coach.

During more than 30 years of my life, I have believed team work was bullshit. Today, I believe and follow the Law of the Jungle. So much as to believe that the role of a manager is no more and no less than to become a coach. It is not to make decisions. It is not to give direction. It is to help the Wolves dissent and contribute, then regroup them into a stronger Pack. The Pack makes the decisions, the Pack sets the direction, and the Pack is always stronger than the Wolf, no matter how clever or wise.

Enough assisted communism for today… enjoy the weekend!


The power of caring

Ester, my wife, is a primary school teacher. She has always been extremely committed to her job. It shows in things like the deep care of her students and the availability to their families. I can see that every day. There is certainly no glass wall between her ‘children’ and her. I would have assumed that, over the years, you may detach from your job the same way that probably doctors or psychiatrists do. She does not. I can imagine the work of a teacher can be exhausting no matter what. But when your level of empathy is top notch, it becomes a heroic feature. My guess is she simply cannot help it. 

It is rewarding, though. Every now and then, I get the chance to read a gratitude letter from a student, or a letter from some parents. They can touch you; they can break you into tears. We sometimes go through hard stuff; if, during those days, you find someone like Ester, who grabs your hand and helps you and your child walk through hell, and takes you safely out of the dark pit you’ve been trapped... that is something. Many lives I’ve seen her touch and change, and I can only begin to imagine the impact she’s had on that people. She is so good at this that my friends also rely on her on difficult times! She has a gift; and that gift is both a blessing and a curse, as she carries in her heart part of other people’s burdens. It is admirable that, despite the cost, along these years, she still shows the same commitment as the first day.

But this post happens on a Wednesday because she’s been featured in EL PAÍS educational series: “Aprendemos Juntos”!! She’s been featured because of her special dexterity on applying a learning methodology developed by Robert Swartz, one of the most influential thinkers in education. The method, Thinking Based Learning, relies on applying certain analytic or deducting patterns to a problem so that learning happens by... well, thinking. Those patterns include comparing two alternatives, brainstorming ideas, making decisions... they are scripted and children follow predefined steps, guiding them to a conclusion of their own. For anyone that went through an MBA, you’ll see a resemblance with the case methodology applied there. Learning happens because you are arriving at conclusions (together with your peers,) rather than conclusions being thrown to you on a textbook.

Ester won’t admit it, but I will here, that Robert Swartz in person was so impressed by her ability to apply the method that he personally chose her to demo it in this video series. So here’s the video that shows Ester guiding 4 of her students in deducting the differences between living in the city and in the country, and drawing the corresponding conclusion. 

Check the whole thing, including Robert Swartz piece, in here.

But if I have to pick something from this video, it’s not the fascinating method, nor the wonderful kids nor the implications of all this in our education system, not even how gorgeous Ester shows in it. It is that look in her eyes when she looks at those children. It is such a genuine expression of pride and appreciation. Put yourself in those kids’ shoes and imagine how fulfilling that is, how that invisible energy opens the doors of possibilities, of daring to try, of being capable. This is as powerful as it gets; it gives you confidence, it changes your perception of the world. How can something so subtle carry so much significance? 

I’m not more proud of Ester today than I am everyday, certainly not more than those days when I get to have a glimpse of the impact she’s had on someone’s life... but this is certainly an achievement worth sharing, and I don’t have many chances to see her interact with her students, which I found absolutely fascinating.

Love you! 


Our brave new world

The Internet is wasted. What once was a wonderful commonwealth of enthusiasm and exploration has become an existential wasteland.

3 trends have spoiled it.

Social networks. Almost all interaction and sharing today is done through them. Their convenience is killer: they give us an audience. It quickly became the most effective way of digital interaction, because it was relevant from the very begining. Then came the optimisation phase. User engagement (call it user addiction) became the number one metric towards profitability. Someone realised that people tend to be attracted to content of a certain type. By someone I mean a machine learning algorithm. So fire off all those analytic servers, start profiling people and feed them with whatever the algorithm tells you. Soon you have engaged users by billions, market cap skyrockets, and you’ve turned a significant portion of human kind into sheeps. I shouldn’t have written social networks as the problematic trend, but algorithmically curated content. Be mindful what you eat. If what you eat is determined by an algorithm, you are giving up on something in the process. I guess that something is your soul, your daemon. This is our very own brave new world, conditioned and happy, but also fooled and useless.

Instant sharing. I once wrote around here that when you reduce friction, you increase frequency. When entry barriers lowered (vanished!) for anyone to share stuff online, two things happened. Internet was very quickly democratised; everyone, no matter their digital literacy, started contributing. Then, just as quickly, the signal to noise ratio collapsed. It became impossible to find the needle in the haystack. No worries, though, do you know who can help? Yes! The recommendation engine of YouTube! So, then again, this is an indirection to my point about algorithmically curated content. It is also a reflection on what happens when you give everyone a voice. Democratising is ethically laudable, but we must be aware that we are switching from one set of problems to another. As with everything in life, it all goes down to choosing what type of problems you prefer, and I must admit I miss the days in which this was a gathering on nerds clumsily crafting websites. Some things are better if they just take effort. That effort acts as a filter that at least guarantees that what gets done, at least, shows commitment, perseverance and enthusiasm of the maker.

Timebound publishing. I like and don’t like timelines. When someone came up with the idea of blogging, it immediately rooted. If you were around before, you’d have noticed that we built ugly websites with some navigation in the left by topic and mostly static content. Someone then thought that it’d be good to journal the entries. And it was good because up there, right when you open up the site, the most recent content always shows first. That is convenient, both for the producer of content and for the reader, so it quickly became the de facto standard. It was obviously endorsed by social media when they were born… twitter will show last tweets first, same with facebook, instagram, etc. It’s simply better… but it also has some drawbacks. It puts an emphasis on new, and new is not necessarily more relevant. I know it’s ironic to make this point from a blog, but I myself suffer from this. You may have noticed by now that I make an effort to write with very few reference to time sensitive content. I mostly try to reflect on stuff that is timeless. Then sometimes I point someone to this blog and realise that, perhaps, my last post is not really representative. Time is not really relevant for what I write. I acknowledge this is useful for habitual readers, but again, this convenience comes at a cost: we get fed by new, not by better, and time buries the most powerful ideas into the oblivion of the vertical scroll.

All in all, my feeling is that all these trends have turned the Internet into one big shopping mall full of indistinguishable clothing franchises. The internet is full of people on a Saturday evening, buying the same stuff, getting excited by the last trend, a trend that some big corporation deducted by running analytics on the last purchasing behaviour of the masses. This is our brave new world. We must reclaim our soul, also in the digital space; we must restore our digital souls, run away to the digital villages, to the digital libraries and to the digital bars. We will have to find them, though. We may have to build them.