Making Things That Matter & TOMS: Perfect Fit

Ouch.  Groaner pun in the title.

And we move quickly on to Blake Mycoskie’s Start Something That Matters, a business-centered book that came out a couple of years ago, made the best seller lists, and managed to slip by me.  Fortunately, we have a fantastic bookstore in Farmington: Devaney, Doak & Garrett, owned and operated by Kenny Brechner.  Solid dude.  Amazing selection.  Brilliant recommendation displays — which is how I discovered Mycoskie’s book.

Start Something That Matters Official Trailer

I came home with Start Something That Matters in early June after browsing six pages or so.   Engaging voice. Browse-friendly design. High school student accessible language.  I had to share it with my Humanities co-teacher, Sam,

“This is it, dude!” I tossed him the book in our classroom the day following. “Next year. Textbook.  Humanities.”

“Okay. When’d you read this?”

“Uh.  Haven’t.  Trust me.”

Conventional wisdom dictates I return home, read said book post haste, return to the classroom, hand the book to my colleague and begin the process of text notification, finding funds for the texts, and so on.

Did I mention this was early June?

No, the book came home and found a place in my stack.  And there it sat through the end of the year, finals week, grading, tech institute week, family vacation to Story Land, and a Phish show passed.

Then a week or so ago  I sat down and consumed it in the space of two late-night-into-early-morning sittings and said to myself, “This is it, dude! Next year.  Textbook.  Humanities.”  My initial instincts had been spot on.

Why this play-by-play?  Well, it’s what Mycoskie does in his book and I find it an endearing style — if not replicable one here.  He takes you through the development from conception to future of TOMS, the canvas shoe company that donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold to a consumer.  Chief Shoe Giver Mycoskie breaks down the six elements he believe led to TOMS continued success:

  • Find Your Story
  • Face Your Fears
  • Be Resourceful without Resources
  • Build Trust
  • Keep It Simple
  • Giving Is Good Business

He defines and illustrates each element as it applies to the TOMS chronology, to the business world at large, and to the hopeful entrepreneur.   Referencing Malcolm Gladwell and Tim Ferriss alongside model Lauren Bush’s FEED and Subway spokesperson, Jared Fogle, he keeps the conversation humble.  This isn’t a prescription from an expert armed with a foolproof methodology.  We have a passionate businessman and humanitarian sharing an effective philosophy and the people who inspire and validate this philosophy.

Best of all? It refrains from becoming a preachy parable.  It is far more matter of fact and, “Hey, let’s have some pizza and talk business design.”  And at under 200 pages with breakouts?  Manageable degrees of content in a well differentiated classroom.

I lied. That isn’t what is best of all.  Mycoskie’s ideas apply to both students who want to start careers that do more than simply make money and educators who want to develop better schools that do more than just achieve high test scores.

For instance, I considered Mycoskie’s philosophy, my classroom, my building, and my district’s work toward customized learning (with WMEC) and raised the following questions:

  • How do we effectively tell our students, parents, staff and community the story of customized learning?  How do we create an engaging narrative that can be told again and again and compels others to share it?
  • How can we use our fears about customized learning to find effective solutions?
  • What do we have for people, materials, and other resources already here in district?  How can we design a working, dynamic, accessible inventory of those resources and put them to use?
  • How can choices we make engender trust between all the stakeholders?  How can customized learning become a catalyst for improving trust between home and school, student and teacher, administration and faculty?
  • How can we narrow our focus and adopt a few essential practices before fully rolling out customized learning?  If we were to make only three manageable changes to the school climate this year, what would they be?  What if it were only one?
  • How can we return the investment placed in us in immediate, tangible ways for our community?  How can service become a central tenet of a customized learning model?  How can that service in turn yield demonstrable gains for the school and or district?

Start Something That Matters aligns remarkably well with the work Sam and I have done with Dan Pink in our Humanities class and the design thinking that has characterized my students’ program design work in PACE.  I’ve no doubt it will be informing my work work this summer into the fall.  I suggest it may do the same for your classroom or school as well.

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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