When are people mean?


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What a straightforward but brilliant insight: “People are only mean when they’re threatened”.

Ever since I came across this observation in Mitch Albom’s book Tuesdays With Morrie, it has helped me better understand many people and their actions.

The book – both profound and profoundly moving – features many other such gems from Albom’s (late) mentor, Morrie Schwartz, a former sociology professor at Brandeis University.


The stories we tell ourselves (about ourselves)


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We’re all storytellers. And many of the stories we tell are about ourselves. As Tony Robbins points out, those stories can empower us, or disempower us. Often, our stories have no basis in reality. “Most people are stuck because of the story that they told themselves years ago, instead of allowing their story to evolve” (as summarised by Oprah Winfrey in a conversation with Robbins).

I saw an eye-opening demonstration of this idea with Iyanla Vanzant (see the clip below). Iyanla’s simple sentence-starter that helped a woman realise the bogus story she had been telling herself for years was: “The story I tell myself about myself is…”

Update [August 8]: reflecting on Robbins’ quote, I think a better way to phrase this idea might be: we define ourselves by the stories we tell ourselves, especially about ourselves. So, we can choose not to define ourselves by not telling ourselves particular stories (about ourselves).

Insights from Eric Mazur


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“I think that the true hallmark of education is not just regurgitating the information back, but actually being able to apply what you’ve learnt in a context you have not seen before.”

This was one of the great quotes from Dr. Eric Mazur’s talk From Questions to Concepts. Here are two other insights that really caught my attention:

“Most technology is simply old wine in new bottles. It’s a technological approach for something that can be done without technology.”

Quoting B. F. Skinner: “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.”

“Anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations”



Qantas has released half a dozen new videos about its staff and their work. The importance of service shines through all of the clips. Two stand out for me.

The first features Captain Jeremy Greenop, who says: “As a captain of a flight, you’re very aware of what the passengers are feeling, you’re aware that they want to get there safely, comfortably and on time.”

In the second, Tanya Lazarou, a Flight Attendant, comments: “It’s about making everyone feel welcome on board when they join us on a Qantas aeroplane … It’s really important in a customer service role to be able to anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations.” Indeed.

Being careful when rewarding and praising


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a_carrot_a_dayAdrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s book A Carrot a Day is full of interesting and useful advice about recognition. Two insights stand out for me.

“To be effective, praise must be specific,” the authors say. Praise that is too general can actually be demotivating or discouraging. Managers at Disneyland are told to avoid generic praise like “good job” for this reason.

The authors also caution: “Be careful what you reward, because it will be repeated.” Rewards and praise should go to the right people for the right behaviours.

Committed, caring (and musical) teachers


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François Girard’s film Boychoir features some wonderful teachers. Several stand out for me: Ms Steel (played by Debra Winger), for her compassion and thoughtfulness; Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman), with his demanding, but ultimately deeply caring, attitude; and the headmistress of the National Boychoir Academy (Kathy Bates), for her considerate and no-nonsense personality.

Make time


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I’ve shared Charles Bruxton’s excellent quote with my students for three years now. Judging by their reactions, I think it really resonates with many of them. It’s a great bite-sized lesson in time management.

On another level, it’s a good reminder for us to make time occasionally to think about whether we do things effectively. Rob Yeung (whose book E is for Exceptional I’m reading at the moment) puts it nicely: “[H]igh achievers take an active decision to stop what they’re doing occasionally to ask if there might be an entirely better way of doing it.” So true, Rob!

[Post updated 28/04/2015]

“Thank you all for being here”


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Pascal Plisson’s film On the Way to School (Sur le chemin de l’école) is a touching reminder that most of us are very lucky to be able to receive an education. We’re especially lucky if we don’t have to travel far to receive it.

(According to UNESCO, nearly 17% of the world’s adult population is still illiterate; two thirds are women.)

I was particularly touched, though, by the thoughtfulness and humility of one of the film’s teachers, who told his class of Kenyan students: “Thank you all for being here. The elephants make the walk here dangerous … Coming to school isn’t easy.”