Episode 34 – Doris Korda and Alison Tanker
IN THIS EPISODE, DORIS DISCUSSES HER METHODS OF INSTRUCTION AND HOW TO LAUNCH STUDENTS INTO THE HABIT OF SELF-GUIDED INQUIRY THROUGH EARLY ASSIGNMENTS AND ACTIVITIES IN THE CLASS.
Alison: Doris. I feel pretty privileged to have been working by your side for the past year now.
Doris: That’s sweet. Do you say that when we’re not on our podcast?
Doris: No, you don’t. No. That’s sweet. Thank you.
Alison: No. Well.
Doris: You’re very nice about telling me that.
Alison: The reason I say it is because I’ve had this opportunity to get crazy insight into the way your brain works.
Doris: Weird brain works.
Alison: Yes. Your crazy brain. It’s pretty incredible and I’ve known over the past year, you haven’t even recognized, how different you think really is compared to a lot of others in the world.
Doris: Yeah. What a great thing that I have somebody to tell me on a daily basis, “Nobody thinks like you. You are crazy.”
Alison: I feel like being able to have sort of another person or another perspective to help you recognize the systems you really have in place and the patterns and the ways that you do things day to day with the students and with the educators that you train. There really are specific ways you approach this work that are pretty powerful and because of that I, again, feel privileged that I get to have insight into that world. But I feel like we should share that with more people. And I know, again, we’ve been training a lot of people around the U.S. and now even in other countries, globally, which is very exciting. But for all of our listeners to get deeper into the head of Doris Korda…
Doris: Scary. That’s not nice. I thought we were trying to do good here.
Alison: Well, I know in the other podcast we had spoke about what happened in that first week of school with the students on Friday where…
Doris: Oh. The BMCs.
Alison: …they were doing their BMCs. But the way you came into that day, you had a frame of reference and the way that you wanted to structure that entire day from the way we started through the BMC activity into the afternoon, all the way through the homework that was happening that weekend, which was pretty specific. And that was a moment where I thought, “This is, again, a Doris Korda moment where we should give some insight into.”
Doris: Okay. One of the things I say a lot when I’m training people, I use the line from your music that you need to stay one step ahead of where they are. And I think describing what I did on Friday and why is actually describing what I mean by staying one step ahead. So they really are honestly working on problems that are real, that are someone’s problem, and as I stated, the students, if I went and Googled “how should Evan and Peaceful Fruits win the U.S. market?” I’m sure there would be a whole bunch of things that came up but you wouldn’t actually get the answer to that. So they really are learning and we’re teaching them the hardest thing of all, which is not finding the answer, but figuring out the question. What’s the next question that matters most? You hear me say that a lot. That’s probably the hardest thing for them to wrap their head around coming into the class. They’re used to being asked the question and having to learn how to find the answer.
Alison: The single answer.
Doris: Yeah, or even if it’s in a class where there isn’t a single answer and it’s interpretive or it’s whatever, they really do not…they’re not used to a system where the gold, the thing they need to do in order to be successful is to figure out what the best next question is. That’s really hard. So we are working on…they came in day one and day two, we gave them their first challenge. Day three, we have a teeny little time and have them come up with an outline for what they’d like to present three weeks later. Day four, in the morning, I’m gonna have them do the BMCs for all the reasons I gave in that other podcast. You know, it’s their first time presenting. They all learn stuff by using it and applying it. They experience what they read about in mindset, that you actually can work at something and get better. So no matter how bad your presentation was, they actually experience that as they do it and then someone else…that they’re getting better, all that stuff.
But what I also know, Thursday night. Thursday night, we give assignments and their writing things and we have workshops in class and we’re getting interaction. And I know where they are in their thinking about the challenge. I realize that they don’t really understand yet what the big problem is that they’re having to solve. And how could they? They’re in high school. They don’t get it.
Alison: Right. At this point, they know their challenge to be how should Peaceful Fruits win the U.S. market.
Doris: Well, and what did he say more and more? They didn’t even remember that part.
Alison: Right. They were focused on how to get his product…
Doris: …the message.
Alison: …the message, the right message to the right ears.
Doris: Right. Exactly. So it’s day three and I know that what they’re thinking about is, “Okay, what should the advertising look like?”
Alison: Me and my brilliant teenage minds and all the social media techniques I can come up with.
Doris: Right. “I’m gonna do social media and I’m gonna…” right. That’s totally…and they think, “Okay I’ve got this. We still have two and a half weeks. We can do this. Okay.” And I realize that in order for them to really…in order for them to learn the most powerful and important things they need to learn, they first have to understand what the challenge is, and they don’t get it.
Alison: It’s complex.
Doris: It’s complicated and I realize that. What I have to do the next day is, because I also know how little time this really is for what they have to do.
Alison: Three weeks to solve this challenge.
Doris: And this is the end of the first week already, right? And the third week, they’re just going to be figuring out how to create a presentation. I mean, they don’t know any of these things.
Alison: They’re newbies. Yeah.
Doris: They don’t know research. They don’t what it means to interview well. We’re gonna do workshops. This is crazy. You know how fast it goes. So I realize that the goal for the next day is that by the end of class they get what this challenge is, which is, it’s about product market fit. That’s what the challenge really is. The real challenge is, given this product, what are the markets that are most…who are the people which are the markets who most want this, why, and how do we best get to them. That’s really the challenge, but this whole notion of product market fit and that they even have to do that. They’re already at the how. It’s always we show that Simon Sinek video about why…
Alison: …start with why.
Doris: …but they don’t get it. So I structure the next day. I think about how am I gonna structure the day to get them to realize that. Of course I can go in and say, “By the way, you don’t get your challenge. It’s not that you have to start with product market.” I could talk ’til my eyes pop out or their eyes pop out.
Alison: But you didn’t. You scaffolded the day.
Doris: I totally…yeah. I figured out how. I put myself in their heads. I do. I think, “What are they thinking now and what do they have to go through to get to this?” We started with the BMCs, where they go and they present a business and it’s the normal…okay. At the end, we do the reflections. They understood what they learned there. They also learned some stuff. They also, by the end of it, they all had a really decent, decent working understanding of the business model canvas and the elements.
So the next thing I do…because they don’t understand Evan’s business actually. They really don’t. So the next thing I did was have them go in their teams and do…here were the instructions. “Go into your team. Each of you have a set of Post-its and each of you needs to come up with the BMC you would present if you were presenting Peaceful Fruits.” I don’t say, “Go into a team and do it together.” In fact, I’m very specific about this. The reason I do this part is I want everyone of them coming out of the whole morning of watching everybody do the BMCs, to experience having to apply their learning to the challenge they’re doing now. I want every one of the students individually to do that. And I don’t tell them any more than that. I say, “Go do that. You have 10 minutes.” Ten minutes later…and by the way, depending on how long we have for class, you could do this in five minutes. Ten minutes later, we go into the room and randomly point to one of them and I say, “Tim, you present in three minutes Peaceful Fruit using the BMC to the rest of your team.”
So now Tim’s presenting the BMC, just like this morning. He’s presenting the BMC to the team and I say…and after he presents and let him go, three minutes, pull the buzzer, “Don’t interrupt. When he’s done, you have 10 minutes to, as a team, come up with your shared BMC for Peaceful Fruit.” So Tim’s already presented. He’s showing it. He gets the experience during the day of presenting a second time, which is great. They have to distill now Evan’s business. So they’re processing Peaceful Fruits, all four of them in the 10 minutes they all spent working on it. Having to generate one together means they’re going to be arguing about what matters most, which is exactly what I wanted them to do. Because in arguing that, the things they’re gonna argue about are the value prop and the customer segment. Who cares about this the most. They’re going to be…that’s where the arguments come in. That gets them into there’s no way you can do that without thinking about and talking about who wants what: product market fit.
Then we go in and we pick randomly one of them, we don’t tell them who, someone else to present the team’s BMC fruit, Peaceful Fruit, they present it to us. If we think we need to, and in most cases we didn’t, but if I think I need to, I ask a question that gets them even more into the, “Ooh, wait, ah-hah. I don’t know that that person wants that most and why.” Okay. Then I bring them all back in. So now their head’s there. They’re in it. They’re deep in it. The wheels are spinning. I haven’t given them anything. Then have them back, do a circle, and I say, “What’s the challenge that we’re working on? First of all, why do you care about it, what do we know about it, what do we not know?” Is it possible that a group of 17 and 18-year-olds, in three weeks, is gonna come up with something that is helpful for Evan? Because they care about him, which is a huge part of this thing because it’s real and there’s a real person and he really is making no money while he tries to get this business. You know…that. Okay.
And as they process together — and now they’re talking. I’m barely talking. I’m just asking questions — as they’re processing, and I can throw questions in when I need to get it there, they get to the right place. They realize that whether they come up with a nice new slogan for him or not or a new social media instagram campaign, nice, but that’s not the challenge. The challenge is who are the right people for this product now and why, and how do we get them.
Alison: And even more so then…because I did. At that moment, their eyes were widening. It was starting to sink in, but even still at that point you didn’t use that line. You still didn’t say at that point product market…
Doris: …no, I didn’t say any of that.
Alison: …because you knew going into the weekend we had set up a jigsaw.
Doris: Yeah. That’s where that was gonna be. That’s right.
Alison: And coming into that more, I knew we had intended to do a jigsaw that weekend, given where they were on Thursday, it was like okay.
Alison: Friday they’re gonna need to do some really deep…
Doris: And remember, you weren’t sure when we’d do it and I knew we were gonna do it then.
Alison: Right, at that point.
Alison: And in previous jigsaws, I remember as you’ve been training me, I thought, “Okay, usually we have some things in there about the industry, some industry trends.” So I had looked in some…I had looked into a nice, meaty article with a lot of dense, you know, statistics, data and I remember you came in and you said, “Actually…”
Doris: “…that’s not at all where…”
Alison: “…that’s not at all where their heads are at. That’s not what they need right now. The gap in where they are is around this issue of product market fit. We need to get their heads there.” And so we ended up pulling together a number of case studies.
Doris: Yeah. Let me talk about that for sure. Yeah. So I came in that morning before I put them through the whole day. And by the way, there were other questions I asked. I don’t know if you remember this, but what I did at the end of that day is I had them do something where they generated, “Given the day you just went through, given everything, where you are right now, what are your burning questions now? Write them down and…
Alison: …and put them in your Slack channel.
Doris: …and have them…” right. “But have them each individually because you gotta capture it right then.” The morning before…the morning of the start of that day, what I knew was this: that I was going to get them to a place where they left the day realizing, “We need to find out who is the right market for his product now. Why? That’s the big thing we haven’t figured out.” And that’s product…the importance of that, which is product market fit. And I knew we needed to do two things in the assignment over the weekend. One, I never used the words “product market fit,” but I knew we had defined for them to read after all that over the weekend some articles that talked about product market fit. And they were chunky. You found some great ones.
Alison: In this moment too, I wanna mention how you often recommend finding parallel articles, right?
Doris: Well, that’s where I was gonna go next. Yeah. So, the case studies, that’s what I call the parallels, and what I’m thinking about…and it depends on the challenge and it depends on the moment. But when I’m thinking about it that morning, I’m thinking, “All right…” What I think about is that if they make a connection, if they can make a step where they learn about this, which isn’t directly about the thing, but they can connect from that, “Oh, that’s like what I’m facing in the following way.” And then they can come to their own conclusions. Then, instead of feeling like Ms. Tanker or Ms. Korda told me, “it’s a product market fit problem,” and that “the real issue is that dah dah dah dah dah…”
Alison: They form that.
Doris: …they form that themselves and it’s so powerful. And that’s the reason, when they come out of this, they come out of every one of these knowing that whatever they came up with as their solution, they came up with it.
Alison: They have ownership over it.
Doris: They have total ownership. So I look for parallel articles but very carefully. What is the parallel thing that they are going to need to think about now to make the connection? And so, in this case, because we’re talking about a fruit snack that is no added sugar, no corn syrup, does not taste like what an average American kid is used to when they get a fruit roll-up. It’s a different taste. It’s a much healthier snack. It’s a much healthier product. But that’s not yet mainstream and he wants to win the U.S. market. And for him to win the U.S. market, he has to do this in a very smart way so that it…a product that’s not mainstream. Okay. And he wants to unseat Fruit Roll-Ups.
So what I talk to you about is let’s find, for example, I think the first one I threw out to you was Blockbuster/Netflix. Okay. Why, right? It’s not about food. It’s not about snacks. But what is it about? It’s about the fact that here’s Blockbuster and it’s crazy successful.
Alison: Well-positioned in the market.
Doris: It’s the one in the market. It’s giving people this great dah dah dah. And Netflix comes in and eats their lunch. How does that happen? And there’s so much stuff in there, okay? So that, “Ahh, okay.” And then what else did we come up with?
Alison: We looked at the Uber.
Alison: And the ways that those are disrupting their markets and unseating the giants…
Alison: …in their…
Doris: …right. For example, Airbnb was a really good one because who would have ever thought…I’ll use my age group, of my age and my friends. When we first heard of the Airbnb, most of us was like, “Okay.” When on Earth would I ever just go stay in some random person’s apartment? I would never do that. Forget it. Are you kidding? Just like come on, who’s gonna eat this instead of a fruit roll-up, right? But look what happened. And now Airbnb. Okay, so they’re not direct. They’re parallel.
Alison: There’s a lot of learnings they can peel out of that in their own time.
Alison: Where in the jigsaw format, where people on each team…
Doris: Describe what that is because people may not know…not everybody knows what a jigsaw is, but it’s a very important thing that we assign it as a jigsaw. I do that for a bunch of reasons.
Alison: In the jigsaw assignments, we make sure there is chunky articles that are dense and that there’s multiples of them so that the team themselves has to divide out the number of articles for each teammate to read since they all cannot read the amount that and…
Doris: Yeah, they divvy it up. Everybody. What I read you don’t read. I’m the only one who reads what I read.
Alison: What’s brilliant about that is it puts them on the line. They have to be accountable for the information and really do some deep thinking because they know the next day in class they have to come back and present to their team their main takeaways. Why that article was relevant at all to their challenge. What sort of learnings they can pull out that’s helpful to their team in solving this challenge.
Doris: Well, and the interesting thing is the way I worded it is that you need to pull out any takeaways from this article that you think could be useful to your team. So instead of…give your team a rundown of the article or what happened or why do you think we assign. It’s literally find something in there that’s useful to your work with Peaceful Fruits. If I’m on the hook and it’s not just to give an answer back to my teacher, my teammates need it, I’m gonna have to do the really crazy hard thinking about what on earth can I get out of the Uber story that is useful for Peaceful Fruits.
And the reality is, even if what they get out of it isn’t that much, they always find something that the rest can use. None of them wants to come in empty-handed for their teammates. It gets them thinking that way in a more subtle way. And the other thing that happens, multiple things, they learn what it means to be generative as a team and rely on each other. The student who doesn’t trust the others and is gonna want to read all, they can’t. They can’t do it. What they also do is they, again, are learning how to take out of dense, crazy stuff what matters and over time, by the way, they learn what the rest of us learn to do, which is how do you skim something like that for the gold nuggets? How do you…some of this stuff we assign is intentionally. It’s always got really good stuff in it. Some of it’s intentionally early on in this class, so dense that there’s good stuff there, it’s skimmable. You can’t possibly as a 17-year-old in one night analyze it completely. They start also learning the skill and art of looking at a bunch of stuff and figuring out, “What do I need from this? What can I get from this? What matters most?”
Obviously, there’s stuff they need fully and whatever in this class. But they learn a lot of things in that jigsaw. And they come out of the jigsaw when they share, when we say, “Okay, now you have 15 minutes. Have somebody time. Each one of you is responsible to give the team any takeaways that we’re all…” Afterwards, then we do again, “Okay, what are your burning questions now?” And it’s crazy how good that is for them.
Alison: I really think the way that you structured that whole experience through the weekend, through the assignments and all of that, really set us up well coming into the next week where they stepped into that and said, “Hey, I really think there’s a product market fit issue here.”
Alison: They took ownership over that where you didn’t say it and I really think it comes back to, and a lot of your method here, teachers cannot have that ego. We’re in the front of the room. They wanna come and explain, “Hey, I figured out the reality here. Here’s the real problem. And I’m gonna tell everybody. I’m gonna tell you how to solve it.” It’s not about that. It’s about leading the students to that so that they discover it on their own and step into it so they can take ownership.
Doris: That’s what’s interesting and you’ve seen this too. We’ve developed, I’ve developed a ton of systems around us. Specific things. “Here’s what you do, teacher, to do this. But the students feel like I figured it out myself. I did this. I came up with the solution. These were my ideas. The guiding that we do is through questions and assignments and little workshops. But the real, as they look back on the experience of the class, what they remember are their eureka moments and their, “My gosh, I get it,” and they’re making the connections and that’s what you want, right?
Alison: It’s pretty powerful. One thing I’d like to say as well because these are the types of things, as they come up, I’d like to do a better job of maybe even putting them into the Facebook group that we have.
Doris: Oh, yeah. The one we just started.
Alison: Yes. It’s open to the public and all of that. For anyone that is interested in having a bit more insight, I’m gonna try to do a better job of capturing these moments and sharing them with that group to get better insights into this methodology and how they can take this into their own classrooms.