As a marketing instructor, author, and consultant, I am a huge believer in the concept of differentiation. You know, a competitive advantage, secret sauce, that one thing you do better than anyone else, and that is difficult if not impossible to duplicate.
When I began season 2 of The Daily Undoing podcast January 1, 2020, I had committed to a daily podcast focusing on the 8 pillar competencies of competency based learning. I certainly wasn’t the first or the only person to do a daily podcast. Some dude bragging about his 4 hour work week had already claimed that title. Others I’m sure were doing it as well. Nor was I the first or only to do a podcast about competency based learning (CBL). The term is commonly known as CBE (competency based education), but I prefer the holistic feel of “learning” better. Honestly I don’t know who else had done one before much less who was doing it now, but I did not pioneer the educational concept of CBL, and given that there’s well over a million podcasts in circulation, it’s a safe bet there have been a few on CBL. What was and remains uniquely mine is the intense focus on the actual “competencies” in competency based learning.
Even while talking to fellow CBL authorities both in Canada and the US, about my podcast, now converted into a 400 page workbook, it seems clear that I’ve gone even where CBL nerds have failed to go – a workout guide for competencies themselves – a toolkit, if you will, to tone-up those critical marketable skills. Entire universities have been built around offering flexible, real life, real time, practical learning methods for their students – an oversimplification but sufficient definition of CBL. Even Bow Valley College here in Calgary, Canada has gone all in, christening itself a CBL institution. But none of these programs actually focus on sharpening the “competencies” in CBL. Like all of us in every day life, they simply assume these competencies (things like communication, collaboration, creativity that make up my book) will magically appear and perform at peak level when needed. Like we can channel a litre of premium problem solving capability while working to settle a dispute between colleagues or employees. Where in fact, these soft skills (a rather unfortunate label) lie dormant within all of us, requiring exercise in order to effective when summoned.
Addressing this “missing” is what I attempted to do with The Daily Undoing podcast, and subsequently the book of the same name. This was always my key differentiator, but it wasn’t my only one. Oh no, I’m a marketing geek, remember? I needed more intellectual horsepower under the hood to add value. So I decided to something else I have not ever come across – physically connecting the two mediums print and podcast. If you have the book you’ll know that each of the 366 competency actions in it are linked to the actual podcast episode. Specifically, if you’re reading Episode 267 in the book for instance, that very title at the top of that page tells you the audio version of the reading is available on The Daily Undoing podcast, season 2, where you’ll hear more background about the theme of the page you’re reading in the book.
Still not impressed? OK, admittedly, you may have to be as nerdy as me and other like-minded educators to really appreciate the nuances shared so far. I’ve save the most significant for last. The market differentiator I think I’m most proud of, the one that sets me apart from even nerdiest nerds in this space, is my steadfast insistence to include “curiosity” in my list of pillar competencies – the term I use to describe my list of the 8 most vital competencies. You see, everybody, and I mean every educational jurisdiction, think tank, thought leader and educator in the know, has their own take on what the most vital competencies are. And while my research is by no means exhaustive, I have yet to come across one that includes curiosity, other than my pillar 8. And not only am I the only one to include curiosity in a list, I contend it’s the most important. I call it the “gateway competency”, meaning the effectiveness of all other competencies relies on curiosity.
I recently spoke to Russell Bowers, a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) journalist/producer and host of CBC’s “Daybreak” weekend mornings. Russ and I riffed on this whole notion of curiosity and its importance for a good part of the interview. (Bowers, 2021) This, I would say, was a predictable direction of our chat Russ is a successful journalist, and successful journalists are naturally, genuinely curious. And armed with that curiosity, Russ queried, “how do we learn to be curious?” It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot since publishing my book – mostly because I think the majority of people either think curiosity is innate and cannot be taught, or feel we have curiosity beaten out of us once we begin grade school, and it is gone forever. Even one of my greatest influences, the late great Sir Ken Robinson suggested such in his iconic Ted Talk, “Are Schools Killing Creativity”. (Robinson, 2006) To be clear, Ken lumped curiosity in with creativity for his talk, but I separate them as two different competencies.
However, we cannot blame education for everything. Nor am I inclined to pin the demise of curiosity on technology. Sure Google makes finding answers easy, but it also opens of a floodgate of endless new pathways we had not expected with our initial search. Nope, the cause of the slow erosion of curiosity is not dissimilar to that of communication, critical thinking, collaboration, citizenship, character, problem solving, or creativity (the other 7 of the 8 pillars) – lack of discipline. As suggested earlier, we get lazy with these vital internal powers as we grow. More specifically, we trade wonder in favor of time, or later in life, money. We stop when the first question is answered, because probing questions aren’t important when you’re in a hurry. Unless you’re Russell Bowers, who openly shares how his own curiosity sends him wandering to the most obscure places. (Bowers, 2021) How did I respond to his question? You can hear it in the interview here. I wonder if you’re curious enough to find out. That isn’t meant to by cynical. I truly do wonder, if you’d be willing to let curiosity own 28 minutes of your time – just because.
Curiosity is not only a key point of difference to my framework of CBL, it’s a personal differentiator as well. Hell, I unabashedly call myself a “curiositist” in my Linkedin heading. And here’s a tip. Using YOUR curiosity more frequently, practicing it more often, diving down unknown rabbit holes even if it costs you an extra 5 minutes of your day, will differentiate you too. It will make you a more effective leader, friend, parent, employee, teacher, student and most definitely, a more successful entrepreneur. Make time to get those curiosity reps in. I’ll leave you with three actions from my book to loosen up that long sleeping, but uber-powerful competency of curiosity.
Best of luck in being better at being curious.
Unlearn: Catch yourself when going along with set of instructions simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done,” then unlearn it so that you can consider a new approach.
Kindle: Seek book recommendations from friends, experts or bestseller lists, and read one over the next month rather than vegetating through a Netflix binge.
Dive: Make a list of some rabbit holes you’ve wanted to dive down, and commit to doing so.
Bowers, R. (2021, July 16). Daybreak Alberta With Russell Bowers. Retrieved from CBC Listen: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-95/clip/15855576
Robinson, K. (2006, February). Do Schools Kill Creativity? Retrieved from TED: https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_do_schools_kill_creativity?language=en#t-105799