Undoing and Redoing the Daily Undoing
I have good news and good news. The good news is The Daily Undoing is returning. The other good news – possibly for you, but most certainly for me – is that at least for the time being, it will no longer be a daily podcast. I am here to tell you, that is not a sustainable model…but it was fun while it lasted.
The Daily Undoing began in 2018 as a business, lifestyle, editorial audioblog. Aiming to be intelligent, clever, and cheeky, but in hindsight, it was rather directionless. In 2020, I focused on “life competencies” as a theme. Specifically, taking a largely pedagogical concept of competency based learning, and weaving it into every day life. As an educator, I had always taught by this method, even before I knew it had a name.
The concept of competency based learning, like marketing, my professional field of expertise, is widely misunderstood. And the term itself does not help. Whoever came up with it certainly had no interest in branding it. In fact, you’ll have more luck googling competency based “education”, or competency based “teaching” if you want to get into the weeds of its origin, its history and “pedagogy”… a word that I still somehow feel unqualified using.
But seeing as I spent a whole year breaking it down, organizing it into various components, then attempting to ignite a small movement about it – first with a daily podcast, and now with a daily workbook. And seeing as I call myself a marketing and branding expert, and I have now created a website, with a vision of eventually housing all things “competency” – well I’d better be able to make it “marketable”. We’ll come back to my definition of competency based learning in a minute.
But this is where my dual vocations, of educator and entrepreneur converge. As any decent marketing educator MUST successfully convey to their students, marketing is more than advertising; it’s really about discovering and satisfying human needs (it’s often about creating the illusion of human needs too). And as any successful entrepreneur will conclude, THEY are the ones that actually DO the need-discovery and solution-delivery. Thus, this whole development of a competency based learning approach I have been teaching and trumpeting, must solve a problem if it is to be successful. The definition of “success”, I’m afraid, I’m going to have to put in the parking lot for the time being as well.
First, let me circle back to the definition of competency based learning and its marketability. In 2013, I was working on a proposal for a different way to teach marketing for a global higher education textbook publisher. I called it “The Curiosity Concept”. It was a hub and spoke model meant to teach the concept of marketing, with all spokes connecting to the hub of curiosity. “Marketing is a life skill”, I preached to an assembled panel of publishers. “And all of its components stem from one thing – curiosity”, I dramatically concluded in my best Donald Draper delivery. But, kinda like some of the “Mad Men” character’s more bizarre ad campaign pitches, my curiosity idea failed to resonate as I had hoped. I found the idea buried in the hard drive of a computer I haven’t used in years. Here’s a screen shot of the app I had envisioned…seriously, this is really it. "So cheesy", I can almost hear my daughters chirp. But this was going to be it. The idea was it would be like Google for marketing students (or geeks like me). Type in a query, get a definition, a video demo of some sort, and a chat to prove fluency in the language of marketing. Simple huh. I had noooo idea how the back end would be built, much less maintained. But there it was.
The curiosity concept was not ready for prime time. A couple years later, a competing publisher had sniffed me out, having seen some of my sketch animation work, and wanted to talk to me about re-thinking the marketing textbook. “Interesting”, I murmured, “I might just have an idea”. An in person meeting in Toronto was followed by a series of phone calls and finally a commitment to sign me to build this new thing, but only if I would be willing to pair up with one, maybe two other authors. Marc Boivin, a University of Calgary, Haskayne School of Business prof was one of two recruited to the project, and the only one who, like me, was willing to pursue this ground-up project within the modest budget offered.
Marc and I hit it off almost immediately with a lot in common both in our personal and professional lives. And the two things we agreed we would be most adamant about in our proposed re-thinking of the marketing textbook, were that it would a) have to be stripped down to the studs, containing bite-sized doses of theory, and b) those learning briefs would be supported by suggested activities utilizing what we then referred to as “professional skills”.
We hadn’t even discovered this underworld of competencies percolating in academia. We just weren’t plugged into that space. But “professional skills” was a concept we knew all to well. Because, for the most part, our students lacked them, our curricula neglected them, and all those companies, to whom we were sending our graduates, were saying, “why didn’t you cover this?” Marc and I had seen all the signs our entire careers, doing our best, like Hans Brinker to plug holes when we interacted with a student, seemingly struggling with things like communication, collaboration, critical thinking and so on. But, like thousands of other educators, that was about all we could do. “Until now”, we thought, grinning fiendishly at one another on many occasions, as if we were to pull off a bank job.
Long story short, “Mindtap for Marketing”, our opus to what we had by then discovered to be competency based learning, was written, produced, launched in 2017, and pretty much died on the vines. Like that first panel of publishers to whom I evangelized my vision three years earlier, marketing faculty across North America, it appeared, by and large had little interest in our innovation. “Fools!” we thought. “We’ll show them!”
Months turned into years as Marc and I evangelized competency based learning at conferences around the continent. We read about it, Marc did a lot of research into it, and we came up with myriad ideas of how to bring it to market, but the problem was we never quite knew what “it” was. By 2018 we had given our over-arching philosophy a brand. We had both recently read Michael Lewis’s “The Undoing Project” and wanted to call ourselves that flat out. Wisely choosing to avoid trademark violation, we chose only the word “Undoing” as it felt like our battle-cry we both possessed in our souls. To right the wrong of decades, nay, centuries, of formal education’s failure to teach competencies to generations of students.
But what was that product? It drove us nuts. Here we were, marketing educators, authors, and we had even both logged untold hours of consulting in the field and yet every time we came up with product idea, we could not attach it to a defined need. The very essence of what we knew in our hearts and minds was forever hitting a brick wall. We came up with new terms to describe what we did. We devised new processes to consult clients and even worked with a few. The rabbit holes were everywhere in our path like a minefield of distractions. Online courses. Seminars. A podcast (prior to The Daily Undoing). Another textbook. A business book. A Seinfeldian book idea where we would chronicle the ridiculousness of our journey. The “Netflix of Education”. The “iTunes” of education. The “AirBnB” of education, matching graduates and small businesses (that one actually grew some legs, but got lost during Covid). Hell, we even spent two months investigating a block-chain play (pathetically, I even signed up for a course in learning to code using Python!)
At some point during all of this insanity, I had been listening to Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, “Crushing It”, and decided to take him up on a challenge to produce something called a “flash briefing”, which was a newly forming part of Amazon’s growing empire of businesses – Alexa. These mini-podcasts, ready made for smart speaker delivery, would be of course, another rabbit hole to scramble down, but at least something tangible could be produced. I leapt in, and never fully came back up.
The Daily Undoing was literally christened as I improvised my first recording. Seriously, I was so intent on following through to see the result of how recording something into my laptop could come out of my Echo speaker instantly, that I just wanted a place-holder for my introduction. “This is the daily undoing”, I chirped, not entirely sure of what I would say next. It didn’t matter. It was a sound check. But I recorded it and moments later, I was racing down the stairs with my laptop in one hand, Alexa in the other and my bewildered family wondering why I was so giddy. “Listen to this”, I squealed, before looking at the speaker as if it had a human pulse, and said, “Alexa, what’s in the news?” I was only faintly disappointed when my audience did not share quite my level of enthusiasm. It didn’t matter. I had birthed a product. I still did not have a market segment to whom to target, much less an identified problem within that elusive market, but, these were details I could sort out later.
The irony in all of this was never lost on me. Theoretically, I was approaching this ass-backwards. I heard the common refrain I’d get my students almost chanting in class: “find a problem, then find the solution!” I would learn to live with the feeling of hypocrisy. For now I was playing in a sandbox. Me, Alexa, my two children, and Marc. We eventually spurred the curiosity of enough family and friends, students, co-workers etc to subscribe, but only after we explained that a “flash briefing” was really just a short podcast, which could also be heard in the usual podcast places.
The novelty and cool factor of calling myself a podcaster endured for about a year and a half, but by the end of 2019, I realized that what I was doing was a hobby – not a business. When people asked how much I was making on it, I would cringe inside while honestly answering – “nothing”. In fairness, I had not even determined the size of audience in order to pitch it to a sponsor. It’s not that I hadn’t thought about it, I simply did not have any spare time. I was too busy doing the damn podcast. And so, with 2020 looming I decided to embrace a theme I was passionate about, and knowledgeable in. One that had a built in content pipeline. And most importantly – one that would solve a problem. And that problem was easily traced all the way back to those wide-eyed business students I had been teaching all those years. Those game-changers, trail-blazers and business leaders I was complicit in sending out to pasture with the knowledge of how to execute a business study, but without how to do one without a textbook. Unaware that learning did not stop with me, but continued forever. And that career, business and life would be more fulfilling if that mindset could only be embraced, not repelled. The secret sauce was competencies.
But I had another business fundamental I felt needed to be violated. This need had more than one market. “Who is this for?” Marc and I would ask each other repeatedly, and would hear from others multiple times as we spat out one idea after another. But competencies, I would discover weren’t the exclusive domain of students. They were under-stimulated behaviours, which, when stimulated could not help but enhance lives. The list of competency categories I had filtered out of the endless work of associations, scholars, pontificators and gurus, spoke for itself. Curiosity, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Problem Solving, Communications, Citizenship, Character and Collaboration, I concluded were abundant in all of us. We just assumed accessing them was like a water tap. “This is a complex situation, and I have no idea how to even begin to understand it.”
What’s more, the click-solution culture to which we have evolved was atrophying all of these competencies further. “What do I do when I don’t understand something? I google it”, thereby leaving any measure of problem we have in the hands of an advertising medium.
How to put drops into your steer-like dog’s ear? Google it.
How to buy a house? Google it.
How to build a house? Google it.
How to vote? Google it.
How to diagnose a heart attack? Google it.
I was convinced, and I had enough anecdotal, industry and scholarly research to show, that competencies – our very social infrastructure – were being rapidly devalued, but could only be partially replaced by technology. Unlike every other aspect of our lives, these eight behaviours were worth clinging to, re-igniting, and re-integrating back into their prominent place in our lives. Creating a more competent life means being better at being human. THAT was the mission of The Daily Undoing podcast, 2020.
From the beginning, however, I had always envisioned that this mission-driven podcast would be easily transferable into book form. It wasn’t easy, but it did get done (more on that journey another time). Suffice to say, this blog and website will join an ecosystem including the book, some form of podcast, but also eventually, courses, maybe another book, and hopefully a lively, vibrant human community.
Which brings me back to The Daily Undoing reset with which I began this post, not knowing I would meander nearly this long. What started as nothing more than a science experiment, then grew into a modestly followed general interest podcast, but ultimately became my personal attempt to release a largely educational concept into the mainstream, has grown beyond a singular format. It’s grown beyond my initial entrepreneurial instinct as well. Back then I was searching for a market for whom to make a product. But the Daily Undoing is more than a product, more than a podcast, more than a book, website or a collection of courses. It’s a movement. Both at a personal, but also a communal level. It’s intentionally ritualizing the goal of being better at being human.
We do many things without thinking every day, both consciously and subconsciously. From feeling to breathing, to walking. More conscious behaviour connects thoughts with actions. “I am thirsty – I will drink water.” But intentional consciousness has a higher purpose. It should turn on a light in our heads, and force us to think about our role, both within our lives, but also within the world in which our lives exist. Your daily undoing, then is your commitment to being better and being human. To continually seek new knowledge, new ways to think, communicate, collaborate, create, problem-solve, persevere and contribute to the greater good. To undo the way things have been done. Sound cheesy? I don’t think you would have read this far if you really believed you could not do better. You can. God knows I can.
And so, The Daily Undoing is no longer a descriptive title of a podcast, which pops up every 24 hours. It is a community where we re-condition of the way we think of the word learn. Learning is not finite. Learning is a continuum, without a conclusion. It is learning to learn, then learning some more. The crossover, then, evolves from curriculum design into living design, making competency based learning more evident, and urgent. A human need made more visible.