Six Lessons from Google & What Music Teachers Can Learn from Them

I hope those of you who follow this blog are not tired of hearing about the Google Innovator Academy. It was easily the highlight of my professional career! The lessons I learned and friendships I made are some that will stay with me for a lifetime. That’s why it’s so easy and enjoyable to write about. But not to worry, I will continue to add more music specific content this summer along with details about my project.

Google Innovator LON19 Cohort
Google Innovator LON19 Cohort

For now I felt it would be most productive to narrow down the top six things I learned and how they apply to music teachers and music teaching. Enjoy!

Six Lessons From Google

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is real, and many of us at some point in our lives will feel it. If you’ve never heard of Imposter Syndrome, it’s the feeling that you are a fraud, that you are not deserving of a job or accomplishment, or that you only made it so far because of luck. I was feeling some serious imposter syndrome heading into the Google Innovator Academy and was shocked to find out that almost everyone there felt the same way! I know I have experienced this as a music teacher several times too, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

The biggest piece of advice provided is to remind yourself of the hard work you put in prior to your achievement. Remind yourself about the qualifications you have, along with your training and experiences. Be willing to tell yourself frequently that you belong, you are deserving, and enjoy it! If you need more convincing, Angela Watson had a great blog post and podcast on this topic last year: “Seven Ways Teachers Can Push Past Imposter Syndrome.”

You Are an Architect of the Possible

Focus on the User

Step one in problem solving at Google is to focus on the user. In our case as music teachers, that means we must first focus on the students. Not the concert, not the curriculum, not even the music. Priority goes to the students. What do we want our students to accomplish? What do we want the students to remember and experience? When we put students first, everybody wins. I know as I work to prepare for next year, starting at a new school with a new group of students, focusing on the user will be very important to creating the best culture and environment for optimal student learning.

Fast Ideation

When working on a problem or a challenge the tendency is to look for one perfect solution right away. At Google, instead of having us find one perfect solution for our challenges, they encouraged us to think of as many solutions as possible in a short amount of time. Good solutions, bad solutions, off-the-wall solutions, and everything in between. Quantity was better than quality. They encouraged us to draw our solutions or at least keep them to “headline level” – with no details. Many post-its were used! From there we would look at what had the potential to make the most impact, what was the most feasible, and what could best solve the problem.

Fast Ideation

In music education, I can see relevance for everything from concert programming, to ensemble set-up and lesson planning! I can’t tell you how much time I have spent staring at a computer screen trying to figure out the perfect seating arrangement for a concert band. If instead I had quickly come up with eight different possibilities, I probably would have found a solution must faster. Or when trying to decide how to introduce a new concept to a group of students, such as slurring on a wind instrument. Make a quick list of all the ways to teach this concept and go from there. No idea is off the table at the beginning.

You can encourage students to think this way too. When searching for a title for a composition project, encourage them to write as many titles as they can come up with. If they are trying to determine the best phrasing for a solo piece, suggest they try it many ways. When we open our minds to the possibilities available, we discover things that were previously beyond our reach.

MVP – Minimum Viable Product

After coming up with a solution you would like to try, the next step is to create an MVP – a Minimum Viable Product. The MVP is the smallest thing you can create to determine if a solution is worthwhile or not. This could be the melody of a composition, a “teaser” of an upcoming activity or event, or even an early version of a performance. This concept makes me think about competitive marching band. Several bands I used to work with would get their show on the field early in the season, even though it wasn’t complete. Doing this allowed them to experiment, get feedback, and continue to evolve as the season progressed. Don’t wait for perfect. Put yourself (and your students) out there early to get feedback. For those following my innovator project dealing with music teacher balance and well-being, I hope to have an MVP ready in the next few months!

Think Big, But Start Small

At Google they have a phrase “10x.” They want you to think about a solution ten times beyond what you were originally imagining. At first, this may seem very overwhelming! Often just the idea I was formulating is challenging enough! But, the key to getting a 10x solution is to start small.

For example, if I want to start a solo and ensemble festival in my district, the idea of creating a solo and ensemble festival for my entire state (being 10x) seems crazy! But we start small. What is the first small step I would need to take to start a festival of this caliber? Maybe it’s beginning to spread the word. Instead of just telling students about the festival I may create a simple website and flyer when thinking 10x. Or maybe I research how other states run similar festivals, instead of just trying to come up with something that may or may not work on my own. By thinking 10x, I force myself to look at the big picture. Can I still start with just a festival in my district? Absolutely. But now I am not limited in my thinking that it couldn’t be more.

Creativity Comes From Constraint

Several times it got frustrating when we were limited in either time or resources to complete a task. However, creativity comes from constraint. When told “the sky is the limit” often we feel too much freedom! There are so many possibilities it becomes impossible to choose one. Or we spend too much time focusing on details that aren’t necessary. Take a concert program for example. If you tell yourself you only have one hour to create the program, you spend that hour making sure you have the most important elements included in the program first. Any extra time will be spent on design details that make the program extra special. Or maybe because of the time constraint you came up with an even more streamlined way of creating concert programs. Take that same concert program creation, but with no time limit. Many people would spend the first hour just trying to come up with the perfect font and cover image, and likely it would be no more or less functional than any other concert program you have designed.

As I said, I learned a lot from my time at the Google Innovator Academy. There may be other nuggets of wisdom that come out over the next few weeks and months, but hopefully these provides you with similar food for thought as they have provided me. I would love to hear if any of these lessons resonate with you.

Curious about my Innovator project? It has to do with music teacher well-being! Check out my Graduation Pitch. I am sure this project will pivot and morph several times over the next few months, but regardless of where it goes, the process so far has been amazing!

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