Experiments, Prototypes, and Quests: 3 Words To Guide My Work & Thinking in 2018

Since 2014, I set aside traditional resolutions for the New Year and instead experimented with an idea from Chris Brogan’s blog. As he explains in this 2013 article:

In an effort to tell bigger stories, I’ve found that the concept of three words allows me to think in more dimensions about what I want to do with my life and it lets me apply lots of tangible goals instead of what most people do when they focus on just a finite task. It’s a bit like turbo-charged goal planning.

While I set more tangible goals as well, the three word approach is a great way to learn and explore. It gives some focus but leaves ample room for exploration and serendipity as well. Here were my word choices from past years:

2013 – flourish, bless, befriend

2014 – fearless, awaken, Rogers (as in Mr. Rogers), and Epic Win (Yes, I broke the three word rule that year.)

2015 – author, impact, family

2016 – write, design, launch

2017 – curiosity, creation, compassion

There are obvious partners from one year to the next, and this year will be no different in that regard. Yet, the three words that I selected for this year reflect at least two priorities. First, as of January 1, I am stepping into an expanded role at my University as Vice Provost for Curriculum and Academic Innovation. Over the last several years, a growing amount of my time and energy as a University administrator focused upon academics, but I found myself increasingly focused on marketing and admission. Now I get to put even more of my time into supporting excellence and innovation in teaching and learning, participating in any number of current and emerging projects that I hope to share over the upcoming year. Second, I continue to have this strong entrepreneurial drive that I blend with my passion for academics and the intellectual life, and I’m excited to express that through writing and in some tangible discoveries and creations in 2018. It is with both of these in mind that I’ve selected the following three words to focus my work in 2018:

Experiments (with Actionable Insight)

For me, 2018 will be a year of experiments and experimentation. I plan to frame more of my work in terms of an experiment, document my methods and findings, and use these experiments to gain actionable insights. I’ve always wanted to invest a growing amount of my time into two great passions: 1) writing and thinking, and 2) research and development. The experiment and experimentation focus is one way for me to blend these in 2018. Some of this work will likely take place in my role at the University, while other aspects will be conducted as part of my LLC, Birdhouse Learning Labs.

Prototypes (and Products)

This is an area where I’ve not been satisfied with my work over the last years. I have a growing drive to turn more of my thinking, writing, and research into prototypes and products that others can test and use. Informed by past work as well as new experiments in 2018, I am going to devote myself to creating real prototypes that I can test, refine, and hopefully turn into useful and valued products. I include my writing projects in this category, even thought many do not think of books as prototypes or products, but I have no intention of sticking with that medium.

I’ve also not given up on the idea of a documentary about the past, present, and future of the letter grade system in education; but my past efforts in that area made it clear to me that I am wise to seek partners who can offer the needed expertise and resources to make that happen. I continue to believe that this can be a powerful way to help us slay the testing and grading dragons of contemporary education that are holding people hostage to outdated and unhelpful practices.

Quests (Challenges, and Competitions)

For me, the word “quest” conjures a medieval adventure with a compelling mission or purpose, and that is what I’m getting at with this third word. In the last five months, I found myself contacted by an unusually large number of search firms and recruiters, either asking me to apply or directly asking me to consider specific leadership positions. Most were executive level leadership positions in higher education and non-profits. I’m honored that people find my work valuable enough to reach out. These inquires and the impending change in my current University role promoted some internal struggles and reflections. Amid all of this, I found myself thinking about the role of titles and positions. As such, I woke up in the middle of the night recently with a single sentence repeating in mind. “You are called to quests and missions, not titles and positions.” Titles and positions are sometimes useful on a given quest or mission, but the title or position has not and will likely never be the goal or destination for me. I’m driven and inspired by missions that matter, by quests that promise to bring about something of value to me, those around me, and/or the world. That is a focus for me in 2018.

There is another side to this word, however. I’m also interested, perhaps as part the first two words, in experimenting with the design of quests, challenges, and competitions that strive to slay contemporary educational dragons…to take on some of the pressing challenges or pursue educational opportunities. I think of this as a small version (at least initially) of what they do at the X Prize. I want to create some of these quests/competitions in 2018. My goal is to launch at least one, and that likely requires finding the right partners to help. I have much to learn if I can going to make this a reality, but I’m excited to experiment with the idea over the next year.

Again, some of this might occur amid my University role, but others will most likely emerge within the auspices of Birdhouse Learning Labs.

Looking Forward to New Adventures in 2018

These are my three words for 2018: experiments, prototypes, and quests. I have a long list of hopeful themes and writing projects that I’ve shared elsewhere and will continue to write about as I make progress over this upcoming year. I am continually revisiting that list and re-prioritizing the ideas. Some writing will show up under a new publishing/product arm of Birdhouse Learning Labs, others will come through the great team at Concordia Publishing House, other writing will show up in various digital and paper publications, and still others will hopefully come from to-be-determined book publishing partners. My goal is to select the best option that reaches the largest number of people in a target audience while balancing it with time goals and financial realities. I’m also going to further explore the idea of getting an agent in 2018 for some of my writing, but I’m still trying to understand that world and decide if it is the best route forward. Regardless, look for my work to express itself in a variety of existing and new formats in 2018.

As always, you can expect me to share my thinking, learning, experiments, struggles, failures, successes, joys, insights, predictions, and suggestions here along the way. I welcome your ongoing participation and contributions along the way.

Posted in blog, education, goals

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.

One Reply to “Experiments, Prototypes, and Quests: 3 Words To Guide My Work & Thinking in 2018”

  1. David Black

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and continuing to be transparent about your learning. For me, I don’t think I can stick with three words, so I am going with five this year. I will be writing about them soon. They also overlap into a holistic approach to life and not just education.

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