The digital landscape is changing (part one)

richardpicOne of Agile Australia 2016’s highly-rated talks will be encoring in Sydney this November at Agile Encore. As part of this compelling Agile afternoon, Richard Weissel (REA Group) will speak on why ‘The heart of Agile is in your local primary school’.

In this first part of two blogs, Richard will explore how the digital landscape is changing. Enjoy part one and stay tuned for part two!



“Some experts predict more than 40% of jobs in Australia may disappear over the next 10 to 15 years…. As jobs disappear, new ones are being created. What will those jobs of the future look like and are we educating our children to be ready for them?” (ABC Four Corners, July 4 2016)

At the REA office last week, in collaboration with startup ‘anda’ (, we embarked upon what is hoped to be the foundational piece in a longer running program of work addressing this question. In particular, how can Agile organisations, such as REA, better prepare the workforce of the future for what’s coming? Over three days last week, 20 students aged between 10 and 19 participated in a three day “hackathon for kids”.

What did they come up with you ask? Ok, let’s start there. Now, you know those incredibly complex movies that use ‘flash back’ and ‘flash forward’ extensively? Like Memento (2000)? I’ll be honest – they confuse me. I’ve watched Memento twice and I still don’t understand what’s going on. In an effort to confront my fears, I’ve decided to write the plot lines for exactly this type of film. All of it is true…except the future stuff. Although maybe that’s true too? Uh oh – I’m already confused. I ask of you but one thing – bear in mind, during each plot twist, the parallels with your Agile organisation (in the present).

Stay with me; there is a method to this madness. Let’s start at the end, with the day three showcases. Given the single question “what’s wrong with education?”, the students outlined their solutions for the following products or services:

  • Waddle: A non-threatening, anonymous by choice, support network for pregnant teenagers…including the fathers, who are often stereotyped as running away. The social space – ‘the pond’; teenagers can connect to ‘quacks’ via the app.
  • Teacher Communication: Improving information sharing between educators in order to improve student outcomes. “Why don’t they talk to each other? I have 5 assignments due on the same day and I have band practice, piano practice and all sorts of other stuff going on.”
  • My Standard : Addressing the pressure on students to conform to stereotypes of all sorts. For example: Asian kids are good at maths; I’m smart and popular, therefore I don’t have problems.
  • National Education Conversation Platform : The fundamental problem is with government and policy – teachers are doing what they must to comply with the education department, but the government are accountable to us, the people.
  • iLearn: “Why can’t we have more choice in what we learn?” Students should be able to craft their own education pathways.
  • BRICK – rebuild your education brick by brick. Complete certified courses either online or in person.

To say we were impressed is an enormous understatement. Not only were the presentations delivered with a finesse that belied their ages, but this was also the culmination of three days of collaborative work which, for me, underlined the importance of the foundation of the Agile manifesto: individuals and interactions.

The event produced so much worthy of a deep dive that it would be impossible to document it all at once, so I’ve had to be ruthless. In this blog post and in the next, I’m going to discuss a few aspects that, in my opinion, underpinned the success of the three days: trust and relationships; modelling; scaffolding; and feedback.

Flash back (cue fancy transition): Day 1, 9.30am


What you are seeing is 20 students, aged between 10 and 19 (OK – plus two blokes who clearly aren’t). Most of these students didn’t know anyone else on day one. They were deeply uncomfortable; this was crystal clear to anyone looking at the collective group – all it required was an awareness that this might be an issue (remember; parallels to new arrivals in your organisation). How did we address this? You will find no rocket science here; we simply talked to them. Not about work – about their lives and what interests them. Who are they?

This was shortly followed by an ice breaker activity. Now, an ice breaker, to a group of 20 kids (most of whom were teens), can very easily be “lame” (am I showing my age?), so the “fun fact about yourself” task, run by Milly Rowett, was extraordinarily effective in dropping the barriers. On the face of it, it is quite simple – “write down a fun fact about yourself; shuffle; choose a card; try and find that person” – but there are some important principles at play here.

It was non-threatening and non-judgmental. Nobody had to stand in front of a group; there was no hierarchy; it was just individuals interacting one on one, asking a very simple question – the one that was in their hand. The answer: “yes” or “no” – move on. This is significant, as there are many students who are reticent to express themselves openly in front of a new group (look at your workplace – yes, those people are there).

Modelling. Now I’m not talking Derek Zoolander style here (though that would’ve played well), but rather exhibiting behaviours that you would like in others. The REA/anda team were all part of Milly’s activity. This helps establish trust very early on. In addition to discovering that Temma (student) likes horses, I also discovered that Sasha (from anda) likes listening to hip hop music at full volume in her car and that Dean (REA) likes dressing up in mediaeval armour and fighting with swords. This opens the door to new avenues of conversation and banter in the workplace, enhancing interactions between individuals, and building relationships between colleagues.

Flash forward (don’t get dizzy now) : 10.30am day 2


What you are seeing here, in the education space, is an example of what is referred to as ‘scaffolding’; Zinzi Sullivan (sister of Sasha and co-founder of anda) is introducing the double diamond design principle, which allows us to design solutions, based on an early understanding of a problem, in a collaborative and flexible way (sound familiar my fellow agilists?). Scaffolding is exactly as the name suggests – providing supports around a learner (or employee) so that they are able to achieve outcomes that would otherwise have been beyond them. It is, however, essential to gradually remove those scaffolds, so that a person’s level of independent ability is challenged and as a result, raised. As an example, think of the way we provide scaffolding for a toddler learning to walk. We pad the corners of tables to provide a safe environment in which to try (and fail); we hold both hands, then one hand…then a few steps…a few more. The process is no different at the higher order levels of thinking, and as in this example, different individuals require slightly different supports. The lesson here: know your team members’ individual abilities and build upon them.

In the next exciting episode, you’ll find out how paper aeroplanes and connecting fruit to the internet were critical to the success of the hackathon…and I’ll show you how to energise a sleepy teenager. “Noooo”, I hear you cry – “I’m not waiting. I’ll just download the next episode”…sorry, but it hasn’t even aired in the US yet. You’ll just have to wait!

Stay tuned for part two of Richard’s blog on how ‘the digital landscape is changing’. Richard Weissel will be speaking at Agile Encore in Sydney on Thursday 10 November 2016. Early bird registration for Agile Encore ends on 30 September 2016.

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