Why Be Coachable?

This first post is mostly just for our team.

Welcome to the Being Coachable Substack, a new communication channel for Swivl.

The Being Coachable “media channel”, as we once referred to it jokingly, was first conceived as a way for us to reach beyond the education community. We already had a channel to reach educators—our company blog. But our new mission requires that we have broader discussions about the objective of education than this. We need to expand our channels of communication—to include building support with parents, policy makers, thought leaders and more. 

We didn’t, and honestly speaking, still don’t entirely know how to reach these new audiences. But we were and are willing to suspend judgment, chip away at it, and trust in our abilities to learn by doing.

Shifting to Substack—a newsletter service—from our halting first attempts on our Wordpress blog represents more than a change in hosting platform. It is a change in focus and voice too.

Six months into the work of refining our mission, building alignment internally and mapping it into our solutions—we are in a state of flux. We are spread between the old view of our business, the pandemic related work we were fortunate to be able to do, and the new ideas we want to pursue. Some amount of flux is to be expected during periods of change. But the time will come soon, where internal alignment will be critical to our plans. As Peter Thiel says, “a startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.” 

Recently, we realized our approach to this change needed adjustment. 

We realized that the way we were sharing our new directions internally wasn’t ideal. The mission story started out too complex, which didn’t help. Figuring out how to tell it, tell it simply, and tell it with optimism was harder than we expected. But also, we realized that the way we were sharing it was contributing to the challenge. Instead of sharing in digestible chunks, we shared it all at once in large think-pieces. And we failed to communicate on a regular basis why we were making changes as our thinking was progressing. The metacognitive narrative was getting lost.

So we decided to turn this communication effort into something new—a weekly-ish newsletter written for our team members, first and foremost. A way for us to share the metacognitive narrative more often, and deep dive into important topics for discussion, feedback and iterative improvements. 

This doesn’t mean that it is exclusively a private company communication channel.  We’ve chosen Substack for its ability to build an audience. We are explicitly approaching this in the spirit of building in the open, at least up to a point. Our hope in this change is that writing in a way that convinces us of what we’re doing might also be the best way to convince others. 

That said, this first post is mostly just for us. 

Why Be Coachable? 

Our first few posts on the previous instance of Being Coachable covered the topic of coachability. We had recently chosen “Be coachable” as our one and only core value as a company and as the namesake for this channel. We felt the need to imbue this term with the right meaning. 

Given that we’ve now blown away the original posts by switching hosting platforms, that means we’ll dwell on this topic one more time—with the addition of an explanation of why we think it is so important.  

Coachability, as it has been popularized through sports, is often thought of as a trait of someone that takes feedback well. Or more simplistically, the trait of taking direction well. But we find this definition to be overly reductive and not illustrative of its potential meaning.

To us, someone who is coachable has the right mix of mindsets. They are clear—perhaps even stubborn—on the direction they are heading, but flexible about how to get there. They can take feedback and engage with it, regardless of how the feedback is offered. They show initiative, seeking greater responsibility and clarity in all situations. They have humility and are quick to laugh, often leveraging humor to transform negative challenges into positive ones. And they have the self-control and resilience to overcome setbacks and stay focused. 

If maturity is about being able to prioritize values over emotions, then to us it follows that coachability is about embracing learning with emotional maturity. 

So why is this value so important to us?

We do believe that our business is faced with a choice at this moment in time. We could maintain the status quo—and start a slow slide into irrelevance.  Or, we can learn, adapt, and find new ways to be of relevance and service to educators moving forward. Being coachable as a team will help us do this.

But this is about about more than our own circumstances. 

For the last several years, our concerns have been growing over the impacts of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Recently, this has felt more like a fire alarm—in our minds, it can no longer be thought of as a distant problem. And despite the recent trends towards distrust in institutions (a trend directly related to the impacts of AI that we’ll cover in future posts), we believe there is an important role to be played by our system of education in response—and that we can help it take shape. 

The hardest part of the challenges with AI is that nobody is really qualified to address it, including ourselves. What is happening now is a great convergence between philosophy, physics, psychology, neuroscience, machine learning and yes, even education. Having deep expertise in all these fields as a human being is next to impossible. But machines don’t have this same limitation. Thus, it will require big, bold ideas at the intersection of these spaces to make a dent in the problem. 

And as we decided to set out to make a dent, being coachable was the only value we could imagine embodying that would help us do so. 

Our next post will step back to focus on defining what AI is, and the elements of it that are of pressing importance.