Wednesday, March 8, 2017

At #SXSWEdu @TFerriss Espouses The Virtues of Discomfort. Then This Happened.

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Tim Ferriss told an audience of educators (and others who support them) that an effective learning strategy was causing discomfort and dissecting that. Ironically during his keynote at South by Southwest, Ferriss was put to the test. In case you don’t know him, Ferriss was named one of Fast Company's "Most Innovative Business People" and is the author of several books including The 4-Hour Workweek and his latest, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.   

Also ironic, in light of him presenting on International Women's Day, was his sparse attention to the accomplishments of women when it comes to learning. Ferriss shared stories of his wrestling coach who pushed students to work until they threw up and a navy seal who he thought would be good to bring into a classroom because students would definitely listen to an overbearing figure such as that. He also downplayed, and even criticized, a skill women are often praised for: multitasking. He thinks single-tasking is a super power. Tell that to a working mom who is successfully using the skill of multitasking to balance career and family.

Ferriss explained that the #1 skill students need today was to become comfortable with discomfort.

He shared his strategies for doing that.  Wearing crazy pants, funny collars, or helping toughen up students and make them more resilient in the face of criticism by using a marker to place a mark on their forehead. He also shared that most things don’t have irreversible, negative outcomes. least not for him.

Unlike Ferris, the marginalized groups served by many of the educators in the room, don’t need to dress up or mark up their foreheads to feel discomfort. They also know that for their students, many things have irreversible, negative outcomes.

The talk was in stark contrast to the opening keynote by Chris Emdin who highlighted issues like lack of diversity among teachers and the absence of educator and student (especially those who are not white) voice in conversations around what works best for schools and learning.

When it was time for Q&A, the undercurrent in the audience bubbled up and some uncomfortable questions were thrown Ferriss's way via, the online question app. What the audience witnessed was that, although Ferris had just espoused the virtues of discomfort, he quickly dodged those questions which were out of his comfort ignoring AND deleting them.

The audience reacted!  Here are some examples.

One audience member was so outraged he shouted some comments to the stage and when Tim’s talk was over, this person took to the stage with his thoughts.

A surprised audience looked on. As educators we’re often programmed not to make noise. To listen when spoken to, not speak out of line and reminded that we should not question authority.

Educator Danieta Morgan caught him on film. Here is what he had to say.

The person speaking was innovative educator Derek Breen. He asks that rather than focusing on him, people focus on important causes like #InternationalWomensDay #BeBoldForChange #IWD2017

Derek is an educator, author, and a founding member of the Instructional Design and Educational Media Association. He is an active member of the ScratchEd community and worked as a graphic designer on the StarLogo Nova project ( at MIT, as a teaching fellow in Instructional Design at Harvard Extension school and as a curriculum developer for

While on stage, Derek striped off his clothes down to a dress to signify his solidarity with women. He also men must be given more access to having the voice they deserve. To do this he said he would be silencing himself by shutting down his social media profiles on places like Facebook and Twitter.  Looks like he already did that on Facebook and Twitter.

It seems he has already started dissecting the discomfort he felt during his public display of ineptitude in addressing the topic of inequity. You can check that out at

Will the South by Southwest Edu conference address this? How about a fireside chat with Ferris and opening keynote Chris Emdin? Emdin's game. Though, not surprisingly, it seems Ferriss has gone radio silent in responding to the invitation.

You can watch Ferriss's discomfort below. Start at about 45:00.

You can see another teacher's take on this all here. Here's a sketchnote summary of the talk from @empowerMINTed
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