Never Set Your Own Ceiling with Don Wettrick
Joe Mills: What are the unique experiences that drive business leaders to keep growing, and how can the lessons learn from those stories, enable others to do the same? I’m Joe Mills.
Reid Morris: And I’m Reid Morris.
Joe Mills: And together we’re investigating who it takes and the tools to use to build companies and culture.
Reid Morris: Then we’re sharing those stories with you.
Joe Mills: This is 1,000 Stories, an original show from Element Three.
Reid Morris: Okay. Who are we talking to next?
Joe Mills: Yeah. So as we start this ongoing season of the podcast, if you will, the next segment of what we’re doing, um, I mentioned in our, our wrap up of our investigation inside of the first season that I wanted to get outside into some new industries and new places with people who I feel like come from different motivations, different backgrounds, different like programming, if you will.
And one of the places we hadn’t touched on is, is education as a whole, which I feel like is just a very important category for. Our country and people in general. And I’m always fascinated by people who choose to be in education, understanding from people who chose on their own volition. I wanna go be a teacher, um, is is interesting to me.
And so we’re gonna have Don, we trick on, and Don is a teacher turned entrepreneur. He’s had a TED talk. Um, he’s had like Tim Ferris, Daniel Pink. People call into their classrooms for what they’re doing and just really has made an incredible impact with people in that way. And I just wanna talk to him.
What motivated you originally to get into teaching? What gap existed that you experienced in your education background that led you to be an entrepreneur? Honestly, another really hard path to go down. So what is it that you saw that needed to be solved that you were like, I just, I have to, I’m like, called to do it, so I’m interested to have that conversation with him and just to see what has pulled him in the direction that he’s gone.
Reid Morris: Yeah, and, and it’s really interesting, at least from an outside perspective and somebody that has even less context to you of, it feels very much like that. I saw a problem to be solved and created a business to solve that problem. Mm-hmm. . Right? And that’s in this case in education. Is one thing, and we’ve experienced that as well in previous conversations in a sort of a very different way of, I saw a problem in team health or in mindset or whatever that is.
Right. And yeah, that sort of entrepreneurial drive, true entrepreneurial drive will be really interesting. And yeah, I mean education at the end of the day, that played into the journeys of everybody that we’ve talked to. So single far every single person. Yeah. And very likely that it will play into the stories of everybody we talk to from here on out.
Yeah. That can maybe help. You know, with somebody who has experience in that arena of saying, Well, what are the common experiences that you saw in that space that maybe we could touch on and learn
Joe Mills: from? Yeah. And it’s not like we’re gonna go in there and be like, How do we solve education problems in the United States?
But just hearing from his perspective where things are falling apart and also understanding what is the programming that we’re getting inside of school that maybe is affecting us down the line. I’d just be curious to hear his perspective. So yeah, I think there’s a lot to. That will be really interesting and just a different style of conversation that we’ve had before.
Don Wettrick: to it.
Joe Mills: here’s me, I’m gonna be very transparent with you. Sure. I have said on more than five to 10 occasions that if some were to say, what is your least likely profession of all time, what is the last thing you would want to do? Teaching would be number one on my list.
Don Wettrick: I mean, I underst. But you never had me as a teacher.
This is true. I had some
Joe Mills: wonderful teachers. Yeah. But I was always like, I would never do what you
Don Wettrick: do. Right. I
Joe Mills: understand that. So, I’m, I’m just curious, like what made you wanna do it? Did you know from a like early age
Don Wettrick: to do it? Yeah. Without trying to get too emotional. So I wasn’t always in education. Um, matter of fact, my mom and dad paid for every cent of my education for the first degree.
And uh, in my first two years, deep downside, I just knew I just wanted to be my. Uh, he was a teacher, but my dad would get stopped and like, Hey, Mr. We, and they would tell my dad awesome things and then they’d look at me like, you’re so lucky. And so, you know, a lot sense of pride on that. I’d be really excited that my dad was cool and, and, and he shaped lives.
And so that was one of the reasons why, and my sister was in education and so like, the last thing I thought I was gonna do when I first went into college is be an education, but deep downside. I, I, I felt that draw. What’d you think you were gonna do? . So that’s, uh, I was in the public relations communication area and my first job was, I worked at a think tank, by the way.
I was the dumbest one there. So like, they hired me for the PR stuff. Not to actually think I liked it, it’s just that I didn’t feel the sense of purpose and, uh, yeah. And connection to people when I was just kind of pushing information. I wasn’t meeting people the way I wanted to and, um, and having deep, meaningful conversations.
So you’re, you’re in the
Joe Mills: think tank. Why didn’t you want to. Like, was there a path from where you were entry level into the cool kids table? Mm-hmm. probably. Why
Don Wettrick: didn’t you end up pursuing that? Um, again, I would go to bed at night and like, eh, and honestly, my boss then was like, really? He could tell it wasn’t for me.
I was doing a good job, but he could tell that my heart wasn’t in it and he’d get in these conversations and I think that was one of the moments. I was like flirting around with the idea that maybe I should go back and get the teaching license. And I didn’t know how to take it, but he is like, Yeah, you should.
And I’m like, Does this mean I’m fired? And actually he was really nice about it. And he’s like, Yeah, man. He is like, I can tell that’s where your heart is. He was amazing on, on how he treated me and how he encouraged me and all. And unfortunately, right, I’m talking right after I left, he passed away and I’m like, Oh, um, yeah.
I really appreciated his wisdom and e. So
Joe Mills: you go back to school, is it a full, more, like, is this a full degree or is
Don Wettrick: just licensing? I mean, because so many of the credit, it’s like I already had a degree and so many things already basically counted. Yeah. And plus, even then, as there is now, the, Hey man, we need teachers.
We can try to make this work for you as best as we can. Um, that they accepted a lot of my credit, so I, I did it probably a year. Does teaching
Joe Mills: need a rebrand? I just thought about that. Yes.
Don Wettrick: Absolutely. It’s, there’s always a shortage. Oh, let’s get into that. Yeah, let’s talk about it. Let’s get into
Joe Mills: that.
Where does, where’s the disconnect between people like me who are like, number one, worst job? I would not want
Don Wettrick: it. Yes, I got a story. Okay. For a guy just like you, hit me. Simple answer is what we’ve done with the innovation and open source learning class. This all really started, um, really with my approach to teaching.
I was also teaching television, broadcasting and documentary filmmaking. I’m trying to figure out as I go along, I, I didn’t have enough background in it, but like, let’s figure it out. So I’ve always had an open source learning mindset. We’d go to YouTube and watch tutorials, right? So like, you’re not gonna learn from me.
You’re gonna learn from people that are much smarter than me. I can at least help you set some metrics and I’ll learn along with you. But then one day I got this email that said, You’ve gotta watch this. And it was a Ted Talk from Daniel Pink. Mm, I love Daniel Pink. Same somebody. I didn’t know who he was then.
And I watched this and I watched it during my lunch period. And it’s on mastery, autonomy, and purpose. And so, With my a d D I wanted to show it to my students like then and there. So I said, Uh, what do you guys think? And I’m like, Yeah, sounds cool. Why are you showing this to me? I said, What if I gave you one period a week where you could work on the things you wanted to work on your 20% time?
And they’re like, How do I get an, a long story made short. My c and D students wanted to do it. My a and B students were completely perplexed on how they’d get an A and I mean this lovingly. They were like, How do, this is strange. It did well enough that I asked to have my own class and we eventually called it innovation and open source learning Innovation in the sense that I wanted you to be able to think for yourself.
I wanted you to identify things that you were either passionate about or things that absolutely pissed you off that you’d wanna change. I wanted you to take a look at the skill sets that were in high demand and if we weren’t teaching it at the school, this is your time, and then I want you to open source it cuz I’m probably not the expert, not even close to the.
So go, go find
Joe Mills: who’s best in the world. Is this who can show you how to do it? Yes. How? How did you build the curriculum for your class? Well,
Don Wettrick: so at that point I didn’t, I basically said, You write proposals and I accept them. There was a class description in the state catalog of Indiana that was so vague.
It was an English credit. It was a really vague description. I’m like, I’ll do that. That got me to the next. But
Joe Mills: because you have to have something that you can put on it that they can get towards their diploma at
Don Wettrick: that time. Yes. Essentially they would say, All right, I wanna work on this. And they wrote a proposal for every two weeks.
And even in that proposal, you told me what success looked like, and at the end of two weeks, I would reflect with you and you design your grade. And if you were totally bullshitting, we had to call you out. I’m like, Listen, dude, you said you were like, let, let’s like break down. Like I wanna learn how to write, you know, code.
And I’m like, All right, what? Like what modules do you need to hit? Cause they’d identify a code.org or something to take, or I wanna be able to build or have an event by this date. And then they would backward design everything. And so if they had an end date on where they thought they’d really have a showcase, You need to show progress every two weeks.
And if you weren’t making it, I’m like, Why? And if you said, I tried and I hate this, and I’m way over my head, and this isn’t for me, I have no problems with you quitting. I’m a huge fan of quitting. If you’ve tried your best and you’re like, This fundamentally sucks, and I thought it was gonna be awesome and it’s not, no worries.
Didn’t affect your grade. Fact, I don’t even care what your grade is. I care that you’re moving forward. Now there’s a couple kids that try to game the system and like always have like, Oh, I hate it every two weeks, and I call ’em out. But ultimately, like I wanted them to know you’re not in this class because you have to, You’re in this class cuz you want to.
And that’s the joy of having an elective. Mm-hmm. . But you’re here because you said that you were interested in these things. Have you said that you’re not interested in these things. Let’s pivot and find something else that you’re interested in. And so, It caught on and the students liked it. Um, mostly there’s a few that didn’t and we kind of branded it and put it out there.
And so one day we made some interesting connections. The students were reaching out to some All Stars. Cause when I say open source learning, they’re like, I should learn marketing from Seth Coen. Let’s call him. And they don’t have all the head
Joe Mills: trash we do around like, I can’t call Seth go
Don Wettrick: to, Well, they did it first, but then it start, we started getting some wins and after a while they’re like, Well then let’s just call Ninja and see what it’s like to be a streamer.
So we got invited out to, There was one professor at Stanford who was like a muse and a mentor, and he was like, You should come out and speak to my class. So we at Stanford, then we make a contact at Google and said, Can we pop in And Facebook who’s. Some of my students. Oh, amazing. They’re like, Hey man, we’re gonna be out there.
Let’s make it a go. And, and some of these were some of my contacts that I knew, like especially the guy from Facebook. But as we were touring Google, there was one guy that asked us a ton of questions and, and I forget how high up the food chain, but high enough that I could tell he had his own team and he was asking the students a bunch of these questions.
He’s like, This is incredible. But he goes, Okay, if my son had this class, I would be a teacher. I would. Google and be a teacher, and that’s when Bells went off of that. If we rethought or reconsidered what school is, I think a lot of people would be attracted to us. Here we are talking about incubators and startup spaces and accelerators.
We have an incubator in every freaking town. If you see it as a sit down, shut up and give me the answer that everybody knows. The answer is gonna be seven. Well, well then. No one’s understood. What do you think about the grading scale? Oh, that, see? Yeah. I will answer that by saying one of the greatest Disney movies of all time is Me through Robinson’s.
Okay. And it was about a boy inventor and every time he messed up, the family celebrated. Cuz when you fail, you know you’re closer to success. Absolutely. So when there’s that fine line of accepting failure and then there’s also that encouragement of, of course you’re not gonna get it right on the first.
Like if it’s challenging, there’s no way that you should get an A on your first attempt. Mm-hmm. , it’s not a challenge. So anyway.
Joe Mills: What, what do you see, You mentioned something really interesting where C and D students wanted to take the, take that time and the a and B students didn’t and the a b students were like, How do I get an A?
Yeah. Was there something different in the way that they approached class, the way they were raised at home and the way that, just like the influences in their life that you saw across
Don Wettrick: the. Yes, and that is it’s compliance. So the mindset of a great student traditionally is compliant. You tell me what you want to hear and I will make sure that you hear.
It. Doesn’t really matter what I think, it’s matter what you think. Cuz you are the teacher, the student that just wants to get a good grade is playing a game and we all know. You cram for something the night before, you’re not really learning it. You’re just memorizing it quick enough to turn around the next day and get an A or whatever.
So the reason why I say always an entrepreneurial mindset is that entrepreneurs love learning. They just don’t necessarily like compliance as much. They didn’t like school as much. We can point to a lot of entrepreneurs that either didn’t go to college or didn’t finish. They love their own journey. And so when you don’t, and then by the way, this is why I like the innovation and open source learning class.
There’s part of your day that you had to go to class and learn things that you need to know. Respect. I think that that’s awesome, but there’s should be a time in the day that you can do the things that you feel compelled to do and then someone still holds you accountable. Cause like anybody can, by the way, doing the things that you say you’re going to do is among the hardest things ever.
Accountability is. So it was my jurisdiction to say, Okay, let’s go through the unbelievable good skill set of goal setting and setting some metrics, which sometimes they even struggle with in my age. But like that in itself was good. And so when some of the students figured out that I, I’m not grading you harshly based on what you didn’t achieve, if there were some logical barriers there, showing them that, and at the same time I had some A and B students that are.
You tell me what you want me to do. Matter of fact, I had one girl in particular that she came up to me and was, it was close to being semester was over, and she said, Mr. We, I’m really concerned. And I said, Okay, why? She says, Um, You’re the only grade that’s not an A. I’m like, Okay, yeah. She says, I have a B plus.
And I said, Do you want an A? She says, Well, yeah. I go, Okay, I’ll change it. And she goes, Well, that makes me feel bad. And I’m like, She says, I just want to know what it takes to get an A. And I said, Well, there’s a bit of compliance in the sense that I’m asking you to write a proposal and you’re doing it, and you’re hitting mostly the things.
You’re not doing this cuz you want to, You’re doing these things out of like, tell me what to do. And I’m like, What do you want to do? And she was, I want to get into the best college possible and I need to make sure that I have an A. And I’m like, then an A, you shall have, however it would do my heart some good if you identified some of the things that you wanted to learn.
Now here’s where I respected where she was at. She goes, I am so overwhelmed with my academic load that honestly I thought this would be a fun class to take. And I understood that. Understood. The rest of her math and science classes were very difficult, but it also makes me sad in the sense that she had an opportunity to pick up some skills that she may have never had time to do anywhere else in any other class, and she was too bogged down.
Joe Mills: deeply resonate with the, tell me what you want and you will have it. Mindset I mentioned before we hopped on that I played God sports and athlete. Excel in that arena. Yeah. Tell me what you need from this position. I mean, I remember distinctively in college, I was not having the success that I had when I was younger.
Yeah. All the accolades you’d expect of a D one athlete growing up and then go to playing the bigger pond, and you just don’t get them as asked. So I’m asking, Well, what do you need from me to be the starter? What do you need from me to do this? And then I’ve noticed the exact same thing happen to me professionally where it’s like, what’s the playbook?
Look, work in a company. The playbook changes all the time, right? Like, yeah, we’ve been around for 18 years. Mm-hmm. , but we’re 40 people. Mm-hmm. , things change like that. We sell consulting services and so it’s dawned on me this year of like, there isn’t one, right. There is not one. And it, and if you think you find one, it will change eventually anyway.
So you have to be willing to live in the unknown. Yeah. And the uncertainty. and classically I had like the most traditional of upbringings, you know? Right. Middle class family. My mom was a teacher and um, school was very important. You did not bring home cs. My oldest sister never got anything but an A ever.
My middle sibling came out 72 college credits. My brother had crazy IQs. I was sort of like the black sheep coming with like a three seven out of high school. You know what I mean? Right. And I was very groomed to be like, I will get a grade. Get a grade. Right. And so I resonate with that a lot. And it’s also like not wrong, which I know you’re not saying, but it’s like how do we live in those two different structures where it’s like, do the things that you need to learn.
Yeah. And also develop the curiosity and the ability to like be okay with defining it for yourself and not having it laid out in front of you. Not responding to authority.
Don Wettrick: I’m thinking of the quote by Mike Tyson. Everybody has a good game plan until they get punched in the chin. I think sports are the greatest metaphor.
Because almost counterintuitively to a lot of things we see in society, there are no excuses. Either one or you lost and, and, and you sure as heck better not throw your teammates under the bus. Like I, I’m thinking of poor Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan could take the podium and go, um, you try to complete a pass when you have 1.2 seconds.
Have you seen my offensive line? Yeah. Like he could say that if he’d be very well paid and it’s supposed to be awesome, right? He, he could say that and then he would be trash because a leader accepts what’s. I see that all time in sports, but you gotta figure it out. So it’s great for some players, but everybody needs to work as a team.
And so sometimes a leader, an entrepreneur in this case goes, okay, like there is no game plan. And by the way, if you realize that that’s not for you, I’m cool with that. Like if you’re like, I don’t want to be in charge. I want to be told how to stay in my lane, and that’s. And then in some cases, that class was good for it.
That young lady, she got her a and then she decided not to renew the second semester and I wished her well. Awesome. She didn’t wanna be in that leadership position. It’s too stressful. I get it. I do. Um, but I, I think that that opportunity to branch out or not was, was stifling. I had a, a young. Who was not allowed to take the class because his mom was like, This class isn’t weighted.
You might end up number two. You might not be valedictorian. And so he wasn’t allowed to take it. And we did some, I’m not gonna brag. We did some cool things that year and he was upset because we got to travel and do things and he got a plaque, but I can’t blame the parent. That’s what we used to reward.
Now all of a sudden, like a lot of schools are moving away from ranking. And I understand arguments on both why it’s good and bad, but this holy grail of just being compliant is dying and it needs to die. There’s a little bit mixed in there for sure. If you’re just a raging asshole and you’re a disruption in class, okay, yeah, you’re great, but there’s got to be some point in the school day that it should be directed by the things that you feel compelled to.
Whether that’s out of passion or out of frustration, and then be able to look at the skill sets and say, How is this school preparing me for the future? Which ironically enough, is the most cliche thing you can say about school. What’s the school for to prepare kids for the future? What does the future look like?
It does not look like sitting down, shutting up and memorizing things. Yeah, I can look up anything on my phone, anything. There’s no need to memorize anything again, ever, but how you take information and how you react to it and how you lead. Is everything. And my favorite quote, and I say this so many times, I love Seth Godin.
He put in his book, Education can be boiled down to two things, solving interesting problems and the leadership to get it done. Dude, like when I first read it, I was like, Well, solving interesting problems, solving for X may not be interesting for everybody. If you’re a pure math person that’s interesting to you, then it’s interesting, but also the ramifications or what other things X can.
And then the leadership to get it done. We can come up with all these great ideas in school, and if it’s treated like school, it dies at school. What I’m wanting to do with Innovate within is, wait a second, I got an idea and then the leadership to go, I need at least two people to be on my team so I can execute this.
I got startup money for you. I got scholarships for you if you want to. But please execute on this idea you have. Otherwise, this great idea that might have happened underneath the school roof is gonna die there.
Joe Mills: I remember candidly, while I had some incredible experiences in school, particularly in high school, pretty much only in high school, but until I graduated and went to college, I didn’t care.
Yeah. Because I was like, two things were going on. One, I was like, I’m gonna play professional soccer. I don’t care. Number two, it doesn’t even matter. Like until I get my GPA in college and I come out with like my degrees know where I go and get a job, it’s gonna be like, So how did you do in high school?
So I was just like fighting the inner, like the intrinsic motivation of it. But when I gotta college, I was like, This matters now. Yeah. I’m gonna do it. And I loved it. We were just talking about yesterday, we were literally having this conversation in this office. And we had some people who were like, You could not pay me to go back to school and do another day of that.
And I was like, If you paid for me to go get a Master’s program, I’d layer it into my regular life. And if you paid for the masters and paid me a nominal salary, I’d do it for the rest of my life. Right. Because it felt at school like I was defining more of the path and what I wanted to learn. Yeah. But still, the thing that I learned in school that carried over the most was how to direct my own time.
Had nothing to do with the class. How do you think about like what should people be getting out of an education experience?
Don Wettrick: First of all, how to manage your time, how to set goals, how to work in a team hell. How to produce a podcast. Yeah, Like ironically. Now these are most of the things that I didn’t even tell you that that’s how our podcast was born.
We were having people call into the class that were iconic. Matter of fact, we had two hours with Tim Ferris and a couple of my kids turned around like, Are we recording this? Cause I want my friends to know that I asked Tim Ferris a. But like that was some of our skillset of like, who wants to help me produce this?
And a student did at first. That can be a part of your school day. Just the idea of learning how. Dictate your time and time management. Like, Hey, if you said that you want to do an event or start a business that does X, if you like, what is your date? Well, I would like to get this done before graduation.
Okay, let’s set a date of May 15th if you want to start on May 15th. Therefore, what do you need to do by April? What do you need to do by March? What? And then what do you need to do starting tomorrow? Mm-hmm. , that is a skill set that we, frankly, I don’t find too often. Mm-hmm. in. And yet, that’s really important.
Well, I mean, you’re given a
Joe Mills: syllabus as a student. My favorite class in school growing up was American History. Mm-hmm. and AP American History was probably the best school experience I ever had across the board. Shout out which
Don Wettrick: teacher Ashley Greeley. She is insanely
Joe Mills: amazing and it was very interactive.
It was very, Let’s challenge what you have been told by your parents. Let’s put different perspectives in your head. Like it’s a, you know, really crunchy subject. Yeah. Um, and that class had a lot of what you’re talking about where, and, and I still remember it very vividly and very strongly around like, we would have a debate and it was like, all right, debate is on March 10th and you’re gonna have to come prepared with all of this.
So what do we need to do today and what do we need to do next week? And what are the steps as a team? And like, I can now see it as you talk about it. Yeah. Like layering that in to teach us how to do. In a really impactful
Don Wettrick: way. Well, that’s, that’s Mike Tyson punching in the chin. Yeah. You had a syllabus and sometimes you’re like, I got hit and we should adapt.
Yeah. Great. Teachers adapt and, and, and man, and let me, Hmm. I don’t wanna load that because I do understand and respect the pressures on, especially if you work for a building principal that is very, We have to check these box. I will always admit I was in the right place at the right time. I had a superintendent that believed in this class.
I had a principal that believed this class and I had some leeway. There are unbelievably tons of pressure for teachers to cross off a lot of standards and make sure you master them. I understand why. That’s why we have to really sincerely take a look at what we’re doing and then either giving some teachers the grace of saying, What is I.
Like some of these standards, are they really that important? And, and if they are, let’s have a realistic look on, on how long you need, but not to keep beating this drum, even if we don’t want to change things drastically. Now, that is why this Trojan horse of some change is a class like this. A 45 minutes to an hour a day should be dedicated to what the student wants to acquire and the skills Now the ultimate problem.
If you go into a good classroom or a bad classroom, a middle classroom, if you say, What do you wanna work on? The number one answer is, I don’t know. Like, I’m shocked. Like, that’s not on their mind because they’re like, I’m not here for me, I’m here for my parents or the school system to get this degree.
They don’t see, I shouldn’t, I’m not trying to be too drastic. Yeah. But, or too straw man. But like, I’m.
Joe Mills: To be, I’m here because I’m told to be. Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s interesting, this ability to define what you want is really
Don Wettrick: hard. I’m 50 years old and I just figured it out three years ago.
Joe Mills: I mean, that was where I was gonna go next, was like, you’re in this class, you’re running a thing.
It’s exciting. Oh, and then, And then you got out of the classroom, dude, so what’s the what? And I’m miss
Don Wettrick: it. What happened? And I miss it so bad. Yeah. So that was the hard thing is that when I was instructing students, there was opportunities everywhere they would like find. Niches of areas that I’m like, Oh, I never thought that.
Like a kid just yesterday came up to me and said I was, I was visiting another school and he says, I’ve got an idea. He was like on those little scooters where you like, you did something to your Achilles and like you have one leg always, and you do the little push thing. He goes, I keep going through right shoes only I keep having to buy a pair of shoes is I would like to work with.
I shout out Shoe Carnival that it was in Evansville area. He’s like, I’m gonna see if like, Shoe Carnival will just have some castoff. And he says, I just wanna start shoes. Just selling him one. So a person that might be, um, what are they? Prosthetic on the left. I was gonna say a prosthetic or, and he says, And I, I just like people that are going through rehab or they have a prosthetic, I just want to be able to buy one.
Joe Mills: And not pay $120 for one for two Air Maxes when I need one. Right. And,
Don Wettrick: and I jokingly said, I’m like, as long as you call the business, it’s all right. . That’s a good name. Thank you. That’s a good name. And you can have what’s left. There’s always a minimum of a three. That’s the other three dad joke. Minimum.
We’ve gotten two under our well so far, but no. Uh, but like once you start hearing ideas everywhere and it’s the job of the class and like, like a lot of times on a Monday we’d have like this Socratic seminar, I’m like, What’d you come up? And all of a sudden you’re like, Wait, whoa, wait a second, dude. Then you were on the risk of wanting to do all the things.
Yes, and that’s my addiction. Yep. And my team will tell you that that’s enough. We can’t do this. Time stop. Someone has to be around you to say, No, thank you. God. I built the team that is starting to say no. So what, what got you
Joe Mills: out of the classroom and starting this?
Don Wettrick: Our friends, uh, innovate with, they had, uh, approached me, They were gonna do this thing, I’m not trying to be snarky, but they were like, Hey, we wanna do a youth shark tank for high school.
And I said, Well, I hate those. Normally I got a vague idea. I wanted event, an app that cures world hunger and cancer and stuff. And the thing is, normally judges cuz they like, this is our future and I’m so proud of you and. Somewhat I’ll give, give you everything
Joe Mills: you need for It’s a great idea. Do it. Yeah.
Don Wettrick: Yeah. And like, I applaud you. You’re awesome. I’m like, No, you don’t know how to build it. So I, I told them like, I would appreciate something a little bit more straightforward and that you reward something that’s, An mvp and so they’re like, Well help out. We think that your students will do well, Spoil alert they did, but I wasn’t a judge by the way, but he is like, So in year two, would you help out us a little bit more?
And so in year two I helped out, but then they said, um, if you really wanna get involved, I ended up calling it an organization. And then by year three they’re like, You really should just run. And so they passed it off. It was handed off from basically a state of Indiana kind of thing. It was the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
Mm-hmm. . And they’re like, You should run it. And so I had a decision to make, and this really nice man there at the idc, his name was David Roberts, and I was gonna try to make both work. And he kind of put it to me and he says, Listen, I’m not gonna tell you what to do, but he says, I think that you can either be a great teacher running an average organization, or you can be an average teacher running a great organization.
But I don’t think you can do both. And um, I was like, You’re right. So as hard as it was, I decided to leave the classroom. And then I got Delta a, a, a bag of goods that I wasn’t prepared for. I thought I was gonna transition to like, to this grandparent role that I’d be able to play with the kids and give ’em candy and not have to go to bed.
I thought I was gonna go to a lot of schools all over the state. Yeah. And then Covid happened right after I started this. Oh. So, um, That sucked. Yeah, so for the last two years I’ve been pining away wanting to visit school. So I’m just this year starting to get back into the classrooms. Is it like lifeblood for you?
Joe Mills: my gosh, yeah. You’ve got teachers at a school that runs the innovation class. And then you come in and bring this thing to them, or,
Don Wettrick: I’m trying to convince more principals and superintendents that they do need an innovation to open source learning class, which ironically enough, literally yesterday I visited a school that they came out and visited my class four years ago.
Wow. And they started an innovation class and they’re like, Hey, we want you to see what’s going on. So I talked to this school and then obviously talked to some of ’em in a, in a smaller way in that class. But I, I go out and I’m like, Hey, there’s a lot of opportu. Innovate within. We want you to see problems as opportunities.
And then here’s my hook. Here’s the one they love. I’m like, So instead of flashing up, Mark Cuban, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, I show a picture of Mr. Beast and the students lose it. None of the adults know who that guy is. Yeah, but he’s a big deal. He’s a. Big deal until yesterday for the first time. I’m like, Who knows?
Really knows his story. This girl was just emphatical, Come on, upstage. And the students go nuts and she gives the story of Mr. Beast and how he did these odd challenges and made some money and then immediately gave the money away. And so I’m like, he saw a problem and he did something. He saw it as an opportunity.
I’m, I’m, I’m not going to paraphrase, but some of the influencers are very selfish. And look at me, Look at me. He did things and said, Here’s my money. And I’m like, He saw a problem as an opportunity. He wanted to be an influencer and he is an influencer of Good. Now what would you do? I said, You as your generation is wonderful at finding problems, but going on social media and saying that things suck is not a solution.
That’s just awareness. It’s just gossiping basically. Right, right. So, A lot of times they resonate. And then my favorite part is when the speech is over, they’re like, I’ve got an idea. Can I speak to you real quick? That’s my drug. Mm. But, but like, I love it cuz like once they get their brain going, it’s always what’s important to them.
Yeah. This one student was a hunter and he had a thing, he had an idea for hunting safety, but also apparel and sales. Yeah. And I’m like, yeah. Niche things that they have thought about for a while, but they’ve never thought the fact that they could have school time to do it. Yeah, that’s, dude, that’s the game changer.
Some of our best applicants have come from engineering teachers that understand marketing, Dude. That’s a skill, dude. No,
Joe Mills: I say when you’re an, When you are an engineer. Yes. Who understands marketing. Yes. That is Elon Musk. Yes. That is Steve Jobs. Because a lot of marketers understand how to talk about things.
Yes. I’m one of these people. Yes. You know how to talk on how to present building. I do not know how to build the stuff. Need builders. Right. Absolutely. And a lot of builders don’t have the skill of talking, but when you can
Don Wettrick: put em together. Yeah. Yeah, I, I’m hoping I’m not, uh, infringing on anybody’s trademark, but that’s, Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying was a jobs in the ACT approach is that you have a wosniak background of building the thing and a Steve Jobs understanding of what people want and being able to communicate
Joe Mills: it well, and his, oh man.
Well, we could rabbit hole that, but his ability to like, tell people what they want when they didn’t know they wanted that it is, uh, yes. So hard to it’s future casting accurately. It’s so, I didn’t ask this and I meant to, So Dave Roberts said, You can be a great teacher with an average business or an average organization, or an average teacher with a great organization.
Can’t do both. Why? Why did you go organization side?
Don Wettrick: Um, they asked, We want you to do for the state what you did for one school. And that was the bigger calling. Again, I loved my calling at that school, but I wanted to work with 3000 students. Yep. Not 30. Yep. Kind of thing. Yep. It’s a bigger mission. Makes sense.
Joe Mills: So you’re just now starting to get back in. Is that like really how recent, how long did it take to get back in? I
Don Wettrick: mean, just this two year? Yeah, I mean, cuz obviously first year of Covid, we were completely locked down. Yep. And then the second year, like they weren’t allowing visitors and I understand why.
Mm-hmm. , So we made, we made some interesting pivots too on, we’d start doing a lot of more video components and sending out video messages. And heck, we even created a little mini course during the pandemic. I rounded up some really awesome. Like really awesome people of just like lessons. Hey, you’re stuck at home.
And you know, as people are trying to figure out distance learning, here’s some things on, you know, building your network by a guy that wrote a book on building your network and things of this nature. So it was a lot of fun. The school was really, really proud of the fact that this one young lady at Skin Southern Indiana and she had done some research that four were lynched on the public square 180 years ago.
And so she’s like, I wanna do a public memorial. That was part of her innovation class project and they work with city leaders and they work on this, not only a bench and memorial, but also this plaque, and that’s crosspollination with city leaders, mayor, and everything else. CBS on the Road with Steve Hartman is going to be doing a story on it.
I almost like didn’t want to cry in front of the students by their last three Eli Lilly winners. For scholarships, We’re out from the innovation, open source learning class. Yeah. So I mean, that’s total ego stroke. I’m apologizing right there, but I mean, like that, that’s a, that’s legacy stuff that I love with this.
Yeah. But so I told this young lady, Who I was talking to, and she was kind of like, Aw, shucking me. I’m like, No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You please need, like, if you don’t wanna humble, brag it. The people in your school want you to. You have to market what you do. I said, You almost have an obligation to inspire people your age, the action you took, the fact that you worked with your mayor, the fact that you worked with your city council.
The fact that you’re putting it out there, that is brave and that is awesome. So students need to know how to market themselves. There’s a,
Joe Mills: One of the things that’s coming outta this conversation is sort. Flipping the status quo on its head. Mm-hmm. continuously. Like you go to school to learn things that you’re told to learn, but there should be part of this that is you deciding what you should learn.
Yeah. And that is like, Oh, right. I should be designing the life that I want. I should be challenging myself with things that I feel compelled to solve for the amount of jobs that I never would’ve thought existed. And then I see them now, like just watching other people doing it. That is cool. Yeah, really cool eye opening.
And you’re like, how do you even start down that path? Like don’t even know. And it’s like, well, you identify something you want to go get into. And so that paradigm shift, like putting that on his head, follows something you want to do. But then also like what you just talked about, people get told like, Oh, don’t talk about yourself.
Don’t brag about yourself. It’s rude to do so, but if I never talk about it, how are more people going to do it?
Don Wettrick: Oh man, this is almost therapy now for me. , how do I say this? In the most loving. Again, I think teachers are wonderful. I taught for 21 years. There was a couple of times that because I wanted to do things differently and I wanted to brag about what my students were doing, it caused some friction.
And I’ve talked to a lot of those teachers all over the state that if you’re doing it differently, some of the traditionalists have a hard time with it. I, I, I don’t, I don’t wanna paint the picture that I’m being anti teacher. I’m not saying that at all. Yeah. In talking to a lot of these teachers across the state, now we have a cohort of them.
They’re like, It’s difficult because if, like, if you’re not calling the media and saying, You need to see what my student is doing, that might cause some resentment because when you get the TV coverage, Or better yet, not even you, when your students get the TV coverage and they’re like, and because of the innovation class, sometimes that causes resentment and, and I think some of it is born out of, Well, I wish I could have done that.
Well, you can, you, you can, you can have a 20% time in your calculus class, in your history class, in your engineering class. That’s when I’m showing. And wanting to do with innovate within wherever you’re at, whatever you teach, you can allow some time to say, Right. We’ve been working on a project here, and does anybody see any avenues of what you would want to pursue?
Simple as that. We’ve had a lot of projects come out of home EC classes. Mm-hmm. and like, man, a better spatula or an understanding of a, a household product or something this nature. That ability to see those problems as opportunities is what we’re going for. And I just want more educators to know it’s okay to give them that time.
And for the ones that are trying it, like give them some grace and, and just because they’re doing a little bit differently does not mean that they’re bad teachers. That is, they’re seeing things a little differently. How do you see
Joe Mills: that translating to a professional workplaces? Cause like Google has a thing where they give, I think they give all their employees like 20% of their time.
Yeah. Or something where they’re like, Work on whatever you want to. But like I think there’s still parameters, obviously, how would it apply to a professional workplace? Because I cannot think of something more important for the long term health of an organization than innovation. And most people will put the, we have an r and d department, we do innovation, we’re innovative.
Right? But like not, How would you think about implementing that?
Don Wettrick: Again, there’s a catch 22 in all this because I, I have some seen some school corporations like, we’re so innovative. We put our worksheets on canvas. I’m like, You’re, It’s still worksheets. Yeah. We have crossword puzzles for our 11th graders on Canvas.
Like that’s not innovative. Dude. The different medium, same thing. Right? And, and the other part of this is like, I, I think the state at one time was encouraging them to get like job experiences or micro internships to teachers. But the catch point too is the amount of time that teachers don’t. The vast majority of teachers are very dedicated to their craft, and like there’s no free time, or at least not a lot of it.
So in some ways, like, I don’t know man, like that’s, that’s turning the aircraft carrier 180 degrees. Like I want more teachers to have experiences out in the non-education world, but you, you’re gonna either gonna have to find some support and build that in. And ironically enough, I was just talking to somebody about.
When I started this, this was like the 20% model where you didn’t have to have your own class. And I’ve heard time and time and time again, teachers need to have their own 20% time. And again, this is where choice and compliance sometimes clash. If you gave a teacher the autonomy of saying, instead of doing the book study or the theme this year, I’m gonna allow you to do your own professional development.
I think that that isn’t the answer, but I think it’s part of the. Because in that, more teachers would go, Okay, so I’ve been again like this how Gmail and gps that Google and our such stuff, it was, it was the Google time that allowed them to go, Okay, this is what I’ve taken away. And I think that that could revive and recharge some of the batteries for people that feel overwhelmed.
But in that same time, I’m going back to they’re already so busy. Sometimes their headspace do it. I. Have time for my own professional development. Well, that is also,
Joe Mills: Oh man, the busy thing, like the calendar. Bragging is a real thing. I feel myself do it. Oh, look how many meetings I have today. I must be very important.
Yeah, I must be very valuable. But it’s like when you have no space to have ideas, no ideas come great. But there’s also this like societal pressure. Be busy, be hard working, be a hard charger. Um, I, I think hustle culture is kind of dying, thankfully, but like trying to hold both of those realities that like, use your time well leave space to not be busy.
Leave space to have thoughts and ideas and new experiences is like a, it’s a challenging thing to do. And I’ve heard the, the quote of like, intelligence is the ability to hold two contrasting thoughts at the same time. Heard that quote, which I like a
Don Wettrick: lot. It’s the Venn diagram of life, man. Yeah. Like that’s, that’s everybody.
I always think about, just balance in the sense that you should really be a dedicated father and spend time with your family. You should really feel a calling to your career. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere. Mm-hmm. . Um, and I agree like hustle culture needs to take a chill. Um, but at the same time, it’s good to have good work ethic.
Yeah. So, um,
Joe Mills: it’s that center way, but they don’t have to be one or the other. Like, that’s the thing. I think it’s really easy to be, like, it has to be this, so it cannot be. I just had a conversation with somebody about like the areas of my life where I say, or instead of, and yeah. And it’s just like understanding that you can be both a good parent, family centered person Yes.
And dedicated to your career is a, is a thing.
Don Wettrick: Um, sadly, I have a lot of opinions and insights from South Park that is a show and one brilliant show. Brilliant. I don’t really do celebrity culture. . But if I had 30 minutes with Matt and Trey just to talk to them, I’d be like, It’d be the Chris Farley show.
Remember that time in the episode? Like some, I
Joe Mills: mean the, the, the, the creativity that comes back is just
Don Wettrick: incredible. Yes. But he had one where Carman goes back in time and he meets our founding fathers. Oh, is this where
Joe Mills: if you don’t like America, you can get out that one?
Don Wettrick: Yes, yes, yes, yes. And he goes back in time, he lecture cues himself and he meets Ben Franklin.
And he eventually, Even our founding fathers were like, Listen, if we’re all pacifists, we’re gonna be walked over by Britain and everybody else. And if we’re all a bunch of war monger assholes, the world’s gonna see us as assholes and wanna come after us constantly. There’s gotta be, We have to have both.
Yeah. We have to have liberals and conservatives. Yeah. And that was the, that was the episode. And I’m like, He sounds so, so smart. So
Joe Mills: smart. Okay. Yeah. I, I love. Hold to that. We’ve come to it. That’s just,
Don Wettrick: Did we just come to a concluding point because of Carman? I think
Joe Mills: we might have. I know. I love that. That can be our Franklin, that can be our mascot.
Instead of the picture of, of Don on the thing we sent out. We’re putting Eric Carman in his seat. That’s what we’re gonna overlay.
Don Wettrick: Oh my. Oh, please don’t. Where are
Joe Mills: you? Um, where are you growing in now? What’s next in your world where you trying to, um, run down,
Don Wettrick: grow and delegate? Um, I’ve been both encouraged by my team and by my board to, I’m an idea generation factory, and some of these things that are on the hot plate are going to be amazing.
I have a small team that is growing and finding talent has been difficult, especially finding talent in this area. So yeah, growing a team and then delegating, and then me, ironically having these conversations more, It’s just I’m busy, I’m busy, I’m busy. Someday here soon we’re gonna be able to grow the team to at least 20 people and then we’ll be cooking.
Nice. Not there yet
Joe Mills: though. Well, if you let us know who you’re looking for, we’ll keep our eyeballs peeled. Well, Don, thanks for coming on, man. We loved it.
Don Wettrick: My pleasure. It’s a lot of fun.
Reid Morris: All right, Joe, so Don was on the show and is just a very energetic individual, right? He just brought you a great vibe to this space, and I feel like there’s just a ton to learn from somebody.
Has the journey that he does. So what were a few of the things that really stuck out to you in chatting with
Joe Mills: Don? I loved his enthusiasm about what he’s doing. It’s like, it’s almost like he can’t imagine doing something else. Yeah. Um, which was really cool. His first job out was inside of a think tank, and it was like everybody, it was so obvious that he should be a teacher, that even his first boss was like, Go get your license.
It’s, it’s so obvious what you should do. I love that instead of when he clearly got frustrated with the lack of the infrastructure that he wanted inside of the school, instead of being like, I have to go change my environment. He was like, Gonna make this happen. There’s sort of this like force of will that comes out from him that’s just like, it’s going to happen.
Reid Morris: than going and changing his in, finding a new environment, he said, I’m going to change the education environment. Exactly.
Joe Mills: Yeah. And has set up on a, you know, 21 year journey to do that. And, um, you know, I think it was, it also was very authentic to hear him talk about how important the classroom is to him.
Oh yeah. And you could. That him being able to be back in schools, you know, post Covid post, um, immediately following Covid has been like life giving and you can feel the passion for what he’s doing, which is, it’s just people love being around people who care about what they’re doing like that. Yeah. And
Reid Morris: I know that we both resonate with that.
It’s not the first time we’ve talked about it on the show. Right. But this idea, even going back to, you know, speaking with Will Davis around people who their purpose aligns with where they are and what they’re doing. You know, like Don is a founder in that sense, but it is just so clear that what he is setting out to do from like changing education and what he’s able to do as a part of that now being his business, the alignment there and the energy that that brings, just like we experience every day.
And many of the people that we have talked to on the show do. Like that has such an ability to accelerate what you’re doing when there’s that level of alignment between your purpose, what you’re trying to achieve, and your organizations that it’s just amazing to see. Yeah,
Joe Mills: and it’s interesting, it just came to my head as you were talking about it, Um, when it’s that authentic mm-hmm.
the kind of people who will, um, come into your orbit becomes really interesting. And so he knew the value of what they were doing and he reached out to Daniel. Confidently you instead of will you? He said, You should help my class. You should speak to my class. Not, Hey, will you like, give
Reid Morris: us a little
Joe Mills: bit of your time?
You’re this important. And Daniel Pink was like, Yes, I should, You’re right. And his, his students are like, We’re reaching out. Tim Ferris. We’re getting this person. Like once he started
Reid Morris: doing that, they started
Joe Mills: pushing. They started pushing and then like, and it expands your own limiting beliefs on who you can be in orbit with and then off air.
We talked with him a little bit about just other things he has going on and he, he said the words like, I cannot believe who’s coming into my space. I, it’s unfathomable, but I think what it is, is there’s this energy that just like radiates from you and people can feel it. And when you’re that authentically aligned with what you’re doing it, it’s very hard to not be
Reid Morris: interested.
Uh, to me there were two main pieces to take away from that. There’s. The impact of just putting yourself in certain places, right? Because he speaks to, well, if you know this person, then well, they know somebody else. And that sort of like referral process, right? You just putting yourselves in those spheres, you can’t help but get to know even more people along those lines.
And the other thing that I think is the most impactful for me, for us, for our, our listeners, is just the idea of not setting your own ceiling. Mm-hmm. , because he could very easily say, Well, I’ll never get him to speak to my classroom. Right. And I could never have these people come to an event, whatever that is.
Just like us, we could say, Well, we’ll never have a certain person on the podcast. Right. But the people who get those opportunities are the ones who don’t set that ceiling for themselves and just put it out there. Yep. Because people inherently do like helping and giving back and meeting new people and hearing stories.
So just doing. And just removing that barrier for yourself can be so empowering for, you know, like unlocking tons of opportunity in your world. Yep. Just
Joe Mills: ask. It’s one of the takeaways. Awesome. It was a great show. Loved it. 1,000 Stories is brought to you by Element Three with production by Share Your Genius.
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