How 10X thinking drives our growth | 30 September, 2020 | 6 min read

Education has had a powerful impact on my life. My parents were refugees from Uganda to Canada; and growing up in Toronto, I was fortunate to have access to free, high-quality public education. I studied Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, a world-class public university. Most recently, I’ve worked at education technology (EdTech) startups with a social mission, from Piazza (helps students get unstuck) and MasterClass (access to the world’s best) to my current role with The Eruditus Group (access to high-quality education). I am inspired to see the impact technology can have on people all over the world. 

Technology has had a profound impact on the education space over the last decade - primarily through access. With technology, you can take things that have limited, local or offline access and open them up to a global audience.

Innovations in EdTech are a result of 10X thinking, a growth mindset, and companies that give their teams the freedom to experiment-fail-learn-repeat. How do you foster this kind of culture?

10X Thinking: Freedom to Fail 

Many organizations say they’re innovative and value innovation, but teams are punished for failure.

For example, if you had two choices for your next project which one would you choose?

Project 1: Improve output 1% with a 0% chance of failure

Project 2: Improve output 30% with a 67% chance of failure

Most people would opt for project 1 since it is guaranteed to be successful and it’s probably easier to do.

But the expected value of project 1 is only 1% vs. 10% for project 2.  Project 2 is 10X better than project 1!

Project 2 has a lower probability of success, therefore it is likely an initiative that the company hasn’t done before, and it is likely to be difficult to implement.  It may require passion, perseverance, and a growth mindset to attempt. But with a potential 10X better outcome, isn’t that worth it?  

Innovative thinking doesn’t happen in a vacuum — a company needs to create and foster a culture of innovation where innovative ideas and bold bets are encouraged — a Project 2 organization. And to do that, leaders and managers should be asking, how do we drive 10X thinking? How do we think from first principles? When you try to do exceptional things, it forces you to reexamine your assumptions as well as the way you work, and that’s when innovation happens. 

In addition to bold bets and ideas, the other key element to building a culture of innovation is the process to execute it.

The Innovator’s Process

At the core of innovation and first principles thinking is the scientific method. I learned the scientific method in elementary school and I still use it every day.

When we tackle a problem, we do the following steps:

  • What is our purpose? Anchor the team around one North Star metric
  • Brainstorm and research ideas with a diverse group of cross-functional team members
  • Prioritize among the ideas using a quantitative framework to define a hypothesis to test
  • Run & observe the experiment
  • Analyze and communicate the results
  • And repeat...

Course Preview Example

  • Purpose: Increase the number of students interested in a course
  • Ideation: Hundreds of ideas brainstormed
  • Hypothesis: Because we saw that our students value the course experience, but cannot access them until post-purchase, we expect that a course preview with video lessons will cause an x% increase in purchases
  • Prepare the experiment: Collaborate across our university partners, learning, technology, and analytics teams to build the course preview experience
  • Run the experiment: Run a statistically significant A/B test (typically this requires hundreds of thousands of unique visitors)
  • Analyze the results: Share our learnings cross-functionally and with our university partners
  • Apply the learnings to the next ideation phase to generate more hypotheses

As an EdTech company, on the surface it appears that we are simply driving innovation by changing the distribution channel (online) - but that’s just one aspect of what we do. Our goal is to reimagine the student experience. Take the above example of offering a Course Preview. Typically in education products and services, you pay, you take the course, and you see how it goes. But if you think about other products that consumers use every day, many offer a free trial where users can experience the product before purchasing. We applied this concept to our courses by creating a course preview. Prospective students can watch class videos, see assignments, get a real feel of the course, and determine if it’s right for them.

Course Preview was a big win for us, but we've had failures too...moments where we were left surprised by experiment results. 10X thinking doesn't automatically get the company to a 10X outcome, but it changes the conversation around the ideas we want to do. It requires you to come at the problem from first principles. In the coming months, we have many experiments scheduled and we’re excited to experiment-fail-learn-repeat. 

The Future

Our mission is to provide access to high-quality education. This year we will educate 100,000 students. Why can’t we educate 100 million students in 10 years? That number is 1,000X bigger than where we are today, but what’s stopping us?