Create a new game (or, Why strengths-based learning, Part 2)

When James Clear was in college he designed his own major, “biomechanics.” It was

“a combination of physics, chemistry, biology, and anatomy. I wasn’t smart enough to stand out among the top physics or biology majors, so I created my own game. And because it suited me—I was only taking the courses I was interested in—studying felt like less of a chore. It was also easier to avoid the trap of comparing myself to everyone else. After all, nobody else was taking the same combination of classes […].”

Clear is the author of Atomic Habits, a wonderful exploration of the neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy behind habit formation.

By designing his own major, Clear figured out how to escape The Standardization Covenant, in which students try to “win” at the game of school by doing the same thing that everyone else is doing… only better:

“A good player works hard to win the game that everyone else is playing. A great player creates a new game that favors their strengths and avoids their weaknesses.”

What might “creating new games” look like in a K12 setting?

Project-based learning experiences provide an entry point for students to discern their strengths and select a problem that matters to them. In Expeditionaries, for example, student teams decide what social impact challenge they want to address. They create their own game.

The world need not consist of zero sum games. When students know their distinctive strengths well enough to create their own games, they are in the process of becoming change agents for an optimistic future.


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Christian Talbot