Sally Ann Miller

You’re Not In School Anymore

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Were you ever told as a child to stop asking so many questions? Were you rewarded for staying quiet and doing your assigned work?

Whether you were an A-student or if you struggled in school, it’s likely that you learned that ‘good students’ study hard and do what they are told.

The problem with this system is that it kills curiosity. Our schools (and most corporations) teach us to follow rules and avoid failure. And this is a problem.

Successful entrepreneurs are creative – they come up with ideas that have value. They are also willing to execute on their ideas and risk failure.

You cannot build a business by pursuing external approval and fearing failure.

Listen to this week’s episode and discover how what you learned in school is preventing you from growing your business.

What you’ll learn on today’s episode:

  • The difference between mastery and performance goals.
  • Why schools kill creativity and grading is a scam.
  • How to use curiosity to stop fearing failure and start experimenting more.
  • The importance of recognizing that your worth is not determined by performance.

Featured on this episode:

TED Talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Episode 22: Creating Programs That Get Clients Results

Episode 19: The Problem With Today’s Success Culture

Get more information about Business Growth Lab here:


Welcome to Introverts Thriving in Business, the podcast for introverts who enjoy the comfort of her, hate the idea of selling, and want to create a thriving business on their terms. If you’re ready to go from overwhelmed and anxious, to feeling calm and accomplished in your business, then keep listening. I’m your host, Sally Miller.

Welcome back to the podcast. And today’s episode I’m calling: “You’re Not in School Anymore.” So, what do I mean by this? Well, school taught us many things. But there’s one thing, it definitely did not teach us that’s very relevant to this podcast. And it’s how to be an entrepreneur. And in fact, my discussion points today are really about how what school taught you and how school taught you to learn and behave is actually standing in your way as you try to build a business. I actually touched on this a little bit last week.

So last week’s podcast episode towards the end, I mentioned something called mastery and performance goals. So, to recap, a mastery goal…This is a term from psychology, by the way, it’s a term that’s discussed in goal setting and motivation, it’s actually been around for quite a while. And a mastery goal is the kind of goal which is driven by the desire to learn a skill or do a task well, versus a performance goal, which is something you might be a little more familiar with, which is driven by the desire to demonstrate competency relative to others.

So, it’s really what traditional schools do when they are awarding grades ABC. And the grading system is actually a relative grading system. So only X percent of kids are going to get an A and only y percent of kids are going to get a B, what you’re really doing with that kind of grading system is you’re being graded relative to everybody else. That’s what a performance goal is, how am I performing relative to everyone else? Versus a mastery goal is how am I improving and doing this task or in learning this skill?

And something that really interests me about the scientific research into mastery versus performance goals—and there’s a lot of research out there on this—is that individuals who are setting performance goals, and this is wherever, in business, in school, in life…When you set a performance goal, so it’s getting a certain grade or winning at something, becoming number one, you’re more likely to display anxiety, be disorganized—and remember, scientific research has come up with this—engage in superficial learning habits, I’ll come back to that more in a moment, have lower exam performance, believe it or not, avoid engaging actively in task requirements, because it tends to be more fear-based when you’re setting performance goals. And you’re more likely to view success as outperforming others. It’s all about comparison to other people surpassing standards or looking smart. Getting that acknowledgement is very external focused, it’s very much about extrinsic motivation, that external reward or recognition.

And then the contrast is, again, this is from research, individuals who said mastery goals are more likely to engage in effective learning strategies. So, what do we mean? I said I’d come back to this idea of effective learning strategies versus superficial ones versus less effective ones. Some examples are learning from your mistakes, learning and then changing your strategy when it doesn’t work. This should hopefully sound familiar to those of you who follow me or have listened or read any of my books. Because at the heart of what I teach in everything, whether it’s my book, in my group program, whether it’s on this podcast, is this idea of continuous improvement, iteration learning. I’m always talking about using your curiosity, running experiments in business, and then learning from results and looking for ways to improve.

Mastery goals support that kind of learning. So, they align very much with how I believe in building a business and how I teach and how I share and how I talk about this idea of being an entrepreneur. So, more things about individuals who set mastery goals; they’re more likely to seek help when necessary. I’m guessing, again, I haven’t read this in the research, I haven’t gone in that deep, but I’m guessing this is because you’re less fearful of judgment, external judgment. And basically, it’s more about intrinsic motivation. So, when you set mastery goals, you’re more intrinsically motivated. And this is the motivation that lasts. This is the kind of motivation you want to tap into, if you want to be in business in the long game, and business is a long game.

So that was mastery versus performance goals. And as you can tell, I’m a big supporter of setting mastery goals for yourself. But let’s talk about school. Anyone who went to traditional school, and also come back to schools today as well, because unfortunately, we made some changes in our schooling systems, but nowhere near enough. But certainly, if you went to school when I did back in the 80s, the 90s, even the early 2000s, you probably were setting performance goals and you were being extrinsically motivated. You were being rewarded for the A grade and you are going after the A grades.

That is a problem. And what the flip side of that, in short, here’s what I think the problem is, school stigmatizes failure. I’m going to say that again, school stigmatizes failure, it makes us fear failure, it labels failure as a bad thing. Those of you who went to school, and perhaps whether you were not the academic kind, you were not performing according to the normative standards in schools, if that was you, and you experienced the kind of schooling I did, you felt some kind of stigma, some kind of shame, you kind of felt some label, like, I’m just not smart, which is nonsense, by the way.

And on the flip side, listen, it doesn’t do any favors for those people who are academically inclined, those who do perform well under those particular standards, that particular sort of framework that school develops and encourages and rewards. So, I was the A student, I was top of my class, I was the scholarship kid, I did get a 4.0 GPA. But problem still is, for me, that school just programmed me to want to keep performing, to tie my worth to performance.

So, it doesn’t matter where you were on the scale. In fact, I think the kids in the middle probably came away least damaged by this, least affected by this, if you are somewhere in the middle, but if you were either end, some part of your identity was getting tied up with some kind of external performance, some kind of external reward. And we weren’t afraid to fail. We did not want to experience that shame, or that sinking feeling when we didn’t live up to these made-up standards.

Did you know that one of the top TED Talks of all time—it that might even be the number one TED Talk of all time was called, “Do schools kill creativity?” Because I am not the first person by our long way to talk about this. So, if you haven’t seen it, go watch the TED Talk. So, Ken Robinson did the TED Talk, it’s called, “Do schools kill creativity?” If you Google it, it will come up. It was actually recorded that back in 2006, believe it or not. Was that 16 years ago? At the time of me recording this podcast, it’s already had over 73 million views and 2.2 million likes. And I believe it’s either one of, or the top TED Talk of all time, which tells me a lot of people resonate with this message.

And I wanted to pull out some of the quotes from that talk. I do recommend you go listen to it. One of the things he says is—here’s how he describes creativity. So, Ken Robinson calls it, in that talk, “Creativity is having original ideas that have value.” What does that remind you of? That is what we do as entrepreneurs in business. Before we can even start a business, we need an idea. In fact, if you go way back to episode number one of this podcast and I teach my Business Growth Process, and I say there are three phases in business. And phase number one is coming up with your idea, phase number two is testing it, and phase number three is scaling.

So, let’s get back to coming up with an idea. That’s what we do in business. And in order to come up with an idea that is profitable, that’s going to make money, we need to come up with something original, something a little bit different. It can be a variation of something that’s been done before, but that has value. Well, Sir Ken Robinson is saying that’s the definition of creativity. And then this TED Talk, he explains to us how schools kill creativity.

All right, here’s another quote from him. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” You can always change it to: If you’re not prepared to fail or you’re not willing to fail, you’re never going to start a business. That’s another way of saying it. Because when you have this deep fear of failure that was kind of instilled into us in school through our schooling systems, then you’re going to avoid doing what you need to do, you’re going to avoid taking risks, you’re going to avoid putting something original out into the world, and seeing what happens, risking potential failure by doing that, and then learning from it.

This is why schools kill creativity, according to Sir Ken Robinson, and I agree with him. And here’s the thing, there’s one more quote, it’s not just schools you see where this happens. He also says in that TED Talk, and again, this is still true to a large extent. He says this, “We run our companies like this, we stigmatize failure.” There’s a word against stigmatized, okay, so even corporations, to a large degree, it feels unsafe to take risk.

I happen to be working with a financial organization at the moment who are moving from a more traditional banking style organization to become a fintech. In order to do that, they’re very much bringing in a brand-new culture where it’s safe to fail. This is called Agile Transformation. In fact, there are many terms. But anyone who’s got an IT background, like me is almost certainly familiar with this idea of agile, like agile projects. Well, there’s many reasons behind being agile. But one is this idea of iteration, which is very similar to what I talked about when I teach you about how to grow a business, and that you try something, you try it quickly, you put it out in the world quickly. And then you learn from the results. And then you iterate again, and you keep iterating but with continuous improvement.

But that kind of behavior is not possible, without a willingness, a safety to fail. But the culture in our schools and the culture in our corporations, the culture in the world we live in, for the most part…Listen, I know there’s exceptions, before you all write to me and say, but my school is not like that, my company is not like that. Whatever it is, of course, there are exceptions. I’m not the only one to point this out. But it’s still systemic, this idea of: here’s the standard, we must all work towards that standard. And there’s something kind of wrong with us if we don’t achieve that standard. That creates a culture where we don’t feel safe to experiment, we’re not willing to risk failure, and it all starts in our schools.

Now, I’ve mentioned that in some areas and some corners of the world, this is beginning to change. And if you’ve got kids like me, you might be wondering, okay, is my school like this or are things different? Sadly, I would say things have not changed that much since that TED Talk in 2006. In fact, when I was preparing for this podcast episode, I was doing some research, I was doing some research on the internet. I happen to be sitting outside on the sun lounger with my dog. Slight sidetrack, this is what we get to do, guys, when we have our own home businesses or online businesses. You can sit outside in the sun, doing research or working on your business.

I was doing some research and writing notes for this podcast episode. And my daughter came up, she’s 11 years old, and she asked me what I was doing. She overheard the TED Talk I was listening to, the talk on, “Do schools kill creativity?” and interested her. And I gave her a synopsis of what it’s about. And she said, “Oh, that’s just about every YouTube video about school.” Now, my daughter, she does—judge me if you want—both my kids have access to the internet and YouTube with certain controls around that. And, of course, she listens to different influences to me. But by the way, they’re pretty amazing. The Influencers she listens to she’s very interested in topics similar to me. And there are some amazing like early 20s, late teens, young, young people who are future leaders, and they give me hope, by the way, who are creating really quality content on the internet.

Anyway, my daughter who listens to some of these people online, and finds interesting and resonates with it, was like, “Yeah, of course mom, duh, just about every YouTube video that talks about school talks about this. They talk about grades, they talk about creativity, they talk about all of us been trying to fit into this standard, this norm.” She was well aware of it already. And I said, “Well, can you give me an example.” I thought, let’s dive into her world, which I love to do from time to time, it keeps me out of my…Like, I follow all these older people. Let’s face it, we’re the outgoing generations, we can lose touch. By tuning into my daughter’s world and the influence she listens to I see what the upcoming future leaders are already saying. And that those of us who are older, we need to have that humility to listen. These are the people coming up behind us. They have fresh new ideas and like it or not, they are the next leaders of the world.

And I said, “Look, can you give me some examples? I’d love to listen.” And just off the top of her head, she goes, “Oh, well look up, “Grading is a scam.” I think the title of the YouTube video was, “Grading is a Scam and Motivation is a Myth.” So, I googled it. And it was this young girl. She’s actually a professor, but I think she’s in her early 20s. She looks very young to me. And she’s got this hour-long video, I did not watch the entire thing. But the message was almost identical to Sir Ken Robinson’s message in 2006.

And this video that I watched, it opened with the story of a young girl and she calls her Maria. And Maria is this girl who’s full of curiosity, you know, when she’s young, little kid at home with their parents, she was always asking questions, she was endlessly fascinated with the world. This is something I understand because you know, I have a little one. Both my kids are young, but my youngest is only seven. I still remember how… I mean, he still is this way, just endlessly fascinated by the world.

But anyway, back to this story. And this YouTube video created by this young, young girl, or I should say, woman, but she’s in her early 20s, I would guess, Maria goes to school, and when she starts goes to school, she carries on doing what she does at home. She’s so curious. She keeps putting a hand up. She keeps asking the teachers questions. But guess what happens? She gets told that she asks too many questions. And she looks around and she sees, like, she’s always getting this judgment. She’s always been told to be quiet, to ask less questions. And she looks around and she notices that the quieter kids, they’re getting rewarded. They’re getting the top grades, they’re getting prizes. These days, you get prizes when you’re in elementary school for doing well in school or behaving. Well, they’re getting prizes, they’re getting little toys, for being quiet.

So over time, Maria, this bright curious girl learns to be silent. And that’s the story that they tell. And, of course, that aligns so well with this idea from Sir Ken Robinson of how schools can kill creativity. Here’s a quote from that video. This is towards the end of Maria’s story, she says about Maria, “And anything lower than an A was a sign of personal failure, and worthlessness that represented a whole nearly impossible to climb out of.” I don’t about you, but it horrifies me as a mother, that my kids could grow up thinking that…That sounds like so much despair that anything less than an A is a hole that’s nearly impossible to climb out of. Now, this is not a podcast about parenting. I think as parents that if your school does have these kind of grading systems, and we can counteract it at home, let’s just not reinforce the message that your worth as a kid is tied to your grades. But this isn’t about parenting, that’s just little aside about that. This is about us, about the messages we received when we were in school.

And subconsciously, we all for the most part, tied our worth to our “grade”. I’m putting grade in quotes. It’s like, how well we’re doing? Like in business, it’s how successful is our business? I’ll be honest, I kind of get crazy, a little bit annoyed when I see these online programs giving out rewards for reaching a certain money target. Because to me, now that I see this, I think that’s reinforcing this message.

Now, you can argue it both ways. In fact, I talked about this, so I won’t go into it again. But I talked about this on the episode, I think it was called “Success and Failure.” Apologies. I’m losing the name of the episode, but I’ll link to it in the show notes. But I talked about how today’s culture of success is potentially a problem, can create problems for us, it’s part of the same message, and it all started in school. So, what are your takeaways? Here they are. This really simple is first of all, have compassion when you notice this in yourself. If you do have a fear of failure. If you do have a fear of experimenting, always start by having compassion and understanding.

But learn to drop that fear, and then experiment. Be willing to experiment and run experiments in your business and learn from them. You do not need a gold star or an A grade or to make 100k in your business in your first year to be worthy. You’re already worthy, in your business, you’re just running a series of experiments to learn from and to improve, and have fun with this. And if the self-doubt ever comes up, then remind yourself, I’m not in school anymore. All right, everybody, that’s all I have for you today. See you next time.

If you’re ready to thrive in business, I want to invite you to join Business Growth Lab. This is my group program where I teach you the exact process I and my students have used to grow profitable businesses we love. When you join the lab, you get lifetime access to everything you need to grow a six-figure business, the training, expert coaching, accountability, and community. The approach we take is scientific. We don’t dabble in business, and we don’t waste time. You’ll create your business on a solid foundation, using proven methods. To join, go to We’ll see you inside.


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