5 Reasons Why We Want Learning and Not “Right Answers”

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Often when we test, our purpose is to assess progress toward learning objectives.  But there’s an inherent problem with over-testing or focusing too much on test scores. Testing can de-motivate learners. If our purpose is to improve learning, then we need to pay close attention to how testing impacts the motivation to learn. 

What Is Our Focus When We Test? 


When we test, we are comparing the performance of a person to a fixed standard. So the focus is on perfection. Since perfection is subjective, we are judging how close each person comes to a subjective measure of where they “should” be. Judging can demotivate learners, since it takes individual learning and meaning out of the equation and compares everyone to a subjective standard. When we test, feedback comes in the forms of marks indicating “wrong answers.”


When we measure progress, improvement, skill development and learning (without focusing on test scores), the focus is on learning. Since learning is meaningful individually, the feedback can motivate the learner to continue learning.

“The desire to learn, to pursue the truth at all costs, cannot be taught. It can only be awakened by example, shown as a living reality. The greatest task of a teacher is to demonstrate, by her or his own example, the desirability and attraction, the unparalleled invigoration and joy, of being a lifetime learner and pursuer of truth.”

Vance G. Morgan, PH.D., Professor of Philosophy, Providence College,  in The Right Question, Providence College Magazine, Spring 2013

Which do we want – perfection or learning? Here are 5 reasons why I think we want learning and not “right answers:”

5 Reasons Why We Want Learning and Not “Right Answers”

  1. The stress from worrying about how someone will perform on a test can cause stress and interferes with learning. 
  2. “Perfection” is difficult to define – We could get a different answer from each person we asked. How will we be sure that the questions and answers represent current and relevant thinking across disciplines?
  3. There will always be a need for us to learn and adapt to new research and insights. The subjective measure of “perfection” on tests will need to change constantly to keep up – who revises their tests twice a month?
  4.  Testing can demotivate learners by counting “wrong” their higher level thinking that doesn’t fit into the “right choices.”
  5. We need to provide support and encouragement more than we judge and correct so that learning is enjoyable.

Is Testing “The Right Answer?”

Testing is a form of judgment, where we compare someone’s answers to the answers someone else came up with that were determined to be the “right” answers. This means that we may have to count the answer wrong if someone gives a more complex answer than the one we are looking for, or a more creative one, or a more current one incorporating newer research!

According to Harvard School of Education Professor Daniel Horetz, “there are limits to the meaning we can derive from test scores…The problem, in Koretz’s view, is that we tend to overestimate what tests can do. Tests are not designed to summarize all that students and schools can do.”

Because schools are evaluated based on test scores, there is a tendency to focus the test questions on the minimum level of knowledge required, rather than on a high standard of accomplishment.

Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Educational Reform at the University of Arkansas says that “Test driven, or force-fed, learning can not enrich and promote the traits necessary for life success.”

The Need For Positive Feedback 

Before you test, think about your purpose. Is it to judge someone against one interpretation of the “right” answer, or to determine whether someone has mastered complex content that includes many variables?  To support good judgment and decision making, we need to focus more time on good judgment and decision making and less time on narrowing things down to one right answer. Our ultimate goal is to ignite the love for learning, and to encourage learners to continue to stretch and grow. That will require lots of support and positive feedback (and minimal testing).

Also see: Testing, Teaching, Learning PBS.org

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©2019 Leading in Context LLC

“Dial it Back” (Over-Solving Problems Can Be Unethical)

Dial it Back

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Sometimes out of fear, convenience or profit, leaders use a solution that goes way beyond what is necessary to solve the problem or meet the need. There are broad ethical implications of over solving problems, and this post explores some of them.

When we choose a solution that is more extreme than necessary, we may cause negative unintended consequences. And the more extreme that solution is, the more extreme the consequences may be. See Overuse of Antibiotics: Antibiotic Hand Soap is Part of the Problem for a current example. In this example, the consumer may feel “safe” using antibacterial soap to kill germs. The problem is that over time, using antibiotic hand soap actually worsens the problem it is trying to resolve.

Possible Unintended Consequences of Over-Solving Problems

When we over-solve problems, we may be thinking only short-term. In the antibiotic hand soap example, when a customer washes her hands at the kitchen sink, the soap kills germs (short-term). Long-term, though, that choice can make the problem worse through  a “rebound effect,” and risk human health by putting a steady stream of antibiotics into our water supply.

Using Systems Thinking to Anticipate Unintended Consequences

It may sound like common sense to use the solution that causes the least harm and still solves the problem. But consider how different that choice seems when an extreme solution that would cause unintended consequences is 50 times more profitable.

Using systems thinking helps us think beyond profitability and helps us prevent the kind of narrow, short-term thinking that leads to unethical choices. When we think in systems, the variables of time, interdependence and connectedness are “built in.”

“Systems thinking can be thought of as a language for communicating about complexities and interdependencies.”

“An inherent assumption of the systems thinking worldview is that problems are internally generated—we often create our own “worst nightmares.”

Michael Goodman, Systems Thinking as a Language, Pegasus Systems Thinker online at appliedsystemsthinking.com

As leaders, we need to be mindful of the need to “dial it back” to the least harmful solution that solves the problem, and to choose sensible solutions based on much more than profitability.

These related posts illustrate why we need to use ethical thinking: 

5 Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem Solving      Precautionary Principle: Profiting With Care

10 Reasons to Embrace Complexity      Ethical Leadership Context

These websites provide free tools and articles for thinking through complex problems:

powerful-problem-solving.com        mindtools.com       pegasuscom.com        appliedsystemsthinking.com

Questions for Reflection:

1. Where in our work are we using a solution that is much more extreme than necessary?

2. What are the potential unintended consequences of that choice?

3. How can we dial it back to a solution that better fits the problem and minimizes unintended consequences?


For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


Ethical Voices on Service

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethics is fundamentally about thinking beyond ourselves, and service is an extension of that thinking. Service in leadership involves dedicating ourselves to the success of others.

Service“A servant leader does not consider himself above those he leads. Rather, he is primus inter pares from Latin, meaning ‘first among equals.’ That is, he sees those he leads as peers to teach and to learn from. He is willing to lead others in order to reach an agreed upon goal, but he doesn’t believe that being the leader makes him better than others.”

Servant Leadership: Accepting and Maintaining the Call to Service, Community Toolbox, The University of Kansas, ctb.ku.edu

Through serving others, we quickly remember that we are not the only one trying to get somewhere, and that we are not the only one with challenges, struggles and victories. When we serve, we focus on making the journey richer for others – and in doing that, we grow our leadership capability in important ways.

Ethical Voices on Service 

Here is a hand-picked collection of quotes that reveal how service, ethics and leadership are connected:

“Words only reveal half of your heart. Service defines the other half. Character is the combination of the two.”
― Shannon L. Alder

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”   ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself – to serve.”
― Wm. Paul Young

“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up.”  ―Jesse Jackson

“True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.”   ― Sheri L. Dew

“Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.”  – Leo Tolstoy

“Leaders in all realms and activities of life knew that the power they had come to hold existed because they were responsible to serve the many, thus power was position of service.”    ― Vanna Bonta

“Life is for service.”     ― Fred Rogers

“Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.”― Rachel Naomi Remen

I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent.  ― Thomas Edison

“The more you become aware of and respond to the needs of others, the richer your own life becomes.”   ― Mollie Marti

“Service is the measure of greatness; it always has been true; it is true today, and it always will be true, that he is greatest who does the most of good. Nearly all of our controversies and combats grow out of the fact that we are trying to get something from each other–there will be peace when our aim is to do something for each other. The human measure of a human life is its income; the divine measure of a life is its outgo, its overflow–its contribution to the welfare of all.”     William Jennings Bryan

Through Service to Ethical Leadership

It is through service to others that we grow as leaders and begin to understand the fullness of what ethical leadership includes. This understanding informs our choices as leaders. As James McGregor Burns said, “Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique.”

Without service to others, isn’t leadership just self-serving?


For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


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What Variables Impact How Freely We Extend Trust?

Variables of Trust

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The recent post Should Trust Be Freely Offered or Conditionally Earned? generated lively discussions in LinkedIn Groups about extending trust when we meet someone new. It was clear from reading the discussions that trust has many different dimensions.

Readers shared how they perceived trust – some saw it as an emotion, some saw it as a relationship, others described it as a mindset. They took the discussion beyond the original question and explored how we extend trust to others based on many variables.

Here is a partial list of the variables that impact how freely we extend trust, based on reader comments. What would you add?

Variables That Impact How Freely We Extend Trust

  1. Our Openness to Learning
  2. Our Past Experiences, Stereotypes and Misinformation (What We Believe is True)
  3. The Other Person’s Reliability and Morality Based on Our Experience With Them
  4. The Level of Our Relationship With the Other Person
  5. Our Perception (Glass Half Full or Half Empty) and Approach to Life
  6. Whether or Not We Share Values or Common Goals With the Other Person
  7. The Perceived Level of Risk in the Situation (and Our Level of Fear)
  8. Our Expectations About How Trustworthy the Person Will Be
  9. How Much the Other Person Has Extended Trust to Us
  10. How Clear the Communication is Between Us
  11. Our Perception of How Capable the Other Person Is
  12. Our Perception of the Other Person’s Motives
  13. The Other Person’s Behavior

In spite of how many variables readers mentioned that impact how freely we extend trust, the majority felt strongly that it is still good to freely extend trust. Below are some of the reasons they named for freely extending trust when we meet someone new.

Reasons Why We Should Extend Trust Freely 

  • Most people are honorable
  • Extending trust is leading by example, showing the other person the way we would like to be trusted
  • Our lives will be unhappy if we mistrust everyone
  • As we trust others, they are more likely to trust us back

Special thanks to the many readers who posted insightful comments in response to the original post. I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Someone who thinks the world is always cheating him is right. He is missing that wonderful feeling of trust in someone or something.” – Eric Hoffer


For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


100 Trends to Watch For 2013

100 Trends to Watch for 2013By Linda Fisher Thornton

100 Trends to Watch For 2013

As we head into 2013, the trend reports at the links below will give you a “business leader’s preview” of what to expect in sectors that range from consumer trends,  human resources, leadership and marketing to color, food, and technology. Enjoy!

10 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2013, Trendwatching.com

Our 10 Trends for 2013 in 2 Minutes, JWT Intelliegence, JWTIntelligence.com

7 Hot Trends in Social Media Marketing, Mashable.com

Four Trends for the Future of Leadership Development, CCL, LeadingEffectively.com

Social Media Marketing Trends Collection, Priit Kallas, Dreamgrow.com

Challenges Facing HR Over the Next Ten Years, Society for Human Resource Management, shrm.org

The New Consumer Agenda, 2013-2015, Peter Fisk, Slideshare.net

The Future of HR, Tom Haak, Scoop.it

Global Trends for 2013: A top 10 for business leaders, Thomas Malnight and Tracey Keys, TheEconomist.com

Top 10 Food Trends for 2013, Phil Lempert, SupermarketGuru.com

Hot Restaurant Menu Trends For 2013, Lisa Jennings, nrn.com

Gartners Top IT Predictions for 2011-2015, CIOInsight.com

Can You Spot These 13 Sustainability Trends For 2013?, Julie Urlaub, Taigacompany.com/Blog

November 2012 TrendBriefing: PRESUMERS, trendwatching.com

5 Digital Trends Shaping the Consumer Experience, Macala Wright, Mashable.com

Color Trends 2013, BenjaminMoore.com

Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Non-Government Experts, Federation of American Scientists, fas.org

Glimpse The Future of Work: Future Work Skills 2020, Apollo Research Institute, ApolloResearchInstitute.com

Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, US Director of National Intelligence, dni.gov

If you want even more information, visit the Leading in Context Strategic Leadership and Leadership Trends pages on Pinterest for trends related to leadership and leadership development.

“Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

Ethics is fundamentally about acting beyond our own self-interests. Can we be ethical without considering others and acting in ways that benefit them? Here are some interesting questions and quotes on the subject.

As you read, think about the business leader’s responsibility to act beyond the interests of the business and beyond personal gain.

Questions About Ethics, Ego and Acting Out of Concern for Others

1. Is ethics moving beyond the ego to show concern for others?

“While egoism may be a strong motivator of human behavior, ethics traditionally assumes that human beings are also capable of acting from a concern for others that is not derived from a concern for their own welfare.”

“The moral point of view goes beyond self-interest to a standpoint that takes everyone’s interests into account. Ethics, then, assumes that self interest is not the basis for all human behavior, although some philosophers, e.g., Hobbes, have tried to base ethics on self-interest. Their efforts, however, have not been widely accepted.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

2. Can we define ethics based on reason, when reason doesn’t involve others?

“Justice can’t be determined by examining a single case, since the advantage to society of a rule of justice depends on how it works in general under the circumstances in which it is introduced.”

“Thus the views of the moral rationalists on the role of reason in ethics, even if they can be made coherent, are false.”

David Hume, Stanford.edu, quoting from Hume’s autobiographical essay, “My Own Life”

3. If we serve others now, will we benefit long-term?

“Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.[1][2][3]   It has often been simply expressed by the belief that an individual, group, or even a commercial entity will “do well by doing good”.[4][5][6]”

“Enlightened self-interest also has implications for long-term benefits as opposed to short-term benefits to oneself.[7] When an individual pursues enlightened self-interest that person may sacrifice short-term interests to maximize long-term interests. This is a form of deferred gratification.”

Enlightened Self-Interest, Wikipedia.com

4. Are we at our best when we consider others?

“The motives which lie behind our behaviors are often mixed and complex. But studies such as these are among the challenges to the long held view that even at our best, we are only out for ourselves. Rather, at our best, we may only be out for others.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

5. What, then, is ethical behavior?

“In some ways, putting the greater good before your own can be thought of as the definition of ethical leadership, since it underlies so many of the other components.”“Ethical behavior reflects a value system that grows out of a coherent view of the world, based on equity, justice, the needs and rights of others as well as oneself, a sense of obligation to others and to the society, and the legitimate needs and standards of the society.”

The Community Toolbox, University of Kansas, ku.edu

What does all of this mean for leaders?

We are all responsible for acting beyond our own self-interests. In this age of ‘infotainment’ and information overload, we have to know ourselves, know our responsibility to others, and choose to act beyond self-interest and short-term gain.

522For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?
7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

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