Why Unlocking Superpowers is the Key to Change

Unlocking superpowers is the key to building effective schools, communities, and workplaces.

Among the great and trying debates of our time—Scorsese vs. Spielberg, the permissibility of the NSA's cell phone surveillance program, the subject of Carly Simon's song, "You're So Vain"—the one that's had my wheels turning most of late is the Batman Question. There are those among us who would argue that Batman isn't actually a superhero: that he's really smart, and has amazing toys, but that he lacks the requisite mutant superpowers to be officially deemed a superhero.

I lean toward the more inclusive definition of superpowers: the unique and quirky mix of personality and talents brought to bear in response to an opportunity or need to breath-taking effect. Breath-taking here is an intentionally neutral modifier: one can use one's superpowers for good or evil, but the point is that there is a focus and extreme quality to them, even if they're not actually mutant.

Thinking about superpowers has raised a lot of good questions for us—questions about how we work, the nature and causes of our impact, and how we should focus our energies. And there’s a point that I think our summer blockbusters have missed—one that's obscured by our tendency to worship lone heroes. Because the most interesting thing about superpowers really isn’t in their definition, it's in their origin; it's in teasing apart our superpowers from the activities, experiences and environments that unlock them. At Playworks, we're not that interested in Superman; we're after more planet Kryptons.

This past spring, we announced findings from a study done on our work in schools that showed we had a statistically significant impact on reducing bullying, recovering instructional time, increasing vigorous physical activity among kids, and helping kids to feel safer at school. We were surprised at first. We never explicitly mention bullying, and we don't tell kids to pay attention in class. But we realized the explanation was simple, and it had everything to do with superpowers.

We don't bring about those changes ourselves. We come into a school and shift the environment at recess in a way that unlocks students' superpowers. It is the students who create the amazing and powerful changes. They are the superheroes.

It's worth noting that people often have ambivalent feelings about their own superpowers. They are often either grounded in that thing which makes them different, or by virtue of having a superpower, one feels kind of "other." Batman is a loner, after all. Creating an environment in which people feel safe in sharing different perspectives and experiences, in bringing their whole selves to the work, is critical to ensuring that complementary skills are brought to bear in addressing challenges, and that a broad range of understandings are shared in solving problems. And it is a fundamental environmental shift if we are to build institutions that can maximize the strengths of our diversity.

Shifting our thinking to unlocking superpowers as opposed to just celebrating them has huge implications, not just for building schools that work for kids, but in building effective workplaces and engaged communities for all of us. The desire to discover one's own superpowers and to have them appreciated is basic and at the root of our collective love of the Justice League.

Acknowledging this desire and prioritizing it represents a critical step in building a world in which every one of us—child, teacher, coach—can truly be a changemaker.

Join the GOOD community in Organizing an Office Recess—and to create your own game. Click here to say you'll DO it, and get tips on creating your own game from this toolkit.

Image via (cc) Flickr user ewen and donabel

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet