Peter Halacsy is the Co-founder and technologyv leader of Prezi, and was a keynote speaker at Agile Australia 2016.
Peter’s latest mission is to build a new educational system of schools which are collaboratively designed and implemented by teachers. In this interview, Peter shares his thoughts on the purpose of Prezi, educational reform, how to define leadership, and how to change your mindset.
What do you see as the higher purpose or passion of Prezi?
We are empowering people to share ideas. Therefore, our target audience is anyone who wants to build a winning presentation so they can share their ideas more effectively and impactfully. However, our core market is sales and marketing professionals and our biggest challenge is helping people in large organisations to break free from slides, which have dominated the presentation landscape.
We believe presentations are interactive, two-way conversations between presenter and audience. Our interactive, zoomable canvas provides both presenters and their audience with a more unique, compelling and engaging experience. It is two-way engagement around a central idea or message. It is a balanced, interdependent relationship between the presenter and the audience, as the presenter cannot guide the presentation without feedback, and the audience cannot receive information without the presenter.
Conversational presenting speaks to our fundamental way of learning, which is to ask questions, to participate, and to arrive at our conclusions independently. If you need an example, think of a child’s nearly insatiable curiosity, and how many questions he or she needs to ask before feeling satisfied.
We may not put a woman on Mars, solve cancer or the conflicts in Syria. But we will provide the tools for the people who will make all this happen. Because in order for any of them to succeed, they need better ways of connecting dots. There are very few big challenges in this world that people can solve on their own. And the only way they will get there is to empower them to share their best ideas – that is what we are here for!
How does Prezi’s organisational structure reflect your belief that organisations should be designed parallel with product?
I feel confident that we all largely believe that the way a software product looks/ works/feels will be a reflection, at least in part, of the structure and practices of the organisation that creates it. Our product will reflect our organisation— in software, function (of product) frequently follows form (of organisation). This is the old Conway law extended to products and services.
That’s why we treat our organisation as a coproduct of Prezi. We should approach organisation design with the same Agile approach we have for the product.
For example, in every quarter we don’t just change priorities, focus, and initiatives based on the learnings of the previous cycle, but we always improve organisation, behaviours and practices in order to solve the new challenges.
We treat our organisation as a living organism continuously adapting to new challenges.
What led to the decision to create the Budapest school?
We wanted to create an educational environment in which children become naturally equipped with the mindset and skills needed to lead a happy life.
Yes, happiness is closely related to personal success – but who knows what the future holds, or what success will look like in 2040? What we do know is that critical thinking, creativity, and a curious mind are what make us future-adaptive in a competitive environment. We believe these are also the skills a school should foster. So we decided to design a school system where these skills, alongside collaboration, growth-mindset, and cooperation are at the forefront of the education curriculum.
Why do you believe educational reforms usually fail?
Educational systems are often 200-hundred year-old systems designed as big non-Agile factories where the teachers are the scarce resource. Societies (parents, voters, governments) do not trust teachers, nor schools, so we introduce quality control systems, usually from the top down.
The ultimate goal of schools today is to prepare for an exam needed to get into the next school (usually a written test on a specific subject); because there is a myth that good universities can make students successful in the job market.
The problem is that nobody really knows the future and we should not expect schools to produce adults ready to work on challenges that we do not even know exist. The top jobs in 2016 did not exist 10 years ago, and we still believe that national curricula can see the future need of the job market or society.
So we have a 200-year-old sub-system of society that often spends 5-10% of the resources of a nation. In this way, educational institutions are like huge, old, resilient corporations with 250,000 employees whose primary function is to make kids remember facts they do not need.
You have designed an educational environment to encourage a growth mindset. How might preexisting educational institutions adapt their current structures (some of which are very rigid and difficult to change) so as to transition from a fixed to a growth mindset?
To encourage people to develop a growth mindset, we have to create an emotionally safe environment. Learning happens fastest when the students trust the setting so much that they aren’t afraid to take risks, make mistakes, or do something dumb – and learn from it.
What do we say to children if they perform very well on a test? As the Stanford professor Carol Dweck showed, if we tell them that they “must be really good at math” or “talented” then we help them to develop a fixed mindset. Whenever we appreciate or criticise someone for who they are instead of what they are doing or have achieved, then we associate fixed features to a performance.
To impact school culture and enable any mindset to grow, we have to reach all facets of the community and its members.
I see the same thing in a business organisation: sometimes people (especially in high-tech) forget that what they know today is usually a result of a long learning process. It might be counterintuitive, but telling your team member how special, gifted, and talented they are might have a negative impact on the learning culture.
At Prezi we always emphasise that the challenges we set ourselves are far from straightforward, and as we strive to reach our goals we’re ready to leave our comfort zones and acquire new knowledge and skills.
- We do things we’ve never done before.
- We proactively learn new skills that we can apply in our jobs.
- We reward based on both past achievements and potential.
- We ask for help when we need it.
How do you define the learning process, and how might learning processes (in schools, in organisations, and in everyday life) be improved by changes to our mindset?
Peter Senge and his colleagues introduced the term “learning organisation” to describe a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. The Lean organisation concept focuses on the meaning of transformation: organisations should learn about customer value and focus its key processes to continuously increase it.
To be able to really transform/learn (and not just execute scrum processes), a growth mindset is really helpful. We believe the most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work, then we can achieve bigger transformation/learning.
Education does not really support the development of the growth mindset (because it treats everyone in the same way and doesn’t appreciate hard work but good grades). Organisations must.
How do you re-define leadership in a superAgile organisation?
I strongly believe everybody should be a leader: everyone should care about our environment, take responsibility, act even if social pressure suggests not to do so, collaborate, and so on. In modern organisations, leadership is a role everybody should play in different ways.
How can an individual or organisation attempt to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?
It’s easy: we should accept that we learn. It’s ok not to be perfect, as we say in Prezi, everything should be better never best.
Also, build an environment where you praise effort and improve traits and skills. This is easy to describe, but much harder to live. Even though I know it can develop a fixed mindset, sometimes I tell my daughter how cute she is.
What, to you, is essential for the creation of an ‘Agile country’?
Surprisingly, we should let politicians fail. We tend to expect that our political leaders are perfect people who know everything. Voters should accept it if a politician says: I do not know how to do this.
Are you looking forward to doing anything particular on your visit to Australia?
I would like to encourage engineers to join Prezi in Budapest. I’m not kidding. If somebody cares about visual communication and wants to solve hard challenges then Prezi is one of the best places to be.