One of the great lessons in leadership came from my high school US History teacher, Mr. Estep. Every quarter we had to research a famous historical figure and be prepared to talk about that person when their moment in history came. Mine was US President Thomas Jefferson.
When Jefferson’s day suddenly arrived, however, I was not at all prepared. I’d done zero research. I talked ― and it quickly became painfully clear that I had no idea what I was talking about. The class started laughing.
But rather than join in, Mr. Estep responded, “Well, in a sense Kyle’s right…” and he took my nonsense and turned it into something accurate and true. The students went silent.
It would have been so easy to humiliate me in front of the class. Instead he graciously came to my defense. To me it was a great lesson in how real leaders earn loyalty by supporting and protecting the people they’re meant to lead. He earned my trust 100% ― and I was never caught unprepared in his class again.
From leadership, to self-confidence, to the career path you should (or shouldn’t) follow, teachers teach us many lessons that are never on the syllabus.
In honor of UNESCO World Teachers’ Day I asked the folks at Moskito Design to tell me one lesson that they had learned. Here’s what they said.
It’s all about the clothes
As we say in Italian: Metterti sempre nei panni del tuo lettore ― always put yourself in your reader’s clothes (or shoes, as you say in English). With humility, respect, curiosity and tenacity, whether it’s writing instruction manuals for small electric goods or email subject lines, contract clauses or social network posts.
I learned that in 2001, during my Master in Web Content Management at the Ateneo Multimediale in Milano. Over 15 years have passed since that first unforgettable lesson from Alessandro Lucchini, and I’ve never stopped doing it.
Silvia, Copywriter & Content Manager
“This is not the career for you!”
I never had any real problem with school. I always liked to study ― and I always had the ability to choose what I studied in the smallest detail, from start to finish. Which meant I rarely found myself out of my element.
I think I was about in my second year in high school for the arts in a class on visual communication when one day the teacher gave us a poster to lay out. With only the slightest notion of Gestalt design principles, I tried to plan the layout. I had the best of intentions, but absolutely zero knowledge of the grid, typography and color theory. And ― I’m showing my age here ― I had to do everything by hand, the texts included. And the teacher’s final evaluation? “This is not the career for you!”
Almost 20 years later, I think that those words were among the most important I’ve ever heard. Because it’s those words ― combined with my natural obstinacy ― that helped me get to where I am today. What I learned was that there’s no such thing as “can’t”. If you want it badly enough, anything is possible.
Alice, Digital Graphic Designer
In my first year at London Metropolitan University, during the first lesson in Computer Hardware and Software Architectures, the professor Harry Benetatos explained to us that in our field every project could run into problems, at any moment, and for many different reasons. Just like in real life. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Shit happens.”
What he meant was: bad things happens but there’s always a solution. This admittedly strange lesson totally changed my way of seeing life, and made me a much happier person.
Listen to the voice of experience
Thanks to my professor of Graphic Design I learned to recognize and respect those that know more than me. She taught me to listen to the voice of experience and, specifically, that inside any team there’s a hierarchy. And you’ve got to respect it.
In the beginning it was really difficult to accept correction, advice and external criticism. But little by little I realized that advice and criticism given by the right people can only serve to help you improve.
Francesco, Digital Graphic Designer
One step at a time
I was in the second year in middle school. I didn’t have any trouble with most subjects ― the only thing I was really lacking was a bit of faith in myself. That year the teachers choose extra-curricular classes for us to do.
I could hardly believe that I ended up in the dance class. I absolutely did not want to have to take part in a recital. But in just a few months my Physical Education teacher completely transformed me. I didn’t become a ballerina, but I learned that by sharing her enthusiasm, giving me her support and believing in me, anything was possible. For me it was one of the most important lessons I ever learned.
When I think back to my years in school, the first thing I think of are those teachers who really put me to the test. And I mean that in the negative sense of the phrase: those who made me feel insecure, or those who simply weren’t good teachers. I think it must happen to most people. And it’s too bad, because we can often forget about those who actually taught us something positive.
Like my high school math teacher, who was competent and fair, and from whom I learned something that in reality is very simple: you get results from hard work and effort, not tricks and shortcuts. Luckily I figured this out just in time to not flunk Math!
Francesca, Graphic Digital Designer
Read the fine print
I’ll never forget that time when my Math teacher wanted to teach us the importance of not letting anything slip by. At the bottom of an in-class worksheet ― and in really small print ― he had written, “The answer to every one of the questions on this task is the letter A: if that’s your answer you’ll get 10/10.” Of course nobody read all the instructions on the worksheet, not to mention that tiny note at all the way the bottom. From that moment on I learned to read every document that passes through my hands, from the beginning to the end, without overlooking a single detail.
Appearances can be deceiving
In high school I had a Business Law teacher who was really knowledgable about the topic and good at teaching it but was also very strict. I remember her throwing a fit on those days when we were particularly badly behaved. My fourth year was difficult due to personal issues, but it was in that exact moment of difficulty that the teacher (who I never would have imagined as wanting to have any kind of deeper relationship with her students) gave me a book to take home with me. It was Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse.
Looking back on it years later I realized that this unexpected gesture taught me that the right people can reveal themselves in your moment of need ― and you never should judge a book by its cover.
The day it snowed in class
Some people love school. They love to show up everyday, they love to study, and years later they love to reminisce about it. But I’m not one of those people. In fact, I’d rather erase the whole of my school career in one go like Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With Elementary and Middle school behind me I suddenly found myself at the Science High School, which given my thus far nonexistent talents for science of course didn’t help me develop many positive feelings for school. So my favorite memory of school dates from about 45 A.D., that is, when I was in preschool.
My teacher, Miss Anna, was extraordinary, in the most literal sense of the word: I always thought that she was out of the ordinary in both the feelings toward her that she inspired in us and her natural capacity to infuse everything with magic.
She always managed to captivate us with all kinds of tricks, regardless of the fact that the school was in desperate need of funds. One fine November morning she bundled us up as if we were about to start off on a trip with Reinhold Messner. And as soon as we walked into the room, suprise! It was snowing. Inside. Those four walls that the day before had seen enough tissue paper cut up to strike envy into the heart of Art Attack were now covered in snow.
Fine, ok, it was just plain old polystyrene. But for us kids from Puglia where the sun shines even in December it was the most beautiful snow in the world.
And the lesson I learned from that day is to pour my passion into everything I do and make everything just a little bit extra-ordinary.
Jlenia, Digital Graphic Designer
The best way to eat an elephant
In my third year at high school I was struggling with Latin. It seemed like some giant beast, a mix of words and verbs without any meaning. Then one day someone told me, “You can’t eat an elephant in a single day. You’ve got to put it in the fridge and eat it bit by bit.” For Latin this was really useful, and starting from the basics I slowly began to get a grip on the verbs and conjugations. But it’s still great advice for today: with a bit of calm, a bit of organization and a lot of patience you can sort out any problem that arises.
The best lesson of all
I remember that time when I was still doing an internship and we were working against a really tight deadline to deliver a project for a competition. There was me, Evelina and two of our colleagues.
The Salone del Mobile was on at that time in Milan and our boss Antonino had left the office to attend one of the events. When he came back a few hours later ― by then late in the evening ― and found us still there he was speechless.
Today, even if years have passed and I find myself now in Antonino’s shoes, I love it when the people who work here go above and beyond to do something completely expected. That’s when I understand that I’ve succeeded in transmitting to them just how much I love this job, how to be humble, and the talent for finding answers before even we ask for them. It’s the best lesson of all, and thankfully I see it a lot here from my Moskitos.
Giulia Salvioni, CEO & Owner
So to all our teachers, past, present and future: Happy #WorldTeachersDay! And thanks for the lessons we’ll never forget.
At Moskito Design, we’re always learning.
[Image by Francesca Lodini. English adaptation: Kyle Dugan]