Peanuts or School of Rock?

4 min readAug 9, 2021


Peanuts — School of Rock

I just enjoyed a wonderful conversation with someone I am proud to call a friend — Gair Maxwell. Gair helps companies build irresistible brands through his unique approach to storytelling. Yet, because he is generous to the core, he is always willing to stop down for a friendly (and always valuable) conversation. We were chatting about Peernovation and how the principles that define it are relatable because we have lived them our whole lives, especially in school. But as we dove into it more deeply, we discovered the vast connections inherent in our classroom experiences, the old workplace, and what we need to thrive today. So, we thought it would be fun to ask, “In your workplace, is the culture and dynamic between the employees and leadership more like Peanuts or School of Rock?


How many of you remember watching Charlie Brown and Linus sitting in perfect rows in their classroom and, when they weren’t falling asleep, listening to their teacher (Miss Othmar) say, “Wah Wa Wa Wah Wa Wa?” Miss Othmar was likely saying actual words, but we heard what the students heard — something far less discernible.

What made it memorable was that the animated setting resembled the real classrooms we attended every day — at least back in my day. Sure, our real teachers enunciated their words more clearly, but our takeaways weren’t much different. We sat in perfect rows with our hands folded on the desk. We raised our hand to ask a question, shielded test papers from one another, and stared at a clock that appeared to move so slowly, we just assumed it was broken. We even needed a hall pass to use the boy’s and girl’s room, where we sought to avoid the worst fate of all — running into the assistant principal in the hallway.

It was the teacher’s class, not our class. We were attendees who did as we were told and often called out for asking the “stupid question.” For example, when I was 10, a teacher said that life on other planets was impossible because of a lack of oxygen. I raised my hand and asked, “What if on other planets, there are kids who breathe nitrogen? The teacher and the students laughed me out of the building. It wasn’t until the 9th grade that I dared to ask another question in an open classroom. That said, I had a few great teachers in my life, and in each case, their approach to teaching was far more akin to School of Rock than Miss Othmar at James Street Elementary School.

School of Rock

Moving from the 1960’s TV series to the 2003 feature film School of Rock, we were introduced to Dewey Finn (Jack Black) and Horace Green Prep School. For those familiar with the movie, I invite you to suspend judgment about Finn’s posing as a substitute teacher to earn rent money. Instead, let’s focus on how he saw his students, who together formed a rock band — a perfect metaphor for education where each student’s unique gifts were celebrated. Finn gave his students a voice, and they bonded beautifully because they all had a role to play. Even those with no apparent musical talent contributed.

Moreover, they learned in an environment where they could make mistakes without fear of being ridiculed. In short, they enjoyed a learning environment that allowed them to shine. By the end of the film, even the most skeptical parents, while upset by the deceptive substitute teacher, couldn’t help but be impressed with the confidence and skills displayed by their sons and daughters. But, of course, the person who grew the most from the experience was Mr. Finn.

CEO Takeaways

We learn better when we learn together. Or, as Circles CEO Dan Hoffman always says, “We learn better in circles than in rows.”

Psychological Safety is Imperative. You can have the best employees or students, yet they will never flourish if they don’t feel psychologically safe. If they’re afraid to ask the stupid question, then rest assured they’ll be reluctant to contribute ideas, challenge the process, or question the leader (teacher).

Preparation Inspires Participation and Productivity. We can all relate to coming to class without completing a homework assignment that would be the basis for classroom discussion. Were you the first to raise your hand, or were you crouching in your seat, praying the teacher wouldn’t call on you?

If you love what you’re doing, you won’t be watching the clock. The kids from School of Rock showed up for practice every day, ready to play because they found joy in learning. It’s no different in business. Put your people in a position where they love what they do and where they can find joy in their work and with their team members.

As the leader, be a part of your team, not apart from it. Miss Othmar stood apart from her students, creating a culture of accountability where all the kids played defense every day. Mr. Finn was a part of the class, creating a healthy and joyous environment for all involved. When it came to the Battle of the Bands, they were all in it together. Win or lose; there was no blame or finger-pointing.


In addition to any takeaways gleaned from the difference between old school and new school and their connection to the workplace, consider your business and the memorable metaphors and stories you can create to paint a compelling picture for your stakeholders. Finally, with all due respect to consultants, the more we can avoid consultant speak, the more likely we are to use relatable examples that speak to the mind and connect with the heart. Thanks, Gair.