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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Waters

Donut Math and the Power of Alignment

Updated: Jan 29

When I asked my son, “What is 10 divided by 5?”, his answer was a tilted head and a skeptical arch of an eyebrow.

Despite his defiant “why should I care” stance, I knew (as all mothers know) that he was stalling, buying time to figure out the answer. The gears in his head spun without any purchase. Moments passed with no answer in sight. It was enough to make any parent despair. I mean, come on, this is easy math!

Then, my husband, (the brilliant man!), reframed the question. “If we bought ten donuts, and there are five people, how many —”


My husband didn’t even have to finish asking the question. My son answered instantly with absolute confidence and a beaming smile.

That is the power of alignment, applicable anywhere and in all our interactions.

My first Aha! moment:

Donut math aligned management’s desired outcomes (i.e., the ability to do division) with the employee’s priorities and values (donuts!) Alignment unlocked his motivation, his ability to quickly and effortlessly unleash and apply the knowledge he already possessed, and perhaps most importantly, immediately leveled-up his delight and engagement.

My second Aha! moment:

Leadership is about meeting people where they are, and guiding them to where you want them to go. Versatile leaders utilize more than just one stance and one style. Some team members are inspired by the company’s mission statement to transform the world. Others may be energized by the same company’s commitment to working-from-home. A leader can speak as just easily about the company’s mission as about the company’s benefits, and more importantly, knows when each topic has more leverage than the other in motivating and engaging team members to do their best work. If donuts work better than the language of pure math, use donuts.

One last note:

For all you ed-tech entrepreneurs out there, my son will be an eager beta-tester for any program built around donut math. Please reach out when you’ve figured out how to use donuts in calculus…

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