In his new book, The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive, author and change expert Michael Fullan warns we should be very careful to follow the latest and greatest theory and to view these theories with a critical eye.
Fullan quotes from the book The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of Management. "Management theory...has four defects: it is constitutionally incapable of self-criticism; its terminology usually confuses rather than educates; it rarely rises above common sense; and it is faddish and bedeviled by contradictions."
Sort of reminds me of educational theory too. But, can education learn something from imitating business theory and models?
A great post by Tim at Intended Consequences blog titled The Business of Education is Business has really got me, and based on the comments, others thinking. Why is education imitating business? Does business have something to offer education?
Tim wrote, “So over the years, I have seen many examples of how education has tried very hard to imitate business models. How many pieces of business jargon have made their way into the culture of education?”
I am sure we can all relate to this. Statements like, “Get the right people on the bus” are now part of our daily conversation.
Tim continues…“What interests me here is that it seems that education is quick to jump onto the business bandwagon, but we have seen time and time again how these business models do not stand the test of time. Even “Good to Great” which highlighted 12 businesses that were examples of greatness and what made them “great” has major flaws. The businesses in that book, since it has been written, have almost universally all gone through major management changes, or have had to restructure due to business losses.” What ever happened to Circuit City?
This is where the differences between education become stark and clear.
Required to make fundamental internal changes in response to external factors, such as opportunities created between competition, innovation, ideas, global changes, technological changes, and talent levels, etc.
Education is not required to make fundamental internal changes in response to external factors.
Must market to attract customers and create awareness of their service or product.
Students come to us.
Customers’ desires and needs are ever changing, thus driving fundamental organizational changes as necessary.
Do not have to make fundamental organizational changes.
Every person in the organization can be held accountable.
Only management can be held accountable.
Paradigms, theories, methods, strategies, and organizational styles change to meet changes and needs in the external environment.
Educational model has not fundamentally changed in a century.
Faces an organizational cost for failure to adjust to external environments, failure to meet the needs of customers, and failure to innovate and capitalize on opportunities.
No cost to the organization.
Compete with other businesses globally.
Not in competition.
Better ideas are a source and force for organization change.
Better ideas are not a force for organizational change and are often prevented by regulations.
Guaranteed “customers”, employment, raises, and benefits.
Tim asks... “Should we, as educators, really be emulating the world where failure is not only an option, it is a way of life?”
It seems to me that business books are constantly in flux or changing because business itself is constantly in flux. This is a result to stay competitive and productive in an environment that can fundamentally change in a few decades, as evidenced by how the Internet has created whole new businesses, customers, methods, strategies and impacted nearly every facet of how business operates.
This, in turn, would create and ever changing list of books that are written to meet these ever changing environments.
Tim asks… “Should we, as educators, really be emulating the world where failure is not only an option, it is a way of life?”
We don't have to. Education, while educating people who will go on to work in places that will fundamentally change internally to meet external changes every few decades, does not itself have to undergo fundamental internal changes even in light of major external changes. The fundamentals of education have not changed in nearly a century.
Elementary, junior high, and high school are still very similar to how it was when I went to school, but business has seen the rise of the Internet, globalization, and many other external forces, and has had to adapt to them.
Education doesn’t have to change in response to failure, because the very definition of failure is subjective, subject to change, and varies from school to school, district to district, and state to state. Business has a bottom line. Make it and you stay in business for another day. Education has no such bottom line. The kids will keep coming, the schools will stay open, and teachers will keep teaching.
Satisfice: A virus that results from the combination of satisfying and sufficing. Known to frequently infect educators who are being asked to develop ideas and plans of action for schools and school districts.
It is a deadly virus that infects grade level, department, PLC, school leadership, and district decision and planning meetings. The virus does not harm the host educator, but rather kills potential creative innovative ideas that might arise from the host by creating an urge to hastily accept the first idea or decision that satisfies the members and suffices as an acceptable outcome.
Matthew May, author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why The Best Ideas Have Something missing explains the virus.
“In 1957, economics Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon published a book called Models of Man. In it, he examined the default human decision-making process in which we tend to go with the fist option that offers an acceptable payoff. Simon said that by nature we ‘satisfice’—his term, combining satisfy and suffice. In other words, we have a tendency to settle for ‘good enough,’ opting for whatever seems to expeditiously meet the minimum requirement needed to move us closer to achieving a given goal. We then stop looking for other ways, including the best way, to solve the problem. We rationalize that the optimal solution is too difficult, not worth the effort involved, or simply unnecessary.”
“We mistakenly pose the question “What should we do?” before asking “What is possible?” We want a solution, but we don’t have the patience to wait for the optimal one, favoring implementation over incubation. We throw some resources at the problem and move on, or tweak a previous solution and fit it to the current situation. We fail to look more holistically at the challenge. The result is we simply don’t see the best, most elegant solution.”
While the prognosis may seem grim, there is a cure, a miracle cure that can save thousands of educators from falling victim to satisfice.
Tim Hurson, author of one of my all time favorite books, Think Better: An Innovator's Guide To Productive Thinking calls this “The Miracle of the Third Third.”
“Studies have shown that in Osborn’s kind of good brainstorming, the first third of the session tends to produce mundane, every-one-has thought-of-them-before ideas.”
“Generally the second third of a good brainstorming session produces ideas that begin to stretch boundaries.”
“The third third is where the diamonds lie. These are the potential breakthrough ideas that often lead to innovative solutions. These are the unexpected connections. Whereas bad brainstorming tends to stop at the first reasonable idea and judge all others out of existence, good brainstorming encourages the generation of long lists of ideas by separating creative thinking and critical thinking.”
In other words, education has for too long been suffering from the satisfice virus and ignoring the cure. The cure is great ideas. Creative ideas. Innovative ideas. The satisfice virus has confused our brains into accepting the first idea that seems to move the agenda along. And all of education has paid the price.
“Bad brainstorming is binary; ideas are either good or bad. Good brainstorming is full of maybes. In bad brainstorming, we never get to the third third. In good brainstorming getting to the third third is the point”
Imagine the impact for students, teachers, parents, schools, school districts, and communities if more educators used “The Miracle of the Third Third” in their planning and decision making meetings to defeat the satisfice virus. You might not believe in miracles now, but just wait until you feel the healing effects of the third third in your next planning or decision-making meeting.
When Professional Learning Communities or Professional Networked Learning Collaboratives develop plans and ideas to deal with the multifaceted issues of student learning and achievement, having a clear definition and picture of what success looks like is key. Teams need to know what success looks like so they can recognize if they have achieved the results in student learning and achievement they set out to attain. If you don’t know your destination, how will you know if you have arrived? Developing an observable measure of success is key.
Do: What do you want your eventual solution to do? What must it achieve?
What outcome is the PLC or PNLC looking for? What do you want for the students? What should your students be able to do? The key here is to develop as many ideas as possible without judging them. Create a list of all the things your teams solution should achieve for the students. For example your list might include statements like: increase time on task, help student develop their own questions, include technology, or students should be able to explain the learning goals clearly.
Restrictions: What changes or impacts must you avoid?
What outcomes should not happen as a result of your plan? What must be prevented so as not to interfere with the student achievement? For example your list might include statements like: don’t confuse students, don’t ignore the high achieving students, don’t talk to much during the lesson, or don’t confuse students with too many strategies.
Investment: What resources are you willing to allocate? What are your “not-to-exceeds”?
What are the investments of time, materials, etc., that your PLC or PNLC is willing to commit to achieve your goal? Create a list of maximum investments that your PLC or PNLC, those you can’t exceed, that your team is wiling to put into the solution. The list might include things like: 30 minutes of instruction daily, one instructional aide per classroom, science materials for each pair of students, computer lab time, once weekly common assessments, etc.
Values: What values must you live by in achieving your solutions?
List the values of the school and the team that cannot be compromised in working toward the solution. What can you tolerate? What can you not tolerate? The list might includes things like: standards over curriculum, student need over teacher need, differentiation, must value teacher time, student engagement, etc.
Essential Outcomes: What are the nonnegotiable elements of success? What measurable targets must be met?
What are all the things that must happen for the PLC or the PNLC to consider the solution a success for students? What specific student achievement outcomes must be reached? What are the non-negotiable student results that must be achieved? Examples might include statement like: all students will master the standard, the student learning will be measurable through a common formative assessment, students will be given multiple opportunities to achieve, etc.
When PLCs or PNLCs use the DRIVE tool to create a clear picture and an observable criterion for defining success, they have a greater chance of ensuring that their solution will produce the desired result for student learning and teaching.
Do your assumptions about what education should be leave you with a lack of alternatives?
One of the reasons why many people, including myself, love books like Freakonomics, Super Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational, or The Economic Naturalist is that is takes our assumptions about the world around us and stands them on their head. When what we assumed about our world is discovered to be incorrect, we must develop alternatives in our thinking and our approach to the world around us.
We have created a model of education based on our assumptions about what education is. So let's consider our educational model.
As part of the book The Organization Of The Future, James O’ Toole contributed an essay titled “Free To Choose: How American Managers Can Create Globally Competitive Workplaces” In his essay he describes 3 “Emerging Employer Models.” He describes them as follows:
O’ Toole advocates for the High-Involvement Company as the model of the future.
According to James O’ Toole,
the most successful companies now and of the future will be those that
choose to address the deepest needs of their employees.
• Financial resources and security
• Meaningful work that offers the opportunity for human development
• Supportive social relationships
So, to which model would the current system of education belong?
Does the current education model meet the 3 deepest needs of it's employees?
Is education, as a governmental organization, so unique that none of the models described above apply? Is it a hybrid of one, two, or all of them?
It is our assumptions about what education is, where and when learning and teaching takes place, and how education, school districts, and school sites should be organized that control the current organizational face of education. We have built what we assumed is the best organization and model for delivery of instruction to a population.
What, however, if those
assumptions are wrong?
Have you ever considered the fact that the assumptions you make about what education is and what is should be are wrong?
As O’Toole puts it, “Remember,
it was once widely assumed that no airline could trust its employees to
decide how best to serve customers—until Southwest did. It one was
assumed that no company in the discount retail industry could succeed
while paying its employees decent salaries and offering them full
benefits—until Costco did. It was assumed that poorly educated
blue-collar workers in old-line manufacturing firms could not be taught
managerial accounting and then left to be self-managing—until SRC
Holdings did. Once the conventional wisdom was that employees must be
closely supervised and governed by rules—until W.L. Gore proved
otherwise. And it was assumed that the first thing a company must do in
a financial crisis is to lay off workers—until Xilinx discovered
Are there alternatives to our current model?
Does education have alternatives? Are
educational leaders willing to honestly explore them? Will teachers, union
leaders, parents, and politicians allow for different assumptions to be pursued? William A. Foster said, “Quality
is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention,
sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it
represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” Is what we have built the "wise choice of many alternatives", or is it simply what we have ended up with?
Archibald MacLeish once said, "What is freedom? Freedom is the right to choose: the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice." Wil education and those in it ever have the freedom to develop and create alternatives to the current model. Will we be free to pursue the The High-Involvement Company or the Global-Competitor Company, as described by O' Toole, or a hybrid of the two, or even something not yet discovered?
As O’ Toole says, “The statement ‘I have no alternative’ is one of the surest indicators of leadership failure.”
Educators are going to have to align their work with the needs of the school and district. Technology and research are growing and being created at amazing rates. Educational issues are growing in complexity and number. Much knowledge, expertise, data, and information is available outside of the team boundaries. We must deal with social changes, legal changes, technological changes, demographic changes, etc.