I was once again trying not to think about education or technology or 21st century learning skills by reading something not specifically education-related. But apparently my brain can’t help it at this point – everything seems to relate. So I was reading Fortune Magazine and several articles seemed to have a message for education in them.
Now, I always try to be careful when I relate something from the business world to the K-12 world, because in some ways they are very different and I sometimes see connections that aren't really there. So please bear with me as I think about this “out loud” and help myself think about this by blogging about it (and hopefully receiving some thoughtful comments that will help my thinking.) This is going to be rather long . . .
The first article (Breakaway Brands, p. 27-30, from 9-18-06 issue, but not online yet) contains this quote:
“Brand Theory now asks, How can we connect with the community in a really meaningful way?” It’s a big question. Armed with information about price and quality, today’s consumer is formidable. But, says Roehm, “If you’re willing to talk directly and deeply to your audience, you can become a strong brand without a lot of fanfare.”And later:
“Today it’s all about trust, community, and creating a dialogue with your customer that shares real knowledge,” says Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer for Landor.So, here’s my education version of the above:
Schools now ask, “How can we connect with the community in a really meaningful way?” It’s a really important question. Armed with information, today’s students are formidable. If we’re willing to talk directly and deeply to our students (and parents), we can connect with and engage our students, creating a community and a dialogue that shares and creates real knowledge for and by our students.A second article in the same issue (Dell In The Penalty Box, p. 70-78) is talking about Dell’s customer service woes and interviews Michael Dell:
We were doing some things that were just plain wrong. Last year we had parts of our company where we would say, “Hey, let’s handle the calls faster.” The problem is that if you handle the call faster, you solve 90% of the problem instead of 100%. So the guy calls back. And you’ve just pissed him off more, and you haven’t accomplished a damn thing.
This year we said we’re not going to measure how long we’re on the phone, we’re going to measure how well we did solving the problem. What happened in the second quarter was we had two million fewer calls than we had planned. The average hold time before we answered the call was cut by more than 50%, and the satisfaction rate went up quite dramatically – like seven or eight points – in just a couple of weeks.
The team was managing cost instead of managing service and quality. It’s totally the wrong answer. Stop managing for cost. Manage for a great experience.
Again, my education version:
We were doing some things that were just plain wrong. We had parts of the education system that said, “Hey, we need to be more efficient. Let’s target those students that are really close to partially proficient, or those really close to proficient, and bump them up a few points on the CSAP. Our school scores will go up.” The problem is, if you’re just trying to move some students from partially proficient to proficient, you’re valuing scores more than students. You’re also placing more value on one student moving a small amount to get to the cut score, than on moving all students a significant amount within a CSAP category.
This year, we’re not going to measure how close we are to the next cut score, we’re going to measure how well we’re meeting the needs of our students. We’re going to try to meet the needs of each student, not the needs of an accountability system. Our school was managing accountability instead of managing learning. It’s totally the wrong answer. Stop managing for accountability. Manage for a great learning experience.
Finally, a third article in a different issue (10-2-06) also caught my eye. It talks about managing change in the business world and how many companies’ business models are no longer viable – and that few business models last more than 4-5 years these days.
The digital revolution also makes business more chaotic by shifting information and power toward customers. And it changes products in every industry, new or old. Today’s cars are essentially computers on wheels. Some credit cards have chips in them. Some greeting cards have chips in them. Guess what some duck calls have in them? Now, what did the makers of any of those things know about computer chips? Nothing, yet their industries may be transformed by them, and more industries will be transformed every day as the costs of computing power, telecommunications, and data storage continue to plunge.And later:
Which brings us to the central issue. Companies aren’t really structures or machines or collections of assets. They’re groups of people. And while business seems to change at the speed of light, humans in groups haven’t changed much in 10,000 years. The most intractable problems of managing in chaos aren’t those of structuring the organization or identifying the right model for the future. They are the utterly human problems of getting people in groups to behave in new ways. Some of the reasons are familiar. All change creates winners and losers in an organization, and the caveman part of our brains is still wired to defend against loss above all. So people almost always resist change.
An even more profound problem in companies that make changes: saying goodbye. The late Peter Drucker identified the key management challenge of the 21st century as leading change, and he believed the most important policy for doing that was “to abandon yesterday.” By yesterday he meant whatever no longer works. Yet abandoning yesterday is excruciatingly difficult. Yesterday is comfortable, and the fact that it used to work inspires hope that it will again. By contrast, trying anything new will always produce problems. So companies nurture yesterday far too long. What’s especially insidious, Drucker observed, is that maintaining yesterday is difficult and time-consuming and “therefore always commits the institution’s scarcest and most valuable resources – and above all, its ablest people – to nonresults.” Which means they’re not available to create tomorrow.
… If technologies, products, jobs, and business models are all appearing and disappearing faster than ever, how could companies be any different? . . . With change happening more quickly, businesses that arise and disappear more quickly than they used to could be the best means of serving customers . . .If we’re in a truly revolutionary business age, it would be crazy to think that more radical change isn’t coming. The challenge: finding the will to embrace it.
The education version:
The digital revolution also makes education more chaotic by shifting information and power toward students. And it changes teaching and learning in every classroom. Today’s students are essentially digital natives, able to connect and converse in multiple mediums and access information in real time. Now, what do teachers (digital immigrants) know about this world? Not as much as they should, yet education is being transformed more and more every day as the costs of computing power, telecommunications, and data storage continue to plunge.
Which brings us to the central issue. Schools aren’t buildings or curriculum or standards. They’re groups of teachers and students. And the most intractable problem is getting those two groups of people to behave in new ways. Yesterday is comfortable, and the fact that it used to work inspires hope that it will again. So schools, teachers and students nurture yesterday for far too long. What’s especially insidious is that maintaining yesterday is difficult and time-consuming and commits our most valuable resources – our teachers and students – to the past. Which means they’re not available to create tomorrow.
If technologies, products, jobs, and business models are all appearing and disappearing faster than ever, how could schools be any different? In a time of rapid change, schools (and teachers and students) that invent and reinvent themselves often could be the best means of serving our students. If we’re truly in a revolutionary age (Did You Know?), it would be crazy to think that more radical change isn’t coming. The challenge: finding the will to embrace it.
As we’ve talked about in our staff development, I don’t believe we need to throw everything from “yesterday” away. But all signs are pointing to a radically different world, a world that is going to require us to prepare our students – or rather help them prepare themselves – differently. I don’t want to prepare them for yesterday, I want to help them create tomorrow.