Preparing Our Students For The Future

 

In a world fueled by unknowns, how do we prepare our students, our people and our organizations for the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) of a world that is changing and shifting in an accelerated and often exponential ways?

What kind of knowledge and learning will be necessary and needed to traverse the future?

What types of requisite skills and abilities will be deemed valuable for the knowledge economy, amidst exponential times?

What competencies, capacities and capabilities will prove to be relevant in a world driven by accelerated obsolescence?

And the answer is…

We don’t know.

We are neither soothsayers, oracles, psychics or fortune tellers.  We cannot predict the future, and for that matter, those who have tried have shown themselves to have a pretty poor track record for being correct.

However, that does not mean that we should not be much more attentive to and aware of the signals in the chaos.

Signals of opportunity, signals of change, signals of coming shifts.  

We need to not only be much more aware of our own “point of view” of the future, we should also be searching to determine the signals amidst the noise not to predict, but to better forecast the future.  Seeing the importance of those signals, especially in a world that is unfolding in much less linear and predictable ways, better allows us to forecast and prepare for what may come.

A world where gradually quickly turns into suddenly.

However, in the midst of today’s fake news and exponential changes, it is becoming more and more difficult to determine who and what to believe?  It is becoming much harder to see the signals for the noise.

For, are we facing an uncertain future where machines have taken the majority of our jobs?  Or are we just in the midst of another industrial (digital) revolution which will just require some time for adjustment?

On the one side, technologists profess staggering upheaval, even a possible dystopian future with the possibility of millions of jobs being lost to automation and artificial intelligence.  Whereas, economists ride the other side of the wave, saying that this time is not like any other major change or shift of the past where new jobs will be created over time and push us through this disruption positively.  While others profess less of a race against the machines and a race with the machines, as the automation and artificial intelligence will eventually take over work that is considered deadly, dirty, dangerous, and or rote and boring, while augmenting our capacity to do our work more efficiently and effectively.

But whatever side you fall towards, we still must say that it is difficult to believe that everything is going to be as it was, especially when several countries and a plethora of leaders across the world are expounding the need for a basic universal income (BUI) just to counter the current decoupling of productivity from employment as a strategy to avoid future economical collapse.

So while we can’t predict how this will play out in the future, the more aware we are, the more agile and adaptive we can become in forecasting and facing whatever changes which may spring from this current disruption.

The best thing we can do for our students, our people, and our organizations is to increase our awareness, search out those signals in the chaos, and look to better prepare ourselves for a much different future.

We can begin by looking at how the very idea of work is changing, and what impact will those changes have on education?  

Let’s begin with creating a greater awareness of the types of jobs that currently exist both now and in the very near future.  Consider some of these… 3D Platform Technical Evangelist, Data Scientist, Neuro-Implant Technicians, 3D Software Engineer-Scene Layers, Virtual Reality Experience Designer, Urban Farmers, just to name a few.  The greater awareness we have of the types of jobs that exist, the better able we are to prepare our students for the opportunities that lie beyond graduation and our academic walls as they look to pursue their passions and success for the future.

And it’s not just job titles that are changing, but the skills and abilities required by some knowledge economy organizations, which includes but not limited to: knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, C++, Python, 3D tools such as Maya, Revit, AutoCAD, experience with SCRUM, as well as knowledge of Agile development methodologies, are just a few of the skills being requested in entry level job posting by those knowledge economy organizations.

While the Institute For the Future shares a variety of other skills for the future that they see as being important, which would include: sense making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competencies, computational thinking, new media literacy, transdisciplinarity, design mindset, cognitive load management, and virtual collaboration.

And it doesn’t stop there, alongside those skills, consider these capacities and competencies requested on entry level positions from such organizations as ESRI, CA Technologies or READYTALK: “ability to work in a fast-paced team environment that sparks ingenuity and encourages innovative ideas,” “work within agile processes for short cycle, fast-paced delivery,” “take on complex goals that push the boundary of the possible,” “solve and articulate complex problems through application design, development, and exemplary user experiences,” “support continuous learning and continuous team improvement,” “coach other leaders and managers on the role of a servant leadership within the Agile organization,” “strong interpersonal, written, and oral communication skills,” as well as the “ability to effectively prioritize and execute tasks in a high-pressure environment.”

So as we talk of lesson design, room design, even system design in education, the previous statements of workforce requirements inform us (signals in the chaos), that we are going to have to begin to have a much deeper discussion around environment design.  Today’s work environments are requiring much different skills-sets, capacities and competencies than what we tend to engage and create in our classrooms and schools.

So we must begin to ask ourselves, do our classrooms and schools prepare students for that type of environment?

While awareness doesn’t change everything we do, just as it doesn’t allow us to predict the future…it does allow us to not only forecast what is to come in a much more adept manner, it allows us to better determine the skills, capacities and competencies, as well as environments necessary and needed to better prepare our students, our people and our organizations for this digital disruption and the future.

In the end, it begins by understanding what does change, what doesn’t change, what remains, and what transforms.  This is not an either/or proposition, it is a matter of embracing AND.

So in closing, consider these words from study by The Economist Intelligence Unit (supported by Google) on Preparing Students for the Future…

“It is no longer sufficient-if it ever was-that teachers are well versed in their subject.  They must recognize that the skills a student acquires through learning are as important, if not more so, than the content, and be able to incorporate opportunities for the development of problem solving, collaborative, creative and communication skills into their teaching.  These skills cannot be taught in isolation but must be present across the curriculum, embedded in the fabric of how teachers teach.”

Positive Deviance: Scaling Internal Innovation

 

“The faraway stick does not kill the snake.”  “Positive deviants in your midst are the stick close at hand – readily accessible and successfully employed by people just like us.  No need for outside experts or best-practice remedies that may work over there but won’t work here.  No need for deep systemic analysis or a resource-intensive assault on root causes.  Just discover the closest stick and use it.”  -via Pascale, Sternin and Sternin The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems

We have this strange fascination and fixation with and on external expertise…

Going to have a conference?  We need an outside speaker.

Have a tough problem to solve?  We need an outside consultant.

We continually act in our organizations, institutions and systems as if the best thinking, ideas and answers lay outside of our walls.  We work on this unconscious belief and bias that to gain the best knowledge, we have to move beyond our own organizational walls.  Even when those external “experts” have only a very veneer understanding of the context, obstacles and barriers for the adaptive challenges that your organization, institution or system is facing and the problems they are trying solve.

Whereas, Richard Pascale, author of Surfing the Edge of Chaos and Positive Deviance would believe that we need to act and respond much differently, as organizations, institutions and systems.  We need to taken an entirely different approach if we are scale up our creative and innovative efforts to attending to the adaptive challenges we face.  Pascale would declare, “Exploit positive deviance.  Don’t begin with imported ideas from the outside or even from above.  Try to find what’s cooking within the system.”  

As Pascale shares in a Fast Company article on positive deviance, “Real change begins from the inside…”

So, if what Pascale says is true, and that this concept of positive deviance is a better path to scaling the creativity and innovation that already exists in our organizations, institutions, and organizations, then it just may be important for us to determine what positive deviance exactly is?

In his work, The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems, Pascale communicates that “Positive deviance is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problems that confounds others.  This individual is an outlier in the statistical sense – an exception, someone whose outcome deviates in a positive way from the norm.  In most cases this person does not know he or she is doing anything unusual.  Yet once the unique solution is discovered and understood, it can be adopted by the wider community and transform many lives.”  For which Pascale adds, “From the positive deviance perspective, individual difference is regarded as a community resource.”

Which is a very different mode of operating for most organizations, institutions and systems, which have tended to focus much more on efficiency, standardization, and when needed, external expertise.  Instead of pushing outliers to the fringes or diminishing their success, positive deviance seeks out these outliers and looks to learn from them, to determine why they have exceeded the status quo while only having access to the same resources and facing the same obstacles and barriers as everyone else.

One problem is that too often, instead of trying to learn from these positive deviants and determine why they have been so much more successful, as well as what could effectively be scaled from that learning, we tend to remain unaware, uninterested, or unwilling to give credence to how they are overcoming obstacles and barriers.  Instead of pulling the outliers into the core, organizations continue to push them to the fringe, failing to learn from or scale what these bright spots could contribute to and for the organization, institution or system.

As they say, sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees…well, in some cases, being caught up in the underbrush keeps us from seeing how tall some trees have grown.

For these bright spots to not only be noticed, but engaged in a positive and transparent way, will take leaders with greater organizational understanding, empathy, engagement and transparency.  Especially, as Pascale adds, these positive deviants are “Invisible in plain sight.  Invisible positive deviants often “don’t know what they know” (i.e., don’t realize they are doing anything unusual or noteworthy).  Living alongside peers, they flourish while others struggle.  Also invisible in plain sight is the community’s latent potential to self-organize, tap its own wisdom, and address problems long regarded with fatalistic acceptance.”

We not only get stuck in our ruts determined by our own behaviors, we allow our mindset and mental models to continue to drive those behaviors forward, long after they  have used up their effectiveness, which is a big factor in pushing our unwillingness to accept the “expertise” that exists internally in our organizations, institutions and systems.  It is those same mindsets and mental models that remain a feature in why many of our biggest problems and adaptive challenges seem to plague our organizational communities consistently and continually.

As Pascale adds, “Once the community has discovered and leveraged existing solutions by drawing on its own resources, adaptive capacity extends beyond addressing the initial problem at hand, it enables those involved to take control of their destiny and address future challenges.”

So, not only does engaging the positive deviance that resides in organizations, institutions and systems help us in attending to and solving the problems and challenges we are currently facing, it also allows us to scale up the learning from those bright spots in ways that better supports solving future problems with internal capacity, rather than relying on external expertise.

Positive deviance is not just about scaling up those bright spots who are succeeding, it is showing the organizational community that the capacity to solve their own problems exists within, and at this very moment someone within the organizational community is providing solutions to those very problems and challenges that we are struggling to solve.  It is this mindset, this reframing of our mental models, that allows the organizational community to move past this ongoing fascination with external supports and expertise that continually diminishes the internal capacity and commitment that exists within.

Once we allow our organizations, institutions and systems to fully realize the potential that resides within, to understand that we have the tools and the internal “expertise” to better solve our own problems and challenges, we will not only move away from trying to outsource our solutions to an external parade of professional problem-solvers, we will begin to create the capacity and commitment to find our way forward in a much more meaningful, impactful and relevant manner.

As Pascale puts forth…

“The solution is just waiting to be uncovered and amplified.”

 

Cognitive Homogeneity: The Churn And Spread Of “Same” Thinking

“Biological systems have evolved to cope with a multitude of threats such as proliferating pathogens, autoimmunity, escalating arms races, deception, and mimicry.  One design strategy that helps biological systems achieve robustness to these threats is diversity – genetic diversity in a species, species diversity in an ecosystem, and molecular diversity in an immune system.”

“By contrast, the computer industry specializes in homogeneity: churning out near-infinite quantities of identical pieces of hardware and software. The result is that an agent that can wreak havoc in one host – read: computer, or increasingly, any number of the objects joining the Internet of Things – can as easily infect any number of those copies.”  -via Joi Ito and Jeff Howe Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future

We live in an ultra, hyper-connected world…

One that is expanding and accelerating, in both frightening and awe-inspiring, exponential ways.

And it is no longer just people that are connected, there are worldwide forecasts that more than 8,000,000 “things” will be connected to the Internet of Things before the end of 2017, ranging from Smart Dust to entire cities.

We also live in a time of incredible emergence.

And it is in this emergence, of connection, complexity, and accelerated change, that we find previously detectable next steps and solutions, often camouflaged in chaos and disruption; creating new patterns, new dynamics and new forces that are both evolving and or devolving our ecosystems in unforeseen and unfathomable ways.

So, in much the same manner that today’s ultra, hyper-connected world is connecting us and “things” – individuals, organizations and systems will all need to invest deeply in and gain greater capacity in adaptability, agility and diversity, to keep pace.

Adaptability.  Agility.  Diversity. (and shifting mindsets)

So, as we move deeper and farther into this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, we are going to need to be much more careful and reflective that we don’t equate the hyper-connectedness of this ecosystem with enhanced cognitive diversity, with expanding and increasing new thinking, new ideas, and new knowledge flows.

The accelerated speed of information in a hyper-connected world can often provide the pretense of and parade itself as the “new” – but, without intentionally searching out cognitive diversity of thinking, we can easily move from new knowledge flows to streams of sameness.

Without intentionally searching out cognitive diversity, we allow conformity of sameness to not only parade itself as the “new” – but enforce uniformity and push lack of variety into going viral, across our platforms and networks.

As we consider this ultra, hyper-connected world and the opportunities for the “new” that it extends, we must remain vigilant towards engaging greater opportunities for cognitive diversity, if we are to keep “sameness” from becoming a viral churn across our connected platforms and networks.

“Society and institutions in general tend to lean toward order and away from chaos.  In the process this stifles disobedience.  It can also stifle creativity, flexibility, and productive change, and in the long run, society’s health and sustainability.  This is true across the board, from academia, to corporations, to governments, to our communities.”  -via Joi Ito and Jeff Howe Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future

 

 

 

Folding Back The “Edges”

 

“Knowledge flows naturally flourish on the edge.  Why?  Because, by definition, participants on these edges are wrestling with how to match unmet needs with unexploited capabilities and all the uncertainty that implies.  Edge participants therefore focus on ways to innovate and create value by connecting unmet needs with unexploited capabilities and then scaling these opportunities as rapidly as possible.  In the process, they create significant new knowledge.  But there is a problem – this knowledge is not easily accessible.”  -John Hagel, John Seely Brown, Lang Davison The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion

In a time of disruptive disequilibrium brought on by the tension, turbulence and acceleration of change, we find many of our organizations and organizational leaders striving to exert an overall sense of steadiness and equilibrium, a sense of safety and stability; instead of provoking positive disobedience and candor, we look for obedience, agreement and acceptance; instead of stretching into the uncomfortable, we look to the insulated cocoon of the careful and comfortable.

In many ways, the organizational plea is one to be protected and immune from these changes forces that push in and threaten to disturb our current and past ways of thinking and doing…

Unfortunately, too many of today’s leaders see this as their work, their task; to create a haven of safety and security from those turbulent change forces that threaten to disrupt our organizational equilibrium.  But what they fail to understand is that this mindset. of what they see as their work, is really just pandering to the plight and peril of the stasis and status quo, and will end up being the biggest risk of all.

For it is the risk of irrelevance, not the threat of these change forces, that we need to be much more aware of, especially in today’s change world.

To fend off these changes forces we find ourselves becoming more and more wary of “next” practices, so we bury ourselves in “best” practices of the past.  We look to insulate ourselves from the disruptive nature of these new ideas by moving farther and farther back from our organizational edges, where these new ideas and knowledge are often igniting flames of creative destruction that threaten “our way” of doing things.

So, we choose stability over adaptation, control over agility, compliance over creativity, and implementation over innovation.  We look to amplify the known…

We find solace and safety in incrementalism. Engaging linear and predictable processes and structures give us this sense that we’re slowing down the pace of change that clamors at the gates of our organizational borders.  So we find ways to protect and guard  our organizational boundaries, keeping them closed tight to fend off any new ideas, new thinking, or new knowledge that may possibly disrupt “our way” of doing things.  We look to invoke authority and command and control strategies to harness and subdue the budding emergence of the “new.”

Instead of designing our organizations for adaptability, we choose to design them for permanence, in a world dominated by accelerated obsolescence.  And when we do, we find that we are designing our organizations and systems for future irrelevance…

But we can no longer avoid or choose to insulate ourselves from the edges and the emergence of the “new.”

Or as Hagel, Brown and Davison share in The Power of Pull, “As clockspeed increases, companies must continually refresh the sources of their success: their knowledge stocks. This means precipitating and participating in a broader range of knowledge flows, which in turn requires finding people, particularly people on the edge, interacting with them, and building reciprocal relationships with them over time.  Edge players are more likely to introduce us to new insights and to help us more rapidly develop new knowledge stocks.”

Creating organizational idea flow and tapping into the “edges” not only leads to engaging us in new ways thinking and doing, it tends to move us beyond today’s “best” practices to tomorrow’s “next” practices.  In effect, creating organizational relevance for the future and of next steps…

Understanding the profound persistence and resilience needed to not only engage the “new” but to lead from the “edge” will allow today’s leaders to push through the lack of understanding and acceptance that new learning, new ideas new knowledge, and new ways of operating provokes in the status quo.

But just remember, as Richard Pascale shares from his work Surfing the Edge of Chaos, “Species are inherently drawn toward the seeming oasis of stability and equilibrium – and the further they drift toward this destination, the less likely they are to adapt successfully when change is necessary.”

It is at the “edges” not only where new ideas, new thinking and new knowledge are discovered and formed, but where we learn to overcome the “genetic” drift that often entrenches our organizations in stasis, status quo, and eventual irrelevance for the future.

Most organizations tend to push creativity and innovation to the outer edges…creative and innovative leaders not only tap into those edges, they find ways to fold them back into the core.

 

 

 

Innovating To Learn: Tapping Into Experimentation

 

“Adaptation does not happen without experimentation.”  -Juan Carlos Eichholz Adaptive Capacity: How Organizations Can Thrive in a Changing World

If we never ask what if…we will never be able to move past what is.

And yet,  how often do we ask what if?  

Do we create the environments and spaces in our organizations for what if’s to even exist?

What we fail to acknowledge or understand, is that creating pockets of innovative disruption and creative experimentation in an organization, which are often deeply grounded in stasis and status quo processes and structures, requires an intentional act.  As Michael Schrage shares in The Innovator’s Hypothesis, “The real innovation investment potential of experimentation has yet to be tapped.”

It is in that intentional tapping, in the willingness to be intentional towards experimental and discovery learning, that we not only grow and learn, but learn what works and what doesn’t work for us as individuals and as organizations.  Or as Eichholz adds from his work Adaptive Capacity, “Experimentation increases an organization’s adaptive capacity by enhancing its responsiveness, because experiments force you to continuously look at reality to test new options.”

But seldom does experimentation and discovery learning scale in an organization haphazardly.  It requires intentionality, both in creating the processes and structures, as well the aim in regards to intent and outcomes.  Organizations and the people within need not only the ability to innovate and experiment, they also need permission and a purpose.

As shared in Scaling Creativity and Innovation, “Permission provides the authority and license to try, to engage the new.”  To add,Accountability and standardization have all but obliterated and wiped permission off of the educational landscape and map. Scripted curriculums, rigid pacing guides, high-stakes tests, and value-added evaluation systems have done little to embolden teachers or administrators to engage more creativity and innovation across our campuses.  In fact, it has been quite the opposite.”

As Scaling Creativity and Innovation adds,

“Permission opens the door to possibilities.”

To add to this need for permission to open up the door to more experimental, discovery learning, “When you have an organization that has deep understanding of their goals and commitments, when permission is provided, when autonomy is granted, you will have set a foundation for more creative and innovative endeavors and work to be initiated, at all levels of the system.”

For which I will leave you with these thoughts, in regards to creativity, innovation, experimentation, and discovery learning from Scaling Creativity and Innovation

“If we are going to heighten the creative and innovative thinking in our classrooms, schools and districts, we are going to have to grant permission:”

  • Permission to experiment and engage trial and error discovery learning.
  • Permission to take chances, at the risk of failure, to further student and adult learning in our classrooms, schools and districts.
  • Permission to look at learning and school in new, novel and exciting ways that extend learning across the entire community.
  • Permission to engage ideas and thinking that open up possibilities, rather than present obstacles.

“Permission provides the consent and authority to engage the ideas and creative and innovative thinking that has often lain dormant and unexplored for far too long.”

Networks: An Engine For Scaling Learning And Innovation (Part 2)

 

“Our destination is a future whose form we may not find comforting, but which has just as much beauty and potential as the straight lines and right angles of the past century of reductionism: this future will take the form of organic networks, resilience engineering, controlled flooding – a world without stop signs.”  -via McChrystal, Collins, Silverman, Fussell Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

We don’t just live in the time of the learner, we live in a time where the very idea of learning has expanded.  And our very ability to tune into that expansion remains at the heart of growing into the future in a much more dynamic and relevant manner.  For, it is no longer enough to be a learning organization, you must also be a learning individual.  It cannot be one without the other, they have to work in tandem, each pushing the other past the boundaries of the present, in a constant dialogue with the emerging future and the unknown that it provokes, and how we influence that emergence and learn from it.

Very often, our individual and organizational ability to come to terms with the growing anxiety, ambiguity and uncertainty of this emerging future, as well as the intensified turbulence and pace of change that is driving it forward, is quelled and muffled by our individual and organizational awareness (to the signals of changes to come), access (to relevant resources and ongoing flows of new ideas) and connections (to a diversity of ideas, thinking and people who can continually challenge our thinking, ideas and mental models).

One of the ways to tap into greater this awareness, access and connections comes through the networks that we create and engage within, both internally and external of our organizations.  The more expansive our networks, the greater the learning and ideas that we open ourselves up, too.  As Alex Pentland shares in Social Physics, “In the last few years, however, our lives have been transformed by networks that combine people and computers, allowing much greater participation and much faster change.”

In many ways, our networks require us to hold the tension of two ideas at once, to being both open (idea flows) without being overwhelmed (action paralysis).

Not only does network learning allow opportunities for great awareness beyond our current conditions; it provides a platform for enhanced diversity of idea flow, both individually and organizationally.  Networks provide an arena to play with and gain feedback on new ideas and thinking; which not only leads to new learning that can cascade across individuals and the organization, but provides a more dynamic environment for engaging in greater exploration and experimentation towards the growing need for more creative and innovative thinking, ideas and action that move individuals and organizations past static and status quo thinking, processes and structures that diminish learning and growth.

However, it is not enough to engage in network learning, how individuals participate in that setting is important to how effective that engagement process becomes for enhancing learning.  As Pentland shares in Social Physics, in regards to “star producers” utilizing and gaining from network learning, “First, they maintained stronger engagement with the people in their networks, so that these people responded more quickly and helpfully.  As a result, the stars rarely spent time spinning their wheels or going down blind alleys.  Second, star performers’ networks were also more diverse.  Average performers saw the world only from the viewpoint of their mob, and keep pushing the same points.  Stars, on the other hand, had people in their networks with a more diverse set of work roles, so they could adopt the perspectives of customers, competitors, and managers.  Because they could see the situation from a variety of viewpoints, they could develop better solutions to problems.”

Networks in and of themselves, are not fully sufficient for the collaborative and learning processes and structures necessary to transform our organizations and systems.  However, they do provide a platform and impetus for creating the awareness, access and connections that create momentum towards improving and enhancing the dynamics necessary to push individual and organizational transformation.

As Fullan and Rincon-Gallardo share in Essential Features of Effective Networks in Education, “As we enter a potentially transformative period of change for education, where innovation combined with focus and links to impact will be essential, we predict that effective networks will become increasingly critical to system success.”  Or as Bryk, Gomez, Grunow and LeMahieu add in Learning to Improve, “Large networks are powerful engines for innovation.”

As we begin to delve into networks, seeing and tapping their potential for greater awareness, access and connection for our individuals and organizations, internally and externally, we must also understand their power for learning, both in formal and informal forms.  Understanding the differences and features that accompanies each of these networks, allows individuals, leaders and organizations to determine how the power of learning and collaboration will be different, from formal to informal networks, and how we approach each of these networks will require different perspectives and positions, if we are to engage networks as a powerful force for learning, innovation and transformation.

As we consider the necessity of awareness, access and connection, realizing the power of networks can be an impetus towards the learning and idea flow that pushes individual and organizational transformation.

“By harvesting from the parts of our social networks that touch other streams, that is, by crossing what sociologist Ron Burt called the “structural holes” within the fabric of society, we can create innovation.  When we choose to dip into a different stream, we bring up new habits and beliefs; in some cases, they will help us make better decisions, and our community will thrive.  I believe that we can think of each stream of ideas as a swarm or collective intelligence, flowing through time, with all the humans in it learning from each other’s experiences in order to jointly discover patterns of preferences and habits of action that best suit the surrounding physical and social environment.”  -via Alex Pentland Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-The Lessons from a New Science

In Consideration Of Continuous Improvement: Part 2

 

“Improvement is a challenge of learning, not implementation.”  -Forman, Stosich, Bocala The Internal Coherence Framework: Creating the Conditions for Continuous Improvement in Schools

We live in very interesting times…

The pace and acceleration of change and the digital disruption we are experiencing is no longer just about change, as it is no longer enough to just change.  It is much deeper than that…

We have to learn.

We must learn in order to adapt to a world that is shifting around us in exponential ways.

Or as the CEO of AT&T recently stated, “Your skill-set is 2 years, max!”

It is in that ability to learn and adapt, both as individuals and as organizations, that we are able to not only remain relevant, but move towards a mindset of continuous improvement.

This idea of continuous improvement is very different than the mindset from which education has often worked from for many years.  Or as Edwards Deming shared in 1991 in regards to education, “We as a field are characterized by miracle goals and no methods.”

Continuous improvement is a move away from those “miracle goals” to looking at the strategies, processes, methods and structures that allow for ongoing learning, growth, and improvement.

Or as shared in The Superintendent’s Advisory Task Force from CDE,

Continuous Improvement: A continuously improving education system is one that learns from experience by carefully measuring the effectiveness of different policies and practices, supporting the intrinsic motivation of educators and stakeholders, sharing best and promising practices, cultivating a culture of reflection and learning, encouraging innovation, and making changes based on learning.”

Which is a very different proposition than Demings reference to “miracle goals” and “no methods.”  

And while continuous improvement is not new to the business world (be that as Six Sigma, Kaizen, Kanban, Lean, Agile, Scrum, Toyota Production System), it is just beginning to take root in education.

To better understand the ideas behind continuous improvement, the KaiNexus Blog shares the core, or 6 Principles of the Continuous Improvement Model:

Principle 1 – Improvements are based on small changes, not major paradigm shifts or new inventions.

Principle 2 – Ideas come from employees.

Principle 3 – Incremental improvements are typically inexpensive to implement.

Principle 4 – Employees take ownership and are accountable for improvement.

Principle 5 – Improvement is reflective.

Principle 6 – Improvement is measurable and potentially repeatable.

When looking back at Demings reference to the issue with education being “miracle goals” and “no methods” we can begin to see how this mindset/shift to a continuous improvement model reverses Demings concern, as it moves us away from a focus on “miracle goals” towards a push for “methods,” processes, strategies, and structures that lead us towards continual and ongoing learning, growth and improvement.

As with any strategy or shift in the way our individuals or organizations operate, learning has to be at the heart of the change process.  Far too often, especially as we move into the unknowns and uncertainties that accompany any change, we often revert to compliance over creativity and implementation over innovation in pushing the initiatives that we initiate.  We choose control, in place of capacity and autonomy.  Rather, we must learn to understand where each of these has their place, and where each is appropriate to effectively support our individuals and scale it across the organization not only efficiently, but effectively.

As Ron Ashkenas adds in his article It’s Time to Rethink Continuous Improvement from Harvard Business Review,  when approaching the idea of continuous improvement across an organization, we need to consider:

“Customize how and where continuous improvement is applied.”

“Question whether processes should be improved, eliminated, or disrupted.”

“Assess the impact on company culture.”

For which Ashkenas adds, “Continuous improvement doesn’t have to be incompatible with disruptive innovation.  But unless we think about continuous improvement in more subtle, nuanced, and creative ways, we may force companies to choose between the two.”

In closing, when considering this idea of continuous improvement, both as individuals and organizations, and as we learn to move away from “miracle goals” and “no methods,” it will require that we keep continuous learning and adaptability at the center of this improvement shift.  Both as individuals and as organizations.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”  -Benjamin Franklin