Are We Missing Something?

“Increasingly, it is apparent that healthy organizations are those that can continually and flexibly respond to a world full of rapidly changing circumstances.  That means not simply “reorganizing” to meet today’s challenges but rather fostering a culture within which people continually adapt solutions and respond creatively to new conditions and discoveries.”  -Coughlan, Suri, Canales (IDEO)

Leading in today’s educational arena requires much more than making sure that the lights are turned on, students and teachers are in the classroom, necessary resources and supplies are provided, and the school is functioning in a safe and productive manner.  That is just the tip of the iceberg…

Today’s educational leaders have to be able to decipher and utilize data effectively, monitor the level of learning across the organization and when and where to initiate intervention or acceleration, as well as having a solid grasp of assessment and learning strategies…all wrapped up in the ability to lead initiatives, change, and an organization effectively.

To create a healthy learning environment and culture for all stakeholders.

Educational leaders have to have a strong understanding of their organizations past and where they have come from, where they are in their present circumstances (positive and/or negative), and a vision of where they are headed in the future.

As well as being able to engage their own learning and to provide their organization, as well as their leadership with “around the corner” thinking.  And it is often this “around the corner” thinking that differentiates the good from the great educational leaders…

Which is why modern educational leaders have to be committed and (connected) if they are going to engage and acquire the learning and skills necessary to lead their organizations forward, especially at the pace of change that today’s society is pushing.  Which means moving beyond the walls of our schools, the walls of our districts, and even the walls of our state and country.  We have to take on a global perspective to learning.

Which can also mean pushing that learning beyond the realm of education, to gaining perspectives and ideas from thought leaders in other arenas…from business to design thinking.  When education becomes a magnet for ideas…we incorporate more creativity, more innovation, more learning, and more ideas that enable our schools and districts to better serve the changing needs of our students, staff, stakeholders, and society.

And what better time than now, when we have not only open access to a deluge of great thinkers and ideas across a variety of platforms…but, from such a wide perspective of areas and expertise.

It is a great time for inquiry, curiosity…learning.

And one of those areas (outside of the traditional K-12 education arena) that I believe has much to add to the educational conversation is design thinking.  Which Coughlan, Suri, and Canales refer to as…“That idea – of adapting solutions and responding creatively – is design in its essence.”

And while some elements of design thinking, when considered, have been incorporated into education…there is one element of the design thinking that has been on my mind of late.  It is the idea of prototyping, which is a common and necessary part of any design thinkers vernacular and idea implementation process.

According to Tom and David Kelley in their work Creative Confidence…”The reason for prototyping is experimentation – the act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices.”  “A prototype is just an embodiment of your idea.

Or, as Tim Brown shares in his book Change by Design, prototyping not only measures how innovative an organization is, but that…”A successful prototype is not one that works flawlessly; it is the one that teaches us something – about our objectives, our process, about ourselves.”

And it is not that we don’t prototype in education (even though we implement more than we prototype), rather we have a tendency to miss a very important step in the process.  The empathy portion…

Which Tom and David Kelley refer to in Creative Confidence as “the ability to see an experience through another person’s eyes.

Rather, we have a tendency to focus on data.  The outcomes of what we implement…whether that be a prototype or full implementation.  We look at the end result.  That is often our focus…

What we fail to do is, which is often highlighted by design thinkers at IDEO…is to become part of the prototyping experience.  To see how the experience affects the users.  The empathy is found in the experience.  Which is the data that we won’t receive at the result.  We will always fail to understand an experience from a spreadsheet.

Which is important for educational leaders to not only consider, but to incorporate into any change process.  That is not to say that the data, the end result is not important.  It definitely is.  However, we seldom sit in and gain the empathy from the experience.  To “see through the eyes of others” on how the experience is affecting them and to learn from that empathy…to improve and enhance the experience.

If we only move from idea, to implementation, to results…we fail to capture a very important piece of the process.  It is in involving ourselves in the process in order that we gain “new eyes“…new insights.

And that is one way we can continue improve…at all levels of the organization.

Coughlan, Suri, Canales (2007) Prototypes as (Design) Tools for Behavioral and Organizational Change: A Design Based Approach to Help Organizations Change Work Behaviors. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Vol. 43 No. 1, March 2007 1-13.

Quotes taken from

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One thought on “Are We Missing Something?

  1. Wonderful. At first glance, I’m thinking that the time I spend stepping back and observing learning in action is when I find how learning affects the user gaining empathy with regard to the process for both the learner and me. Wonderful thoughts. Thank you.

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