Full Scale vs. Small Scale Innovation: What’s Our Way Forward?

“Innovation isn’t a managerial seminar or analytic exercise. Innovators act. They do. They test. They respect results.”  -Michael Schrage via The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More Than Good Ideas

Running an educational institution such as a school or district is not the same as running a business, and vice versa. But there is a lot that they can learn from each other. Especially in this new age of high-paced change and disruptive thinking and innovation. Whether in business or education, you have to be able to multitask your thinking, in regards to keeping focused in the present while having your sights set on the future. It is necessary, if we are to sustain any type of creative and innovative effectiveness and relevance as we move forward.

It is this kind of thinking that we have seen from such creative and innovative companies such as Google, Intuit, Amazon, Apple, Nike, Toyota, etc. Companies that have built up creative and innovative environments and cultures that have allowed them to engage this advantage in a sustained manner. Companies that have continually delighted us in expected and unexpected offerings and their big ideas year after year.

But, according to Michael Schrage in his book, The Innovator’s Hypothesis it is not just their big ideas that have allowed these companies to continually deliver in creative and innovative ways. He shares that, “Successful innovators don’t just celebrate the innovations they offer; they internally prize the experiments and experimentation that made innovation possible.”

Which is something that educators and our educational institutions may want to heed moving into the future, especially if we to keep pace with the rapidity of innovative changes that are surrounding and enveloping us.

The idea of full scale vs. small scale. The big idea vs. implementation.

When you look at these companies that have remained successful in being creative and innovative for long periods of time, according to Michael Schrage, they don’t just rely on big ideas to fuel their innovation efforts, rather they are continually implementing small scale experiments to determine the worth and value of those big ideas.

Big ideas have to prove themselves, otherwise they aren’t worth implementing.

Which is often at odds with the approach taken in education. Usually a big idea is determined at a leadership level, which leads to strategizing and planning on how to implement this big idea, then the big idea is unveiled and implemented. It is often a full scale approach. There is little if any experiments incorporated to determine the value and worth of implementing the big idea. To determine if it has the weight that leads to full scale adoption across the organization.

It is often an ‘all eggs in one basket’ approach to a big idea.

And while their may have been some research appropriated to support the implementation of the big idea. It is research that usually lacks the frontline data that would be provided from small scale experiments within your current environment and culture. And most often, it is a top-down approach that fails to incorporate voice and understandings from all levels of the organization, which inevitably fails to engage clarity and commitment at scale.

Full scale implementation without small scale experimentation can lead to not only frustration at all levels of an organization, it can be depleting to our resources, time, and efforts. Ultimately, diminishing our creative and innovative ‘ROI’ (Return On Investment).

So as we work to build up the creative and innovative capacity of our organizations, we may well want to heed our approach.

Full scale implementation or small scale experimentation?

“Experimentation is undervalued and unappreciated wherever words speak louder than actions.”  -Michael Schrage The Innovator’s Hypothesis

Quotes and references from…

Schrage, Michael. The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More Than Good Ideas. 2014. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Turning Titanic To Startup: From Lumbering To Agile

“It’s a cliché to say that the world is more uncertain than ever before, but few people realize the extent of the increase in uncertainty over the past thirty years. More important, they don’t understand that greater uncertainty has created the need to change the way most organizations are managed.” -Jeff Dyar and Nathan Furr via The Innovators Method: Bringing Lean Start-up Into Your Organization

The cycle of change is no longer a slow, deliberate and sluggish wheel slowly rolling us into the future. It is revved up and erratic, spinning at a frenzied relentlessness pace. Thrusting change forward in an often chaotic and turbulent manner. This is neither a positive nor negative, as it just is. The positive or negative rests in our ability to comprehend and recognize how these forces are affecting our people, our organizations and our society.

And the anxiety these change forces levy upon us should be less about being left behind in its wake, as in becoming more and more irrelevant as its momentum pushes us forward.

Sometimes what we have to understand is that the more we try to provide assurances and ensure certainty in the midst of this change storm, the deeper we push our organizations into the rut of irrelevance we are trying so desperately to avoid. Too many organizations try to be an anchor in this storm by employing command and control processes and hierarchical structures.  Processes and structures that end up being the anchor that slowly drags them down into the abyss of irrelevance. Instead, today’s organizations need to cut loose from many of these anchors and begin to learn to ride this storm forward into the future.

Past and even current leadership strategies have a clear focus on linear paths and processes, not understanding that this linear leadership mindset severely limits not only the creative and innovative forces in an organization, but the means and practices that lead to more rapid and agile functioning at all levels of the organization.

As we move forward, we have to recognize that in times of great change and uncertainty, many of our tried and true leadership strategies are often no longer effective or even viable.

Today’s effective organizations will need to be more agile-minded and pivot-enabled. The days of plan, plan, plan, then launch, followed by monitor, monitor, monitor and push, push, push for fidelity are becoming a distant memory as a viable strategy to deal with the frenetic pace of change we face in today’s world. This command and control hierarchical structure only tends to invite pushback and disengagement in modern organizations. It does little to build up the capacity of the organization through autonomy and intrinsic motivation.

We live in a much more demanding world. A world where the preferences of the user and the provider must be taken into account on a much deeper level. Which requires better understanding (empathy) of those we serve and the experience (design thinking) that we aim to provide through the service. This requires new and broader conversations at all levels of the organization, as well as requiring new understandings and strategies from leaders and leadership that cascade down across the entirety of the organizational landscape. Inability to engage in this manner will lead to disengagement beyond what already exists in the majority of our organizations (over 70% according to Gallup), as well as the inability to provide services that are in the best interest and needs of those we serve.

There is no certainty in this work. It requires deeper conversations and more experimentation, feedback, and iterations, and even then, we may not hit the mark. But unwillingness to engage in this heavy lifting will leave us even farther off the mark and eventually lead us farther and farther into irrelevance.

Believing that you can provide certainty in any environment in this day and age…is both misguided and futile.

Which is why experimentation, risk-taking, exploring, discovery learning, feedback, open channels of communication will be vital to the success of today’s modern organizations. It requires one foot in the present and one foot forward, anticipating next steps into the future. It requires ‘around the corner’ thinking from leaders and a willingness to engage new learning and ideas from all levels of the organization, which is often impeded by severity of our hierarchical organizational structures. We can’t read the future, we can’t always be right on what is going to happen next, or even know what changes will and can pull the rug out from under us next. But we can work to engage the thinking and ideas that may possibly put us out in front of the plethora of unknowns and uncertainty accompanying these change forces we face.

Just realize that there will be no straight shot forward. It will require shifts and tweaks and shuffles. It will often be one step forward and two steps back, or one step forward and two steps to the left. It will require fast and slow, patient and urgent. There will be detours and rabbit holes. It is just a part of the process forward. The goal is not to get frustrated and stagnated by them, but to learn and move forward from them.

Leadership in times of unknowns, ambiguity and uncertainty requires more time with people.  More time creating connections and relationships, as opposed to more time strategizing and planning. The learning and way forward often morphs itself out of these conversations and connections. It is through this organic process that deeper understandings and learnings arise.  It is where collaborative flows lead to a stronger ecosystem that feeds the organization forward through an open and ongoing pipeline of renewal.

It is how and where we begin to reengage the disengaged.

And it will require a more responsive and empathetic form of leadership. One that is more aware of the needs, the preferences and the changes that are stirring at all levels of an organization.

It doesn’t matter how fast you are to the finish line, if you’re continually providing answers to the wrong questions.

Designing For “Knowledge Spillover”

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.” -Charles Eames

The Renaissance in Italy. The Grunge movement in Seattle. The Enlightenment in France. The Thrash movement in the San Francisco, Bay Area. Movements have a tendency to focus in one area and then reverberate outward. Or as Jonah Lehrer shares in his book, Imagine“Innovation was largely a local process.”  

It is in these localized areas we find what he refers to as “knowledge spillover.” This “knowledge spillover” is especially apparent in our urban and city areas. It is in these urban settings that we find ourselves constantly moving against and into others, sharing our thinking, our views and even our expertise. It is these cityscapes that engage and intensify the probability of more connections, more relationships and more sharing of ideas.

As Lehrer shares, “What’s interesting is that the sheer disorder of the metropolis maximizes the amount of spillover. Because cities force us to mingle with people of different social distances…we end up exposed to a much wider range of worldviews.”

It is this constant bumping and running into such a wide array of people and views that evokes this ongoing “knowledge spillover” in our urban and city settings. Or as Lehrer purports, “It is the sheer density of the city – the proximity of all those overlapping minds – that makes it such an inexhaustible source of creativity.”

And while this research that he shares is mainly focused on how cities remain inexhaustible fountains of creativity and innovation. We might well be served to overlay this thinking and concept upon our organizations and institutions. Especially, when we see that the most creative and innovative organizations have found ways to create this “knowledge spillover” amongst their people. They have torn down the silos that separate those within and look for a myriad of ways to cause their people to bump and run into each other on an ongoing basis.  (Think of how Steve Jobs built the Pixar building as an example.)

The more people come into contact with each other, at all levels of the organization, the more opportunity there is for this “knowledge spillover” to occur. The more opportunity that their stories, their thinking, and their ideas can and will be shared and passed on. The more opportunity there is to ignite the creative and innovative thinking of those within the whole of the organization.

In ‘Imagine’ Lehrer shares the work of researchers West and Bettencourt and how they refer to “this phenomenon as ‘superlinear scaling’ which is a fancy way of describing the increased output of people living in big cities.”

And while many of our organizations are as big as some cities, they seldom operate in this manner. Most of their hierarchical structures and siloed departmentalization does more to inhibit, than increase the amount of “knowledge spillover” that can lead to any type of “superlinear scaling” within our organizations.

So as we consider the importance of building up more creative and innovative organizations, we need to determine if “knowledge spillover” is something worth considering as we move forward.

To determine…

If we are engaging the intentionality in our environments that brings out more creativity and innovative thinking and ideas? If we need to rethink our organizational flows and spaces? If our structures and processes inhibit or expand our opportunities for “knowledge spillover”? If we are designing our way forward or creating obstacles that eventually narrow the path?

Questions we may need to begin to ask of ourselves and our organizations.

Quotes and references from…

Lehrer, Jonah.  Imagine: How Creativity Works.  2012.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing.  New York.

Exploring The Tension Of Change

“The history of life and human culture, then, can be told as the story of a gradual but relentless probing of the adjacent possible, each new innovation opening up new paths to explore. But some systems are more adept than others at exploring those possibility spaces.”  -Steve Johnson via Where Good Ideas Come From

As we begin to really look at the processes and tensions that lead to and arise from change in our organizations, awareness of both is going to be extremely vital to creating any type of sustained forward momentum. We will have to fully aware of not only where we’ve been, but where we’re at, and where we’re going. As well as being cognizant of the internal and external forces that apply pressure and push and pull upon an organization throughout the change process (i.e., silos, agendas, politics, dysfunction, power struggles, etc.). Inability to engage this awareness, can leave an organization and it’s leadership blindsided and reeling, hobbled by realities they were unable to acknowledge. Often slowing, halting or even extinguishing the best of change initiatives.

Awareness of those internal and external forces that inhibit change in any organization are paramount to progress. We must be ever mindful of the harsh realities of our organization, if we are to support processes that will create momentum towards sustained and lasting change.

For this to happen, we will have to engage an “AND” mindset. Too often we allow change to fall into an ‘either or’ proposition. As we engage change, it is not about separating the tensions inherent in this process, it is finding ways to make those tensions work effectively and simultaneously. Too often we choose one or the other, when BOTH are needed. Or as Roger Martin shares in the Opposable Mind this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Which means that change is neither a one size fits all proposition, or a fully differentiated and individualized proposition. It requires BOTH. It requires AND. It is one size fits all AND differentiated and individualized at the same time. It is everyone working towards one vision, but everyone working towards it from a very individualized position of; knowledge, understanding, position, readiness, etc.

So as we approach this process of change, we will have to learn to embrace and engage tensions simultaneously, rather than pushing out one for the other. Difficult AND necessary. As we work to blend the idea of ‘one size fits all’ vs. ‘individualized and differentiated’ simultaneously, two ideas we can begin to work with are our understandings of organizational paradigms and the “adjacent possible.” 

Let’s begin with our organizational paradigms. Today’s leaders need the awareness that takes them to the truth of their organization. Be that, good or bad. The first step in gaining that awareness is accepting the honest reality of the organization and not shying away from that truth. Begin by determining; Is your organization proactive, collaborative, engaged, trustful, and healthy? Or is your organization reactive, siloed, disengaged, distrustful, and unhealthy? Just remember, it is seldom an ‘either or’ proposition, it is most often a blend of BOTH.

But awareness begins by determining what you really are…

To help in determining this awareness, Frederic Laloux, the author of Reinventing Organizations attributes colors and names to the organizational paradigms that have and still exist in our world, such as, ”Impulsive-Red, Conformist-Amber, Achievement-Orange, and Pluralistic-Green…”  The one awareness that the author shares about each of these paradigm shifts or “breakthroughs” in how organizations have shifted, is that it has taken previous knowledge, as well as gained knowledge, to move from one paradigm to the next. That the learning built from the one, leads to the knowledge that allows us to create and shift to the other.

Just like the myth of the ‘aha’ moment, the breakthroughs that lead to shifting paradigms in organizations comes from the hard work and learning that has led up to that breakthrough point. As well as understanding where you’ve come from, where you’re at, and where you’re trying to go. It is that knowledge and awareness that leads to those pivotal breakthrough moments of change for people and organizations.

So as we consider our paradigm reality, we also want to embrace the idea of AND’s, of simultaneous tensions. Which leads to the awareness of the “adjacent possible.” A concept that Steve Johnson explores in his work, Where Good Ideas Come From.

The “adjacent possible” provides awareness in how we break down the boundaries that move us towards ongoing growth towards a vision, both wholly AND individually. Too often in organizations, we try to take (jump) people to a place without building the requisite understandings that not only allow them to make those steps forward, but to even comprehend and understand what we are trying to accomplish by moving in that direction.

Think of it like this…

Imagine that you have just walked into an incredibly large house. A house you have seen, but have never visited or been in previously. Your only knowledge of the house, beyond the what you have seen of the outside, is the room that you are currently sitting in. So, to learn more, you have to explore and see what each room has to offer. Especially if you want to gain an understanding of the whole house. Of how big it is, how many rooms it has, how it is decorated, the view it offers, etc. And to do this, you have to go room by room.

Unfortunately, many organizations fail to realize that they are the house and they spend their time trying to get people to understand the layout of the house without taking them through the rooms. Without taking them through the whole house. Or they try to jump them from the living room to the upstairs loft to speed up the process. The problem is that it will never work. It leaves gaps and misunderstandings. It distorts the understanding of the layout of the house and what truly makes up the entirety of the house. And you can only gain that by going from room to room, by opening each door and taking the knowledge from the previous room into the new room. And sometimes you will get lost or lose your bearings, which requires you to return to previous rooms to gain back what was forgotten or lost.

But as you travel from room to room, your learning of the house expands, your learning of the layout improves, and you begin to see a much bigger picture of the house. You begin to understand that there are many more doors to open, and with each door opened, your knowledge and understanding expand, because you are taking the previous learning with you into the next room. It is an continuous unfolding and building in unison.

It is an AND….

Or as Steve Johnson shares in Where Good Ideas Come From, “The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries.  Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible.”

So, as you begin to think of change and the many myriads of forces that you will face. Understand that awareness will be paramount throughout the process on so many fronts. And two of those fronts to keep in mind will be an awareness of the past, the current and the future paradigms AND the “adjacent possible.”

We must come to realize that we can’t hopscotch our people or our organizations through any process of change. We have to build it through learning and hard work towards those breakthrough and ‘aha’ moments that push us into new spaces and new arenas. And that means that we create the learning and knowledge along the way that allow each person, in there own way, from their own readiness, to push the organization forward towards the vision.

The thing to understand is that this is very much about a vision, but not necessarily a destination. For as we move through paradigm shifts AND explore the “adjacent possible,” the process will continue to expand and change. It is an ongoing process that can only be fueled by learning, for when learning stops, so does the process. Our organizations will slowly begin to stagnate and stall. Without new learning, we fail to open doors to new rooms, and the unfolding stops. And instead of becoming what we can be, we will remain what we are.

“All of us live inside our own private versions of the adjacent possible. In our work lives, in our creative pursuits, in the organizations that employ us, in the communities we inhabit— in all these different environments, we are surrounded by potential new configurations, new ways of breaking out of our standard routines.”  -Steve Johnson Where Good Ideas Come From

Quotes and references from…

Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation. Riverhead Books, New York. 2010.

Laloux, Frederic.  Reinventing Organizations: A Guide To Creating Organizations Inspired By The Next Stage Of Human Consciousness.  Nelson Paker, Belgium. 2014.

Are We Creating “Fragile” Systems And Organizations?

“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”  -Nassim Taleb via Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

In a recent article from Smithsonian, they provided five reasons on why you might want to stop using antibacterial soap. One of the reasons is that “antibacterial soaps have the potential to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” Another being that antibacterial soaps “might lead to other health problems.” At the conclusion of the article, it was shared that you would probably be better served by just relying on “conventional soap and water.”

I had heard previously that using antibacterial soaps may be worse for you than using conventional soap and water, even though I hadn’t given it much thought. Getting rid of bacteria sounded like a natural premise to becoming healthier. The problem is that by eliminating bacteria, you also take away your body’s ability to engage that bacteria and create natural immunities. Thereby opening yourself to a host of all kinds of ailments and maladies down the line.

The interesting thing, is that we’ve taken a similar approach to how we try to run and even shield our organizations and institutions. In reality, we’ve tried to antibacterialize them against the randomness, uncertainty and unknowns that we are facing and coming more and more in contact with in our modern world. We are creating what Nassim Taleb might refer to as “fragile” organizations and institutions.

Especially in education, we are trying to create and erect invincible systems and organizations that are foolproof. We are trying to create certainty and assurances where it cannot exist. We are trying to antibacterialize our systems and organizations. Leading to misguided plans and strategies that are inevitably tearing down the immune systems of our institutions and organizations.

Or as Taleb shares in his work Antifragile, “We have been fragilizing the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything…by suppressing randomness and volatility.”

The problem with this kind of thinking, this antibacterializing of our organizations, is that we are not prepared or equipped to deal with the uncertainty, turbulence and chaos that we will eventually face in our modern world.

Instead of “fragile” which Taleb labels as those things that ”you necessarily want them to be left alone in peace, quiet, order, and predictability.” We need to look at creating systems, institutions and organizations that are antifragile” or as he shares, ”To be robust is to be neutral to shocks.”

Suppressing randomness, uncertainty and the unknown, endears our organizations towards becoming more and more “fragile.” When we antibacterialize our organizations, we make our organizational immune systems less and less hardy and resilient.

Trying to create more certainty and assurances, not only does not work, it makes us more apt to be shocked by the unknown and randomness that all systems and organizations will ultimately experience, especially in this volatile, turbulent, and chaotic world that we exist within.

To build up “antifragile” systems and organizations, we are going to need creative leaders who understand the randomness and uncertainty of our current world and use that understanding and knowledge to the benefit the whole of the organization. Creative leaders determined to face some risk, some uncertainty, and some unknowns to lower the “shock” level of the organization. To allow a bit of bacteria to exist in order to strengthen the whole of the system.

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same: the antifragile gets better.”  -via Nassim Taleb Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

Quotes and references from…

Taleb, Nassim. Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. 2014. New York. Random House Trade Paperback.

Getting It Right: When It Comes To Creativity And Innovation

“Give the wrong people a big challenge, and you’ll induce anxiety.  But give it to the right people, and you’ll induce joy.”  -Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg How Google Works

Especially in today’s world, it is vitally important that we are inducing opportunities to engage and build up the capacity for all our people to become and be more creative and innovative. However, as we work towards this end, we also have to understand that not all people are interested or comfortable in becoming more creative and or innovative. Some just want to do what they do well, and others just want to get it done. Engaging change and doing different is not always on everybody’s radar.

Which is why being creative leader in today’s world requires the awareness to recognize who the incrementals and who the moonshooters are…

As well as understanding how that label changes from project to project.

Too often that determination is based on a hierarchical, rather than a want, skill or ability-based process or structure. Creative leaders need to make sure they are giving the right work, to the right people, and for the right reasons. Otherwise, friction and frustration will be the result, minimizing output and momentum.

When leaders fail to recognize the wants, needs, talents, skills, and abilities of those they lead, they create discord across the organization. Even worse, they create anxiety and angst in those who feel ill-equipped and uncomfortable engaging in this work.

Which is why org chart structures will fail to engage creativity and innovation at scale in any organization.

Please don’t misunderstand what is being said, we all have creative and innovative capacities, but some more than others. And some have them right at the surface, while for others they lay buried deep within. Creative leaders comprehend and appreciate that some feel comfortable exploring those capacities, while recognizing that for others, it will take more time and effort. It requires knowing who is ready and who needs more support. Knowing who can move fast out of the gates and who needs the time and space to move slow.

Not something that can ever be determined by a person’s title or position.

“Innovative people do not need to be told to do it, they need to be allowed to do it.”  In other words, innovation has to evolve organically.” -via How Google Works

Tipping The Scales: Engaged vs. Disengaged

“Spread a mindset, not just a footprint.” -Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less

We live in a time where there are more tools, platforms and opportunity for communication than in any other time in our history. And for that reason, there is also greater illusion that communication is actually taking place, that clarity and understanding is widespread.

And yet, we only have to look at the data of widespread employee disengagement to realize that the commitment that often arises from true clarity of clear communication is not happening in and across our organizations. (According to Gallup, only about 29% of the American workforce is considered actively engaged).

Which means that scaling is a real concern in and for our modern 21st century organizations. Whether that be in regards to clarity, commitment, communication, creativity, or innovation. Otherwise, those glimmers of creative and innovative excellence will continue to reside only in pockets and fail to scale at any widespread level across our organizations.

According to Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao in their work Scaling Up Excellence, ”Scaling unfolds with less friction and more consistency when the people propelling it agree on what is right and wrong – and on what to pay attention to and what to ignore.  Effective scaling depends on believing and living a shared mindset…”

Which gets to the heart of the matter…

Growing numbers of disengaged employees, increased access leading to assumed clarity of communication, as well as minimal understanding on the leadership skills that enhance the opportunity and likelihood for more creative and innovative environments is inhibiting a shared mindset in our organizations.

Which harkens back to what Sutton and Rao are expounding. We are creating organizational cultures where disengagement often arises as a matter of frustration. Frustration from not being sure; of what to ignore, of what to focus upon, of what the next steps are, of what to commit too, and what to let go of, and even of who to follow.

Frustration and disengagement that is arising out of unsureness; out of uncertainty and ambiguity of the wrong kind.

As Sutton and Rao share, “Spreading, and updating a mindset requires relentless vigilance. It requires stating the beliefs and living the behavior, and then doing so again and again. These shared convictions reduce confusion; disagreements, and unnecessary dead ends – and diminish the chances that excellence with fade as your footprint expands.”

If we are going to overcome the engaged vs. the disengaged and scale up our organizations at all levels, it will require this “vigilance” from leadership. We will have to move from beyond assumed communication to true, authentic understanding and clarity at all levels, especially if a shared mindset is what we are after. Or as Sutton and Rao share…

It is going to take “a ground war” and not just an “air strike” to spread a mindset.

“There is a big difference between distributing your banner, logo, or motto as far and wide as possible versus having a deep and enduring influence on how employees and customers think, act, feel and filter information.” -Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao ‘Scaling Up Excellence’ 

Seeing Change Through A Glass Of Water

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want to change the world?”  -Steve Jobs

I want you to gather the image of a glass of water in your mind. Picture that glass sitting on a table.  Now imagine yourself walking around that table taking in the entirety of that simple glass of water. Imagine yourself taking in its clarity, its weight, and its volume. See how, even through its transparency, it fills the glass. It is clear, yet abundantly visible.

As you circle the table, look at how the glass holds and supports the life-sustaining water that sits within it. See how the glass not only supports and holds, but provides clarity to the level of water that it is holding.

Now imagine that life-sustaining water as your vision and the glass that holds it as your culture.

When the culture is good, it cups and embraces the vision. Its transparency and clarity provides everyone full access to how full or empty that vision may or may not be and the heavy lifting that will be required to hold the full weight of that glass and it’s contents.

Now imagine that glass to be discolored and opaque. The water within murky and cloudy. As you circle that glass, the transparency and clarity are no longer present. It is no longer easy to determine the level of the content within and what will be required to lift the glass. It’s contents no longer feel healthy or sustaining.

Far too often, our visions and cultures become cloudy and opaque when politics and personal agendas muddy the waters and close off our cultures to the clarity of the vision.

Now imagine putting out your hand and lifting that glass and having it slip through your fingers and watching it smash suddenly to the ground. Shards of glass smashed, splintered and splattered across the cement. The contents of that glass spilling and spreading out across the ground. It’s volume and weight dissipating and dissolving as it dampens the ground.

At its worst, some cultures are broken and fractured, unable to hold or embrace a vision. When the culture is broken, the vision leaks out and spreads thin. It has no volume or weight. It has little or no effect, eventually dissipating and dissolving away.

Just remember…

It is not enough to have water if you don’t have a glass to hold it, as it is not enough to have a glass if you have no water to fill it with. To give your work volume and weight, you must make sure that there is transparency and clarity to both the culture and the vision.

Transparency provides a sense of trust and authenticity. Just as clarity endears a sense of commitment. Great organizations understand that it takes a strong culture to embrace the vision, and a moving vision to fill the culture.

It is never an either-or proposition.  

It will always be about AND.

The Difference Between Launching A Rocket and Driving A Car

“Unfortunately, too many startup business plans look more like they are planning to launch a rocket ship than drive a car.”  -Eric Ries The Lean Startup

It would be a strange occurrence to ever get in my car and not know where I am going. Whether to work, the store, or a restaurant, I know where I am headed. The destination has been consciously decided before I ever open the door and get behind the wheel.

While unconsciously, I know that the path to that destination may not be without obstacle or issue. Traffic, accidents, closures and detours may change the route. And yet, that never changes the destination, only the path to take me there.

Even knowing this up front does not hinder me from heading out, from starting our journey. We know that we will face a plethora of unexpected hitches and hurdles on the road each and every day. We recognize it as just a part of the driving experience, a part of our daily journey.  And it has little if any effect on us because…

Every car is equipped with a steering wheel.

That steering wheel reminds us that we can navigate through these obstacles and issues. While it may take us off course or reroute us, we know that we can still eventually reach our destination.

Whereas, a rocket ship does not come equipped with a steering wheel. It takes numerous hours of planning and calibrating to make sure that the ship will reach its destination. All issues and obstacles have to be planned for ahead of time. As Eric Ries shares, “The tiniest error at the point of launch could yield catastrophic results thousands of miles later.”

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries shares this analogy of driving a car compared to launching a rocket ship in regards to how startup businesses approach their work. But the analogy is not limited to startups. It has impact on what we do as educators. On how we approach our work in our schools and districts.

Far too often in education we find ourselves trying to launch a rocket ship instead of driving a car.

We tend to focus considerable attention and time towards planning and calibration, rather than beginning the journey knowing that we have equipped our people with a steering wheel to guide them past the unexpected and unanticipated. It is the difference between expecting implementation and creating capacity.

Launching a rocket is all about implementation. Most often you are just along for the ride. Everything has been planned and calibrated.

Driving a car is all about capacity. It is about equipping your people with a steering wheel to make those decisions and course adjustments on an ongoing and as needed basis.

Launching a rocket is an event. Driving a car is a daily activity. It is the difference between gearing up and getting going.

So, the question in the end then becomes…

Are you planning to drive a car? Or trying to launch a rocket?

Remember, we will always learn faster by doing than we ever will by planning.