The 3I’s Of Change In The Midst Of Uncertainty: Innovation, Improvement, Implementation

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“The ability to not only endure but to invite, amplify, and exalt uncertainty, then reframe it as fuel is paramount to your ability to succeed as a creator.  Visionary innovation and creativity cannot happen when every variable, every outcome, every permutation is known and has been tested and validated in advance.  You cannot see the world differently if it’s already been seen in every possible way.  You cannot solve a problem better if every solution has already been defined.”  -via Jonathan Fields Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance

The brain thrives on certainty, and in uncertain times, even more so.  And we are definitely entering a time of deep uncertainty.  As Jonathan Fields would add from his work Uncertainty, “Disruption is the new normal.  Now, more than ever, you cannot lock down the future.”

And yet, we do little to intentionally embrace the unknowns that we are facing.  Instead, we do all that we can to provide a deeper sense of certainty.  Instead of looking for the opportunities arising of the current chaos, we recoil to the shell of cover that we hope will insulate us from the growing complexity that surrounds us.  We look for the knowns in the midst of a growing plethora of unknowns.  We tend to search out predictability in the face of doubt.  We heighten the value of quick solutions over the asking of bigger, deeper questions.

Inevitably, we try to predict, when we should learn to forecast.

And more and more we hear the growing chorus’ of…

“We are preparing ___________ for jobs that are yet to exist.”  

Which provides us some sense of semblance, safety and understanding for this unknown and unpredictable future we are currently facing.  A sentiment that makes us feel less anxious and a bit safer as the chaos and complexity of these times pushes in upon us.  It allows us move forward with a “We don’t know what we don’t know” approach and attitude.  Especially as we begin to realize that we are definitely working our way through very volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times.

While at the same time, the concern with leadership and organizations during these chaotic times is the tendency to become very reactive and reactionary in the midst of upheaval.  Especially when the leadership or organization is neither forward facing or engaged in future thinking.

As Jonathan Fields puts forth in Uncertainty“The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations.”

But we are struggling to dance with it.  We are avoiding the need to grapple with the variety of unknown forces pushing in on us as leaders and organizations.  For us to eventually get to where we can have better questions, better solutions, better ideas and better creations, we have to create environments for our individuals and organizations that move us past surviving and on to thriving in these VUCA times.

Especially when the necessity of change presents itself in the midst of the chaos and complexity of our current times.

As you consider the chaos, complexity and variety of unknowns that your leadership and organizations are facing, as well as the necessity and need for change that may be required…it may be worth your while to keep your eyes on 3 very formidable I’s during the process: Innovation, Improvement, and Implementation.

  1. Innovation – Begin by truly determining if the change that is being initiated is necessary and needed?  Is it adding value to the user?  Is it worth the effort for those the change is intended to support, as well as those implementing the change, and the organization itself?  Is the change going to be incremental or disruptive to the organization?  Determining and understanding if the change being initiated is relevant and worth sustaining in the future is vital to commitment now and then. As the quote goes, “All improvement requires change, but not all change is an improvement.”          
  2. Improvement – There are two sides to improvement in any change initiative.  First,  how will the change or innovation be an improvement to the user and the organization?  Second, how will progress of the change be monitored and measured?  It is in this process that it must be determined, through questions as opposed to moving too quickly to solutions, “What is the problem we are truly trying to solve?”  For any improvement or change initiative to be effective, determining the real problem that the change is trying to solve must be tethered out first so that it is getting at the root of WHY the change is necessary and needed in the first place.
  3. Implementation – Too often our change initiatives and efforts inordinately spend time focused on “strategic” planning to make sure that the implementation is perfected before moving forward.  Unfortunately, all of the “strategic” planning in the world cannot plan for every issue that occurs upon implementation, from infrastructure to resource concerns.  Instead of wholesale implementation, spend time in short cycles of experimentation that allow for learning.  Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) or Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA Loop) iteration processes allow for the necessary learning and or pivots needed for any change or innovation initiative to move towards full implementation in a much more effective manner, which benefits the user and the organization.

The 3I’s: Innovation, Improvement, Implementation allows individuals, leaders and organizations to engage a process around change that better supports the needs of those the change initiative or effort is aimed at benefitting.  Processes that allow for greater empathy throughout the process, to make sure that the change or innovation is truly benefitting user.  As well as providing a process and/or space where people can spend time grappling with and embracing the unknowns of our future, over continual amplification of the known.

As Jonathan Fields adds, “If everything is known and certain, that means it’s all been done before.  And creation isn’t about repetition.  Genius always starts with a question, not an answer.  Eliminate the question and you eliminate the possibility of genius.”

And while the brain thrives on certainty, to engage change leaders must create environments that allow people the time, space and processes to effectively grapple with uncertainty, especially in the face of change.  It is the only way that we will truly begin to create a tolerance for ambiguity in a time of VUCA.

“Whether you’re just looking to thrive in uncertain times or deliberately amplifying uncertainty in the name of creating better things and experiences, you can train your mind to not only handle the unease that comes from having to consistently act without having all the answers, but embrace and invite it as a signpost that what you’re doing matters.  Rather than grasping futilely after a sense of certainty that’ll never come, learn how to dance with the unknown.  It’s possible, it just takes a bit of work.  Then look for the opportunity that always goes hand in hand with upheaval.”  -Jonathan Fields Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance



In Exponential Times, Questions Matter

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“What if our schools could train students to be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change, by enabling them to be better questioners?”  -Warren Berger A More Beautiful Question

And it begins with us, the questions we are asking as individuals and organizations…

What changes?

What stays the same?

What is relevant?

What remains relevant?

What is irrelevant?

What falls into obsolescence and discontinuity?

What questions are we asking?

What questions do we need to be asking?

How will the current digital transformation effect education at all levels, across the spectrum?

How will we determine to prepare our students for a digitally disrupted world that is facing an unprecedented acceleration of change?

How deeply will the digital transformation effect the future that our students are walking out into? (Think of the next 5, 10, 15, even 20 years)

How do we prepare our organizations, educators, and students for the proliferation of data that is increasing and expanding exponentially and how to use it without becoming overwhelmed by it?

How will we prepare our students for a globalized future that is being outsourced and automated, as well as continually disrupted and enhanced by artificial intelligence?

How do we ensure that our students are being equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities that provide them opportunities in a vastly changing future?

Are we constantly asking…

What is?

What if?

How might we?

Too often we want answers, not more questions.  We thrive on trying to create safe environments focused on predictability and certainty, while avoiding the questions and conversations that may invite in more volatility, disruption and uncertainty.

As Jeanne Liedtka shares, “Innovation means moving into uncertainty.  To foster innovation, we need to embrace that learning only occurs when we step away from the familiar and accept the uncertainty that inevitably accompanies new experiences.”

But how will we truly define our individual and organizational challenges if we are not asking deeper and better questions?  How will we begin to invoke greater learning and inquiry, if we lack the questions that invite that thinking into our organizations?  If we are not asking better questions, how will we know whether or not we are even solving the right problems and challenges?

Far too often we find ourselves and our organizations providing well-considered answers and solutions, only to find that they are in collusion to solving the wrong problems and challenges we are facing.  

Asking questions allows individuals and organizations to grapple with their current circumstances, promoting both individual and team thinking, learning, inquiry, autonomy and agency, which is vital to dealing more effectively with the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that surrounds and infiltrates our organizations in today’s world.

Questions cause us to consider our future, as much as our current circumstances.  Questions allow us to move our thinking away from a predetermined consideration to more possible and preferable contemplations of the future.

Inability of individuals and organizations to endure the uncertainty brought forth and raised by our questions, will inevitably serve as the gatekeeper that locks us in status quo ways of thinking, doing and acting.  Or you might say, if we remain unable to ask what if, we will stay forever entrenched in what is.

“Questions challenge authority and disrupt established structures, processes, and systems, forcing people to have to at least think about doing something differently.”  -Warren Berger A More Beautiful Question


Exploring “What If” With Our Systems

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If the brain thrives on certainty, we must intentionally create environments and situations that both allow and force us to engage and grapple with uncertainty…if we are to gain the capacity that pushes us towards change that leads to transformation.

For transformation to occur, to really occur, we have to begin to create organizational environments where the willingness to ask “what if” moves us from greater awareness, to collective action around and toward a better vision for the future…

For this is much deeper than just risk-taking.  

It is embracing a willingness to move past the constant exploitation and amplification of the known, of what we’ve always done, in order to intentionally engage with the unknown and explore uncertainty.  Spending time in this arena, grappling with thinking and ideas beyond our current awareness and understandings, allows us to stretch and even unlearn the frames by which our current mental models are held in place.

For this is where new learning and new knowledge is created.

As individuals and organizations, we need to both explore and engage more “what if” questions that require us to create the mental scenarios that allow us to anticipate, forecast, and even prepare more effectively for the future, and what the future might require of us and our organizations.

We have to approach “what if” collectively…

What if we knew that we were going to be facing a possible dystopian future with automation and artificial intelligence causing major job displacement and economic upheaval, how would we decide to change our organizations and systems?

What if we knew that our current way of operating as an organization would be determined irrelevant and would face major disruption in the next two years, how would we decide to change our organization and our systems?

What if we knew that the content and skills we were teaching our students would be determined to be disconnected towards helping them find future success in a quickly changing world, how would we decide to change our organizations and systems?

What if we knew that the only way to thrive effectively in the future as individuals and organizations, required ongoing and continuous learning and change, how would that change our organizations and systems?

What if we knew that the way forward for individual and organizational success in the future required greater emotional intelligence, empathy, creativity, inventiveness, curiosity, how would we decide to change our organizations and systems?

What if we knew what the future would require of us and our organizations, would we be willing to change ourselves, our organizations, and our systems?

It is in our questions, much more than our answers, that we truly begin to determine a vision of what transformation may look like, both individually and organizationally.

And yet, what we often fail to realize, both individually and organizationally, is that even when we know the dire outcomes of an unwillingness to change, when we know that status quo thinking and doing will lead us into eventual irrelevance or worse…we still cling to the known, of what we’ve always done.

Too often, the fear of the unknown keeps us grounded in the irrelevance of the known.

Framing the future in fear is not going to create the change necessary to move us and our organizations forward more effectively.  Rather, we need to create new frames, new scenarios of a much more positive future, by allowing our “what if” questions to paint a picture of what we could become, of a better way forward, and a better future for us all.

In the end, always remember, if we never ask what if…we will always be left with what is.




My TEDx Experience

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“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”  -Ellen DeGeneres

I want to begin this piece by truly thanking Greg McWhorter @gmcwhorterVVUSD Phil Harding @pharding2 Matt Penner @mattpenner and Michael McCormick @ValVerdeSupt for the tremendous work they do to improve the profession of education for educators and students, as well as their ongoing positive support and encouragement they’ve provided me along my own journey. 

So, let’s set the stage…

I grew up with an unhealthy fear of public speaking, an almost paralyzing problem that would have me looking for any escape route available when the faintest possibility that I may have to get up and speak reared its ugly head.  As a student, when a presentation assignment required it, I would most assuredly find a way to be absent or sick on that day.  A ritual of avoidance that followed me into my college days.

Which followed me just as relentlessly into my adult life and career.

As an educator, I learned to come to grips with this fear in the classroom, however it did not stop me from finding the need or excuse to exit the room when it was apparent that the moment or occasion may be warranted in a meeting or professional development situation.  This is not to say that I felt comfortable with these avoidance behaviors, rather I was unable to find any relief or remedies from the debilitating anxiety and fear that public speaking arose at my very core.

As I moved from the classroom into administration, the need arose more regularly and in larger arenas.  I was slowly becoming more adept at handling these opportunities, which is not to say that knowing I had to speak to a large crowd at an upcoming date did not make the in-between time any less anxiety-riddled, often bringing on deep levels of stress and shortness of breath.

Yet, over time it got better and better.

Jumping to current circumstances, public speaking has become a large part of the work that I do, both in and outside of my regular day job.  Now, this is not to say that the shortness of breath and moments of deep anxiety do not still exist, but I have found ways to cope much more effectively, even as the events and opportunities get bigger, including my first keynote opportunity this year in front of several hundred educators.

While I will not say that my first inclination isn’t still to look for a way out of the opportunity when they arise, I have come to a place where I am much more willing to push through and not allow this fear to turn into future regret, of opportunities found and then ultimately lost.

Which takes us to now…

One of the greatest driving forces for squelching my avoidance of public speaking, was the way it debilitated my ability to bring ideas to the table.  I don’t want to be able to speak to be a speaker, rather I want the opportunity to have a voice at the table of transformation.  To be engaged in the discourse that leads to positive change and collective impact for individuals and organizations.  Unfortunately, for years, my fear was removing my voice from being engaged in that space.

So when I received a call a short time back to see if I was interested in taking part in a TEDx event, I was humbled, overwhelmed, and thankful not only to be a part of the event, but to even be considered.  So even though fear was gently tugging away at the back of my mind, I thankfully accepted the invitation.

However, sometimes we have to be aware of what our conscience is telling us as well, and sometimes it is more than the fear of speaking, or even public failing.

My gnawing conscience was trying to tell me that I was already on overload at work.  Not only were the last few months a heavy lift that had left me feeling cognitively drained, the upcoming time to the talk was filled with an even heavier lift and trainings.  However, it was just not something you say no too (or do you), as the opportunity may never come around again.  So you push through.

Arriving backstage…

Arriving that Saturday morning, after a week of very little sleep, mentally heavy trainings out of town over the last few days and the wear and tear of travel, I was still feeling energized, albeit a bit scared and definitely wound tight.  But here was a chance, a chance to engage ideas that I am deeply passionate about, ideas that I believe are worth sharing.  But I also new the relentless pace of the last few months had left very little time, physically or cognitively to plan for the talk, which had me very nervous.

On the stage…

The thing that we often forget, is that we always see the big opportunity as the game-changer, but sometimes the big opportunity doesn’t play out as planned, or envisioned.

Sometimes you crash and burn…and learn.

So here are a few of my take-aways from being in the TEDx moment, when it crashed and burned:

  • I allowed fear to overrule my better judgment.  Instead of getting out there and providing an authentic talk, I created a presentation.  I let my speaking bias’ get in the way of the indicators that were warning me that I was not approaching the process in the best way possible.  I tried to choose perfection over authenticity, and it just didn’t work (and not because the slides delayed).
  • I was so focused on relaying the intent and the message, that I lost my ability for connection (and let’s be honest, maybe the fact that it was being recorded did have a bit to do with it).  I found myself pushing, trying too hard to present this perfect message, when I should have been  focused on the story, which cost me not only the opportunity for greater connection, but greater overall impact.
  • I missed the “in the moment’ opportunities for engaging what was happening (which I know I attribute to being filmed).  Unfortunately, especially since I did not take the opportunity to use it as learning moment, a fly followed me out on to that TEDx stage, and it continued to relentlessly pursue the back of my head and face throughout the talk (which made me think of the HD film that it was being captured on).  So instead of using the fly as a story touchpoint, I tried to become more focused, leading to more frustration as I felt the message of what I was trying to engage slip through my fingers.

In the end, I allowed my focus on an outcome and the urgency to achieve that outcome to make me blind to what the environment and the indicators were telling me.  But that does not mean that I am not grateful for the opportunity, in fact I probably learned more than if it would have went off without a hitch.  It has allowed me an opportunity to be reflective, to reach into my core for resilience, and it has taught me a variety of lessons.  And it has made me much more aware of being open to listening to those indicators and of blindspots that we are all open to as leaders and learners.

Leaving the stage…

While there is a deep level of frustration and cognitive devastation as you walk through the curtain, the one thing I do know is that the level of connection I failed to achieve on that TEDx stage, will come forth in my day to day work.  For, it is in our failures, that we are able to gain the empathy to support those around us who are dealing with the same struggles.  And while I will probably never guide people to the link for that talk, the lessons learned, and how I will share them with others, will carry on much longer than the impact of any successful talk.

“Failure isn’t a necessary evil.  In fact, it isn’t evil at all.  It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”  -Ed Catmual via Creativity, Inc.

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

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“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




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

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“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)

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“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