Jeff Bezos

“If you absolutely can’t tolerate critics, then don’t do anything new or interesting.”

Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon
(Who knows plenty about both being criticized and doing new and interesting things)

Schools of Possibility and Hope

Innovating in the Right Places?

It’s a funny old world.

Here’s an article I spotted some weeks ago from Fast Company in which they set out to recognise the world’s 50 most innovative companies for 2015:

Fast Company – 50 Most Innovative Companies
(Click on the link to read and review the 50 companies)

Please take a look at the list before reading on.

First off, let’s excuse the USA-centricity of the list – that’s kind of inevitable! Then, I ask you to think about two things that have been troubling me since I went through this list a few times;

a) In the Western (wealthy economies) world, populations are aging – and quite fast. The baby boomers are reaching retirement in vast numbers, living longer, but not having looked after themselves so well along the way, not always in the best condition!

And yet, when you look through this list of 50 companies how many could really be said to be innovating for this demographic? How many are grasping the opportunities to bring enhanced quality of light in the older years (whilst also, I’m sure, they would make a great deal of money from these people)? It seems that somehow serving this burgeoning population of oldies just doesn’t get innovative people excited enough to want to do great work for them – even though the money would surely be good.

b) Putting aside those that relate to passive leisure (and arguably the nonconstructive wasting of time) such as HBO, Netflix etc. and those whose products or services impact all age ranges (Google, Apple) there are so few companies in the list who can be said to be innovating for future generations, for children or, more particularly, for the radical changes needed in how tomorrow’s society learns and is educated.

Is this just a reflection of the fact that Industry and the world of commerce is still so hell-bent on the short term, driven and motivated by desire for quick money, the quarterly P&L and instant results, or do we just have a generation of innovators who are plain selfish and can’t be bothered to apply themselves for the future?

In similar vein and again with the future as much as the present in mind, I’d have been much happier to see some organisations that were making significant contributions to solving or addressing environmental issues.


New Leadership

When we have so many concerns about the mismatch between school education on offer today and the needs of young people, we have to acknowledge that little is really going to improve until we are prepared to look very seriously at leadership within education. In short, will we have the schools and the education we need and want unless we bring about significant changes in schools’ leadership culture – and what are the changes that would be necessary?

I found this article from a senior member of the Ken Blanchard Companies interesting. Whilst its talking about the new ways of leading required in all types of organisations (especially those that need to harness the creative and innovative power of the employees – is that now all organisations?) I found some parts especially interesting when thinking about where we are currently in school education.

Ken Blanchard Companies – Unleashing The Crazy Ones

The article identifies three core roles for the leader; catalyst, architect and coach. The latter of the three is something I’ve believed in for some considerable time as an effective approach to leadership in schools. I think part of the appeal has to do with the importance of the first of the three roles. Directive, controlled leadership that centralises power and authority, decision-making and accountability doesn’t ‘grow people’ or have the potential to engender passion, commitment and true innovation.

The ‘abundance mindset’ talked of doesn’t just apply with the organisation’s own employees, but also with outside vendors and contractors. As time goes on I have found myself less and less interested in squeezing out the best price or a bit of cost saving (scarcity mindset), and more and more interested in building high-trust relationships with vendors and suppliers that are mutually beneficial and based upon the willingness of the vendor to work creatively and effectively to support what the schools deliver.

The second role – the ‘architect’ is undoubtedly the most important when it comes to change management, innovation and educational reform. This is the one that potential worries me the most. I see far too much ‘going through the motions’, replicating yesterdays schools and just trying to do everything they did. It’s often considered innovation and commitment if leaders in schools just seek to do the same old, but to do it 1% better. However, I don’t believe these are the approaches that are going to bring us the schools and the education we need today and tomorrow. That is going to require the courage and commitment to lead teams that think in new ways, are willing to try new things and are not afraid to sometimes fail.

One particular area where this is apparent is in the harnessing of technology and ICT to bring about fundamental changes in learning processes.