One question I have is how/where I insert the “Read More” command. I’m going to insert a More tag next and see if that does it.
I prepared the attached paper to explore the concept of small, local microlabs supported by a National Lab and focused on specific changes which I believe are at the heart of healing our education system.
In the past few months, I have facilitated and participated in a number of fascinating discussions on how best to develop a new model for K-12 education that serves all children well, makes smart use of computer learning, and leverages the looming fiscal crisis towards a more cost-effective approach.
I’m posting a brief “visual refresher” on K-12 education over the past century and asking the question whether conditions today should be pursued as an opportunity for significant system redesign.
I’ve been increasingly involved with K-12 education since 2006 when I became part of the research team and eventually a co-author of The Turnaround Challenge, the report proposing a new framework for turning around failing schools.
We become what we think about. To spur thinking about innovation as a normal, everyday part of doing business, I’m debuting Three Innovation Awards as a new monthly feature. (Suggestions for future awards are welcome.)
I’m just back from helping facilitate an incredible event: 240 talented educators passionate about building the next generation of K-12 learning. Some of the innovation models and discussions are universal and applicable to any organization; I’ll comment on those in a moment.
First, I’d just like to applaud the Knowledge Alliance, Stupski Foundation, and West Wind Education Policy for convening and delivering an incredible summit. Attendance was by invitation and there was a rich mix of private, social, and government sector representatives, many involved in innovative initiatives. Together, they spent three days exploring ways to combine and focus their efforts. [KnowledgeGarage repository]
Doblin’s Larry Keeley offered the keynote on Innovating by Design. Here are the three big ideas he discussed:
1. “Innovation is a set of skills, an everyday thing and not an event or a turn in the road.” Of course, I won’t be doing Strategy | Innovation | Facilitation if I didn’t believe that! Yet how many organizations have any consistent structure or systems for innovating?
2. Larry presented Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation model. It’s a model I’ve used in my consulting for years because it dramatically broadens thinking beyond new and better products and services. This graphic comes from an online article by Larry summarizing the model.
3. His presentation concluded with a set of tips for fostering innovation (copied here from the session notes):
- Think big and stand in the future…Focusing too tightly on the status quo will force failures
- Prototype a compelling model solution…Not because you will get it right, but instead because it is a shared idea
- Co-construct, co-construct, co-construct…All of us are smarter than any of us; don’t be exclusionary
- Avoid central control…It doesn’t work, it is woefully out of date, modern systems don’t need it
- Start with what you have now…You will not ever have perfect conditions, so be adaptive and modular
- Foster integrated platforms, not products…not just what we do, but how we do it, so that many independent participants can participate in the solution
Here are a few of my own observations about innovation in K-12 education, most of which are easily extrapolated to other arenas:
1. Standing in the future dramatically clarifies strategic thinking. Someone once said if you’re having trouble solving a problem, make it bigger. While the present (actually the near-future) often seems muddy and contradictory, many things about the more distant future have a high degree of confidence: for example, minority students will comprise a majority of our school-age population within two decades; mobile computing will be more powerful and accessible, and the 5% per year increase in per capita cost of education is unsustainable. Accordingly, I submit it’s easier to envision the shape of U.S. education twenty years from now than it is five years from now.
2. I loved Larry’s admonition to look for a “profound case of stupidity” at the core of any system. In education, it’s our age-graded assembly line system operating in the face of growing dissimilarity in student needs. We need to study/innovate other systems for personalizing learning that produce better results at sustainable cost levels.
3. I wrote in my notes, “Find and study the fastest moving organisms.” There are teachers and principals who are innovating new models and having success. There’s lots of research on their successes (see our Turnaround Challenge and Karin Chenoweth’s research for starters), but what’s missing is a systematic effort to identity, adapt, and adopt. In my view, these pioneers (or “lead users”) are the key to education innovation. Eric von Hippel, Director of the MIT Innovation Lab, has spent much of his career researching the vital role of lead users as the fundamental driver of innovation. He has a series of short video tutorials about lead user innovation. This bottom-up lead user innovation model needs to be married to Doblin’s top-down model if innovation in education is to have success.
4. In education, innovation is inhibited by dominant design forces that perpetuate our existing K-12 model in the same way they do the QWERTY keyboard, Microsoft Windows, the internal combustion engine, and other industry standards. James Utterback studied these forces in Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation:
User acceptance of the dominant design of the original innovation created certain boundaries within which subsequent waves of innovation wisely developed….For example, we will see in the next chapter how the displacement of gas lighting by incandescent lighting was advanced by Edison’s running wires through the very same pipes that once brought illuminating gas into consumers’ homes. […]
The lesson for technology managers and business strategists is straightforward: understand the constraints of systems, user learning, habits, and collateral assets already imposed by the existing dominant design. [p51]
I love that image of Edison running wires through repurposed gas pipes! It’s quite an analogy for K-12 education innovation, given that the current dominant design is reinforced by so many levels of standardized systems and regulations, stakeholder expectations and habits, physical infrastructure, and teacher capability! Can we be smart enough to design effective innovation from within?
5. “Careful there!” Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould might have said. Dominant design principles exist in the natural world as well and beneficial mutations are often eradicated by genetic dilution despite their benefit to the mutated organism. Gould noted that many, many evolutionary adaptations spread and gain superiority in small, fringe populations before migrating into larger populations. To apply this principle to education, Gould might point out that within traditional schools innovative methods developed by cutting edge teachers rarely propagate far from their source. Meanwhile, charter schools are small, fringe worlds where innovation is more common, yet there is no effective migration path back into the larger dominant design schools.
6. Thus, we are confronting what we might call the Gravitational Paradox of Education Innovation. If we attempt to foster innovation, as Utterback suggests, in full recognition of the boundaries of the dominant design, we run the risk that the gravitation forces of the existing model will crush progress. On the other hand, if we foster innovation in places sufficiently protected from those forces, we run the risk they will burn up trying to re-enter the dominant design atmosphere. Where then to position our innovation camp?
7. I digress here to comment: on the core task of educating high-poverty students for productive lives, we have a ton of knowledge about how to do so if we were starting with a clean slate! It’s not an easy thing, for sure, but it’s the lesser innovation challenge compared to the institutional complexity of changing the K-12 industry itself. (Similarly, we know the DVORAK keyboard is 16 times easier to use than the QWERTY, but the unsolved innovation challenge is how to migrate from one model to the other.)
8. So how do we tackle the Gravitational Paradox? Where do we position our innovation camp? I’ve thought a lot about this since the summit and I wonder if the Linux/Open Source model might not offer promise. In 1984, Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation launched the GNU project to create a free version of the Unix operating system as an alternative to the dominant, proprietary systems of the time. In the early 90s, Finnish grad student Linus Torvalds extended this work, proving to be adept at enrolling different organizations and programmers, coordinating self-interested development projects, promulgating standards, and slowly nurturing an entire Linux industry around a collaborative, global, largely volunteer effort.
9. Urban education, in my view, needs the same three things that made Linux work:
- A clear mission and mandate to develop an alternative to the dominant design.
- A means of enrolling and coordinating local innovators (typically lead users) to build that alternative.
- The ability to perfect and protect a rigorous, yet customizable, system with reliable, replicable performance and supported by a sustainable, professional industry.
Despite the many differences between software and education, Linux successfully solved the paradox faced by education innovators. Committing to an “Open/Urban” model could pull lead user innovators into a national coalition, focus R & D, accelerate dissemination of successful innovations, and stimulate the formation of supporting institutions and professionals.
I look forward to comments!
Normally, my focus is private businesses and non-profits, not public companies; however, The Economist’s profile of the network technology giant Cisco is applicable for all audiences:
Cisco, which had revenues of $36 billion in its latest financial year and employs more than 66,000 people, has been making headlines again for different reasons as well. “Cisco plans big push into server market,” read one in January. Another, in March, declared: “Cisco pushes further into consumer territory.” More recently a third said: “Cisco: smart grid will eclipse the size of internet.”
In other words, the plumber is branching out….[T]he company is tackling more than 30 “market adjacencies”, as new areas of growth are called in the corporate argot.
Cisco is moving everywhere it thinks networking will change how we live and how we work and that makes this article a fascinating lens into the future. I found the section on video particularly compelling:
Cisco believes [video] will in the long run account for a lot of communication among both businesses and individuals….To get an even bigger slice of the video pie, Cisco developed TelePresence, the first unit of which was sold in December 2006. It combines big, high-definition screens, spatially sensitive microphones, custom video-processing technology and networking equipment. What is more, setting up a TelePresence meeting is as easy as making a telephone call. Facilitators are no longer needed.
Cisco intends to push TelePresence into the home. This is the main reason why it bought Scientific Atlanta, a maker of set-top boxes, for $6.9 billion and, more recently, spent $590m on Pure Digital Technologies, maker of Flip, a range of hand-held camcorders. TelePresence at home will soon be combined with another project: sports and entertainment. The firm intends to turn stadiums into multimedia temples—and eventually to pump the match-day experience into living-rooms. Mr Chambers [Cisco CEO] hopes one day to watch North Carolina against Duke, archrivals in American college basketball, with his sister while they are linked by TelePresence.
Sports and entertainment might be the drivers, but one can envision this technology being transformational in virtual health care and education, or almost any consultative or knowledge-based transaction. UnitedHealth Group, Marriot, and Starwood Hotels are three companies making major investments in TelePresence centers.
In fact, Cisco is convinced that the network is enabling and defining a new organizational model based on “co-ordinate and cultivate” rather than “command and control.” A significant portion of the article describes Cisco’s restructuring initiative: to centralize and streamline functions like engineering, manufacturing, and marketing while replacing business units with “an elaborate system of committees made up of managers from different functions.” What comes to my skeptical mind is the old “when everyone’s responsible, no one’s responsible.” However, Cisco is hell-bent on overcoming the traditional shortcomings of cross-functional structures through a combination of collaborative technologies and organizational development strategies. It’s a fascinating read. I confess to a degree of skepticism, but John Chambers is highly regarded and if they make their structure work, it may soon be coming to an organization near you!
I love backstories! Behind the greatest breakthroughs in human histories are often simple patterns and serendipities that stoke my sense of wonder and awe. They also drive me to proselytize about emergent innovation – the kind of everyday innovation that any enterprise can learn to master.
There’s a nice backstory to Galileo’s telescope that’s as applicable today as it was 400 years ago! Let’s start with the basic history, compliments of Radio Free Europe:
Despite the summer heat, the Senate of Venice assembled on this day in 1609 to view a remarkable scientific instrument. It was built by the well-known astronomer and philosopher from Pisa, Galileo Galilei, and could make distant objects appear closer when viewed through one end of its long pipe. It was a telescope.
Not that Galileo had invented the instrument. Credit for that is generally given to a Dutch stargazer who is almost forgotten today, Hans Lipperhay, who unveiled his basic telescope only the previous year, in 1608.
But Galileo, ever the practical perfectionist, had already improved upon the basic essentials and produced a variable-focus instrument that increased the size of the observed object by eight times.
Why he presented it first of all to the assembled Venetian senators is not clear. But perhaps the Venetians, who had business and commerce in their marrow, saw this instrument as a way to boost their glass lens industry. After all, Venice along with Florence, was the leading center for high-quality ground glass for spectacle lenses and magnifying glasses.
Certainly Galileo made money building and selling his telescope to eager customers, until his designs were overtaken in a relatively short time by more sophisticated types.
The outline of the innovation backstory doesn’t need much interpreting:
1. The telescope made Galileo a more productive astronomer. In economic terms, innovation is not “newness” but “new productivity.”
2. Galileo didn’t invent the telescope; he optimized it to his work. Invention must be adopted and used to constitute innovation. Invention, Professor Kathleen Eisenhardt explains, “…is the starting line of the race, not the finish.”
3. Galileo, and the original inventor Lipperhay, were both “lead users” – the folks striving to solve real world problems that MIT innovation scholar Eric von Hippel identifies as perhaps our most productive source of innovation.
4. Classic Schumpeterian economics are at work here: Lipperhay invents the telescope, Galileo quickly “improved upon the basic essentials,” and “more sophisticated types” were soon brought to market (by manufacturers rather than lead users, I would speculate). In this brief span of time, we can see the “creative destruction” triggered by new productivity and the “temporary monopoly” held fleetingly by each round of telescope maker.
5. Galileo’s rapid improvement of Lipperhay’s design was probably greatly facilitated by his proximity to the high level of glass-making in Venice, particularly the grinding and polishing of lenses. Innovation springs from local superiorities.
6. Finally, although absent from the above summary, there is rapid and wide diffusion of Galileo’s tool through many continents and occupations. Often, the best business opportunities require — not the scientific genius of a Galileo — but the ability to identify and harness emerging innovations that will have a similar rapid and wide diffusion. As economist William Baumol notes, “invention is not a prerequisite to being an innovation contributor.” The Internet is an obvious contemporary example.
For a more complete history of innovations in optics and telescopes, see The Galileo Project.
The NY Times has a nice article today on business innovations among interior designers:
In a business where tradition can squelch creative ways of doing things, it is often difficult to introduce fresh ideas, but the economy is encouraging experimentation.
Here are some of the themes I noted:
- Taking smaller and off-beat projects
- Offering streamlined online services
- Empowering client-led design efforts
- Creating new events and venues to get exposure
- Creating an online exchange for eclectic furnishings