277 posts categorized "Digital Media & Change Management"

January 06, 2019

To look forward, don’t beat a retreat

Defining strategy is the most important work a leadership team can do. The last place they should go to do it is a retreat.

It’s January, and wherever I look online I see so many friends’ new year’s resolutions, strategies to make 2019 a little better than 2018, perhaps. And I see many wittily launch jibes about how they don’t make resolutions (“I never keep to them anyway, so why bother?”

They’ve got a point: we create resolutions at a time of forced relaxation when most of the world has shut down. The inbox is empty (or, at least, not filling up), our families surround us physically or digitally, our thoughts of work are kept at bay, still, through a fog of champagne bubbles and hangovers and bracing twilight walks. The time in which we come up with our resolutions barely resembles any other time of year. It’s no wonder that the daily cycle rides, walks or gym visits subside when the onslaught of reality begins on January 3rd.

In March a few years ago, I had been invited by a group of different schools’ Heads to a joint retreat. It was a retreat in name, at least. In reality, it was an overcharged three-day programme of administrative meetings, mutual therapy, forced fun, eating and drinking a bit too much. I was asked to walk them through an innovation process so that they could make Great Things Happen. I was given six hours during their three precious days. One of the widely-respected Heads proclaimed:

“I don’t know why we’re looking at innovation now, at this point in the year. It’s a terrible time to be thinking about doing anything in a school.”

March is indeed a hectic time in schools. Examinations for older students are looming, the last chance for some serious cramming on the horizon (by this point, many secondary schools admit that the learning is more or less suspended). Even little ones are finalising portfolios and presentations, exhibitions and performances.

But I was perturbed. As the CEOs of their organisations, strategy should be an everyday activity. Strategy is not something for which we can afford to cherrypick a slot in our calendars, something we choose to do at certain more relaxed times of the year. Strategy is definitely not something we can demote to six hours in a forced period of ‘retreat’.

Innovation is change. Change is what strategy both predicts and provokes. Strategy is where we plan.

The strategic plan itself is rendered useless fairly quickly. “Strategy’s great until you get punched in the mouth,” says Mike Tyson. “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” is how Dwight Eisenhower put it. Eisenhower was actually paraphrasing what a soldier had told him, and the soldier was much more precise in what kind of plans are worthless:

“Peace-time plans are of no particular value, but peace-time planning is indispensable.”

And there it is. Peaceful time plans — new year’s resolutions, strategic planning done in the quiet months of an organisation, holiday romances — are often worthless the moment the break or retreat is over. But the process of thinking things through — the planning — is vital. Why?

Peaceful time planning is vital because it lets us go through a process slowly. Think of it like training in a technique, a technique that we should be employing every day, at faster and faster speeds, so that when we’re in the thick of it in our busier ‘real’ lives we can cope with the punches coming our way.

After a deep immersive process throughout their organisation, a Design Team of students, teachers, staff and parents work through a mass of data, perceptions and stories to design simple strategy that anyone can use.

Over the past four years, my team has been involved in more strategy work with organisations than ever before. The word of mouth that drives some of the most successful organisations in the world to us for this help is invaluable, and reveals why people are seeking something different to their usual “strategic planning retreat”:

1. One, two or three days are not enough to come up with a strategic plan. Strategic planning is about the future, but to do this well you need to build on what happens today. People need some time to dive deeply into what makes their organisation tick today, and what people’s hopes and fears for the future might be. If you’re doing it properly, this deep dive immersive experience can take up to six weeks, and should involve everyone in your community contributing their perspectives. It’s a significant communications exercise to ensure everyone knows that they have the opportunity to present, share or post their perceptions of what works well, and less well, in the organisation today.

We use a strategic planning version of our NoTosh Design Thinking process to set up effective teams who can procure, encourage and manage this massive set of contributions, and then make sense of the trends that emerge from it. This kind of inclusive, immersive process is superb for providing that ‘peacetime planning’ moment for every member of the community. Even if it’s just for five minutes in the ‘war room’ or ‘project nest’, every teacher, student, parent, employee or visitor to the school can take the time to reflect, and get their memory muscle developed for planning every day. And the tools we use to synthesis all that data turn even the most ardent moan into a positive force to drive an organisation’s ambitious ideas.

2. The strategic plan itself is worthless within weeks or months. Organisations’ needs change quicker today than they did ten years ago. A five-year strategic plan might help a leadership team feel accountable, that they’ve done their job. But continuing with it headlong, without ever changing the expectations along the way, would be foolish. I don’t know any leadership team which has actually seen through every item in a five year plan, at the exclusion of all others. Most organisations with these kinds of long-term plans have massive fatigue in their teams: initiative after initiative gets introduced as sticky plaster planning for when the original plan isn’t quite working. But no-one ever dares to ditch significant projects in a five-year plan, even when, further down the road from the point of writing the plan, they’re clearly off-target.

Instead, we invest expertise in framing a leadership team’s vision as an exciting image of the future. Individually, a leader will struggle to express a vision that doesn’t make their ass clench with slight embarrassment from being a little too much or, more likely, a bit underwhelming. But with help, it’s possible to translate a team’s individual ideas for the future of their organisation into something that is compelling and which feels like a ‘goldilocks’ vision — not too hard, not too easy, just right.

3. Most strategic plans are actually just long-term plans. They’re not strategy. Strategy should look mercifully short when laid out on a postcard. Three, four or five ‘orders’ that tell the team how to play, but which don’t lay out each and every step you expect people to take. The ideas to realise the leadership’s expression of the vision need to come from and be delivered by the people who will feel the positive impact in the end.

That level of simplicity takes a lot of effort, expertise and time. We use some of the world’s best copywriters to knock strategy into shape so that the youngest member of a team or the person with English as their third or fourth language, can all understand how they’re meant to act.

4. Good strategy is only good when we know it works. So we don’t make anything final until the leadership team have tested the strategy out with their own current big projects. Ideally, there should be some that are clearly in their last breaths, ready to be ditched because they don’t help realise the vision, and they can’t be done in a way that works with the rest of the team’s strategy. Other projects will need changed to be successful — the strategy tells the leader how they need changed. And there will be some existing projects which will move front and centre — they may take on importance they didn’t have before.

Confident organisations test strategy further. In the American School of Warsaw, they’ve been testing for eight months, and are ready now to commit to most of what they set out, with some minor changes. Other organisations just know that they’ve nailed their direction, in days, often because there was little direction before, so any direction helps people have the focus they need here and now. These teams, far from being slapdash in their approach, understand deeply how strategy is something to be revisited daily.

5. Good strategy should be revisited every day. How do you know you’re doing a good job? How do you know that what you did yesterday worked, and what you’ll continue today will realise the vision you’ve got? Success metrics should not be reduced to annual or quarterly traffic lights, percentages and Board-speak management jargon. Success of projects can be measured in so many different ways, every day. Meeting about project success every week for 30 minutes allows the average organisation 48 points of change, instead of what might be achieved with eight Board meetings. For a leadership team to meet every day for 10 minutes to talk about success, accelerates the potential to tweak and amplify success to 240 points every year.

1000 points of change over five years, or a five year plan with one process at the start to get it right? Which do you prefer? That’s a lot more opportunity to plan together, to cope with the punches to your collective jaw, to kill off ideas that aren’t working (and assure yourselves that everyone knows why). You can only do this if you’re confident that your strategy is of the people in your organisation.

6. Strategy has to be true, not a trueism. Genchi Genbutsu is the Japanese term for the kind of active observation of the organisation that we undertake in that first deep dive. A leadership cannot take itself away to a five star hotel to presuppose what might be true, and develop a strategy from that point of view. A team can’t just talk about what it sees. It’s got to look. This is Genchi Genbutsu. It literally means: get out and see for yourself. Toyota are arguably the Japanese grandmasters of this technique, led by the founder of their world-famous manufacturing system, Taiichi Ohno, and it forms part of their formal five-part strategy for working:

The best practice is to go and see the location or process where the problem exists in order to solve that problem more quickly and efficiently. To grasp problems, confirm the facts and analyse root causes.
The Toyota Production System requires a high level of management presence on the factory floor, so that if a problem exists in this area it should be first of all correctly understood before being solved.

In Jeffrey Liker’s The Toyota Way we see the notion taken beyond the factory floor. Yuji Yokoya was the chief engineer for the 2004 Toyota Sienna redesign. Yokoya had never worked on a car made for the North American market, and he felt the need to practise some Genchi Genbutsu and get out to North America to gain some sense of empathy for a North American driver, and the potential purchaser of this new car. In the end, Yokoya drove a previous model Sienna throughout all 50 American states as well as all 13 provinces and territories of Canada. He got as far as the streets of Mexico.

Why was such a costly and timely roadtrip necessary? Was this the midlife crisis of a successful engineer, or a genius move to make major changes to an otherwise successful (in the Japanese market) car?

What he learned could not have been learned from any analytical data, survey or web search. Why? Because the things he observed needed observing by a Japanese Toyota engineer to make sense — they needed that empathetic, but foreign eye, to be seen afresh. For example, he discovered that roads in Canada are very different from those in the US — they have a very high central reservation designed to deal with the never-ending snowfall of winter. He learned that the winds in Mississippi are so strong at times that, if the family-sized Sienna were not designed with this in mind, it might have flipped over with the force. The most valuable lesson was perhaps to do with a tiny, non-engineering type problem: cup holders. In his native Japan people rarely eat or drink in their vehicles, while their North American counterparts were relatively settled in the habit of eating several of their daily meals within the car, on the move.

From the many design and engineering problems he spotted, Yokoya’s team developed a new Sienna for 2004, equipped with 14 cup holders and a flip tray specifically designed for your Big Mac and fries. It was their best-selling model yet.

The notion of ‘getting out there and seeing it’ might well seem like a drawback for leadership teams looking after large institutions, or entire districts, states or countries. They might feel that they can’t afford the equivalent of a 50-state road trip to get a firsthand insight. To undertake an extensive immersion, in person, ‘out there’, might not be possible for every individual leader. But it is possible when you harness your community, communicate well, form dedicated design teams to do the work with you. Toyota explain further with a reassurance for leaders:

The nature of the phrase is less about the physical act of visiting a site but more to do with a personal understanding of the full implications of any action within an environment as a whole.

The impact of changing one’s mindset, often by applying a strong sense of empathy to how others might view a situation, is powerful. Even in a workshop type situation, normally within the air-conditioned magnolia of a plush hotel or a school meeting room with no wifi (and no connection to the outside world), the mindset change put in place by considering every actor’s feelings and potential observations of the current situation is profound.

From one workshop in a business centre in Spain looking at problems in schools 500 miles away:

‘This workshop focused on people and used real examples; the process was involving.’

From a Headteacher in England:

‘The fact that everyone can take part and feels a necessity to join in means that all views, good and bad are taken into account.’

From a team in Australia looking at a perennial challenge they hadn’t (yet) overcome:

‘We loved having the time to explore ideas, good and bad, without negativity, to see things from so many perspectives.’

Just making an effort to connect with people from other perspectives transforms our thinking about what the underlying challenges we need to address might be.

This article has elements adapted from my book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, available in paperback, Kindle and iBooks, and in Spanish.

 

June 02, 2016

MONO Decision-making: Minimum Oblique Non-Obvious

When you want someone to do something, you tell them so. In companies and schools alike, we've found a polite way to tell people what to do by writing visions, missions and all sorts of other PDFs that languish on the C-drive, bound polypocketed books that sit deep in the cupboard under your teacher desk.

Education is filled with jargon and we-speak that means nothing to the people who hear it every day. Teachers, students and parents are as much in the dark about the "transformational leverage" being "curated" within their "organization" (or, in other words: we really want you to change the way you do stuff).

I spend a fair amount of time working with copywriters, advertising and marketing geeks on language: how do we say what we mean, and mean what we say? Getting more direct and killing the jargon is a great start to changing the way you do stuff in the long term. It helps involve more people in the change, too, because they can actually grasp what they're meant to do to make that change happen.

But in this talk from the marvellous Rory Sutherland, there was that other mechanism to create change, and one of which we are might fond in NoTosh. In fact, the first book every new employee gets is Smile In The Mind, a tome full of visual puns that say so much without saying it. Sutherland calls is MONO decision-making: Minimum Oblique Non-Obvious decision-making:

It’s sometimes easier to do the wrong thing than the right thing.

Most people do the wrong thing because they’re not aware of a choice.

But give them a choice, no matter how rubbish it is, they then make a choice that they didn’t know they even had.

When London wanted to get people using a new train line, it doesn’t require a large investment (a new tram-  or trainline), or much tunnel-building, but rather a revealing of choice in the right place and time. The 'new' Crossrail is in fact a bunch of train lines that they've connected together on a map, more than connecting them together on the ground. That map - the Underground map - traditionally showed North London as being the most connected place, and thereby thrust up housing prices. It's not true - it's just that in South London you use a warren of train lines that cannot be seen on the underground. 

He expresses it in all its clarity, with other examples, at about 10"50 into this clip

November 24, 2015

It's high time for designers to get out of the way of design thinking

Design at IBM

A prospective client sent me a link to this in-depth article on IBM's design thinking revolution, where Phil Gilbert, IBM's General Manager of Design, has hired over 1000 designers into the firm, and pushed for over 8000 of its managers and staff to get 'trained' in design thinking. They have even created specific design centres across the firm, with design offices in most of its key locations, such as the one above. The goal is nothing short of beginning IBM's next phase of transformation, one of many in its 100+ year history.

However, all is not rosy. Despite achieving a monumental success relative to the status quo, 8000 'recognised' design thinkers in a corporation of over 370,000 souls is barely a dent in terms of changing practice. If NoTosh were to effect change in only 2% of the teachers with whom we work, we'd have packed up our bags long ago.

I'm not sure hiring 1000 designers in and of itself is the answer to any organisation trying to instil a different way of viewing the world. Here's why.

Since design thinking really began to be a thing, back in the early 60s, the designer him or herself has consistently been at the centre of the design process. Even though we talk of 'user-centred design', the actual ideation and production of a solution, and in many cases the synthesis and definition of the problem to be solve, too, are all tasks undertaken by skilled 'designers', rather than the people in the organisation who have the scope, brand, or 'permission' to play in that space. Once the designers leave the project, so does the design thinking. 

There is a reason d.school sees its executive courses filled with repeat customers and firms like IDEO continue to thrive - they are resolving challenges in specific examples of services or products, but not necessarily transforming the firms and organisations who had the budget and desire to solve a problem in that specific area. Solving a problem costs money. Solving a problem and teaching the client how to do it again and again costs more than just money. That might be the greatest challenge of all.

It's not just a gut feel or my word for it either. There is ample research showing this phenomenon of 'designer at centre' of the process, and the negative effects it has on finished products and services (Brown & Katz, 2011; Leifer, Plattner & Meinel, 2013).

Where the IBM story gets interesting is the number of times the word 'study' is used: four times. Those who want to think differently have to work hard at it, and look out of their existing ecosystem to see how. But the words 'teach' or 'show' or 'share'...? 0 appearances in this article, and many like it.

As long as organisations 'buy in' design expertise, it is in the designers' interest not to teach or to show. After all, where will the next gig come from? And are all designers clear on how they can work and teach their craft to the client? In our firm, we're not only well-practiced at thinking differently, both creatively and critically, but we're also beautifully amateur in so many of the industrial domains in which we choose to play. We are not experts in automotives, fashion, television or web startups. But we are expert teachers. And, with that, we are inherently sharers and showers.

It is that nuance that will help design move from the ranks of bearded, checked-shirt, boating shoe cool kids, and into any organisation that wants to effect perpetual and significant change in the way it views the world around it. If you want to outthink the limits of what's possible, the first step might be to put learning at the heart of everything you do

References:
Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2011). Change by design. Journal Of Product Innovation Management, 28(3), 381-383.
Leifer, L., Plattner, H., & Meinel, C. (2013). Design thinking research: Building innovation eco-systems.

 

September 30, 2015

Teachers make meaningful, pragmatic strategy for learning

IMG_3520
So much school strategy is thunder and lightning, no rain. Teachers don't know how to use it at 9am on Monday morning, students never see it, let alone know how to take their part in making the strategy happen for real.

Not in our latest workshop in Sweden. 

We've been working with our Swedish partners Lin Education​, with colleague Bonnie Stewart over from Canada, to provide a group of Malmö teachers and leaders with some deep, but brief, provocations on how media, identity, our networks and our approach to students owning more of their learning can be more likely to succeed.

They have spent the afternoon synthesising all of this to work out what the key headache they have might actually be, before defining an objective they'd like to meet to resolve that pain. Then, we've helped them work out the three or four key strategic projects they need to work through in order to get to the objective, reach their summit.

Here, the youngest teacher in each team is pitching their fifth prototype of the strategy, having received feedback all afternoon from different groups. In this session they only get the questions and feedback of colleagues, and are not allowed to reply. THAT is the serious work they'll do in the weeks to come - answering the questions and queries of colleagues to make the objective more concrete.

It's a brief, light version of what we've been doing with schools over a year or longer, tackling challenges in individual classrooms, perhaps, more than whole school ones. But the impact on these teachers is already fascinating - they're walking away having learned something, with a plan of their next actions, and the means to persuade the colleagues to join them.

The techniques we've used are described in my book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen.

August 31, 2015

What it means to be visionary

I'm working on a project where we're trying to inspire engineers to think beyond improving the existing objects and services in our world, and invent what we don't even know we don't even know yet. We're getting them to bump into their own unknown unknowns

This Steve Jobs video, above, is from 1997, where he describes in anecdote how he has created, over the seven prior years, what we know today as cloud computing. And yet, even today, there are plenty of institutions that struggle with the notion of putting everything "up there", where it is faster to access and safe(r) from loss. 

So the question is this: do you want to be a visionary, or follow one for an exciting ride, or be around nearly twenty years later questioning the vision of those who went off and did it? 

May 18, 2015

Do schools ever want to partner with business?

 

15347922816_e1e82d1f6d_z

“Teachers like to agree with each other, when we talk about learning. It’s hard to change that, when the model we have wanted to make work has nonetheless been failing for 40 years.” Professor Brian Boyd

No area has remained up there in the contentiousness charts in Scotland as the notion of business and education working together to do something better for our young people.

Most schools do not ‘partner’ with colleges or universities. Instead, they are production facilities for undergraduates and college entrants. Fewer are set up to systematically provide apprenticeship opportunities as well as learning. At NoTosh, we’ve been working on a few, nascent projects to change the attitudes of schools from being these production facilities into something more of a life support - what metrics of success might we use if schools judged their success on the results of their alumni, five, ten or twenty years down the line, much like universities do?

City of Glasgow College have partnered with Newlands Junior College (NJC) to make the experience of a day in college more than what, in other circumstances, is too often perceived as a day off from school. The Junior College is called this, and not a school, for that very reason, to mark it out as a stepping stone between school and full-blown college. NoTosh helped last August to provoke the team around their thoughts of what 'unschool' might look like.

The College was backed and founded by Jim McColl, one of Scotland’s top business people. 

In the future, suggests, McColl, might be be possible to take funding of learning out of its pre-existing silos, particularly for this group of students, about 60 in every city at these ages, who just need a different approach to the traditional comprehensive approach? A crossover funding model that helps learning happen in both ‘school’ or Junior College and college or university might be interesting. In fact, some of the world’s top universities are thinking of such models for their own students: Stanford’s 2025 project talks about the Open Loop, where learning and work happen over far more than the usual four year degree, offering students a chance to grow through not just learning, but contributing to society through their work, too.

Such continuums of learning, from school to college to work, are the most rare in the world - we’re lucky in Scotland to have one in the form of Newlands Junior College. If we struggle to collaborate between educational institutions, then collaboration between those not in the world of formal education - namely businesses - feels far fetched. 

McColl is frank on his views of the traditional ‘comprenhensive’ education he received: he couldn’t get out of secondary school fast enough. In his small primary school “people cared”. He was the Dux of his class, even if, he jokes, the class only had seven pupils. Aged 16, he gained his Weir pumps apprenticeship, the choice grounded in nothing other than the fact it was the closest bus stop to his house. But, once there, the trainer told him: “Just work hard and we’ll give you all the support you need. If you want to get to the top, you just have to work hard.” He did. And in 2007 he bought the company. One might say he was successful, but not by any metrics of today’s academic race to nowhere. What he did have was a strong sense of self-efficacy, that sense that he could change the world around him, his own circumstances, through his own efforts. This is what is behind most powerful learning.

He saw that, particularly in Glasgow, poverty and deprivation were holding back too many youngsters. He held Focus Dinners with all the heads of Glasgow schools. They confirmed what he had believed: aspiration from the family was a key differentiating factor.

“Aged 14”, they said, “we can tell who is waiting to check out when they’re sixteen.”

Comprehensive is not comprehensive, he says: “We force kids who are just naturally more vocational into an academic system that doesn’t cater with them.”

The curriculum is made up one around a third in traditional core subjects of maths, science, English and technology, a third of College-based learning and the rest is Life Skills, led by Skillsforce, another partner from the world of non-formal education led by former military personnel. Each week has a theme related to doing better in life. “This week is eye contact week” explains McColl. “It’s funny at first, because they all over-emphasise things, but by the third or fourth day they’ve grown in confidence and hold conversations.”

The culture of obstacles lives on

The culture of obstacles referred to by Dr Murray, in her work engaging young people in the world of medicine, is what must be defeated, though, and it has to include the public sector. But the public sector has to do a better job not to hold back potentially useful ideas from outside its parameters. It has taken six years to get Newlands Junior College where it is today. Had the team waited for every funder and ‘stakeholder’ to give their accord, it would still be a sketch on paper. A third of local schools in Glasgow still refuse to engage with the model at all. There are also people who are too focussed on their own power games, and students are suffering in the meantime.

Compare this slow pace with the measured but impassioned ambition of McColl, who sees NJC and its future cousin schools around the country as always remaining a small family of schools, maybe 10-12 of them, and very much part of the system, an additional resource rather than an outside bolt-on to the system. 

We've got high hopes, hi-i-i-i-gh hopes...

Key to businesses’ success is their sense of high expectation - businesses with incremental improvements in mind barely get past their first tax return. This sense of high expectations is visible in everything NJC does, from its physical decor to the time and effort put into excelling at life, not just subjects. There was an almost disapproving ripple of excitement when the audience were told every youngster at NJC has an iPad. Frankly, it was the statement of entitlement to whatever it takes that was the point, not whether the kids got an iPad or an A4 pad on entry to the school.

All things being equal, are opportunities for all young people there, and are aspirations from all of those around them there? Making sure schools provide that aspiration is the key.

Does your country need you? One out of five kids say "no"

Georgesquare

Almost one in five young people in Scotland wake up in the morning wondering if their country needs them. In a country that has in many ways never felt so optimistic and excited about its future, this should be a momentous wakeup call, a call-to-arms for the whole community. The line comes from the opening page of Sir Ian Wood’s report on how employers and education might manage a genuine culture of partnership, and answering this claim was the palpable bone of contention during an evening last week of discussion, talks and food, with some of Scotland’s education leaders and management, at SELMAS.

In Scotland, based on my experience and the stories told at Thursday night’s event, I’d suggest that there are three fatal blows to closing an achievement gap, most of them rooted in how education and business choose to play with each other. I'm going to walk through them over a few blog posts to come:

1. For some schools and businesses there is a lack of interest in partnering - the “what’s in it for me” just isn’t visible.

2. For other schools and businesses, there is a lack of knowledge on how to partner and what to partner on - “the what’s in it for me” is maybe agreed upon in principle, the enthusiasm is there, but what the “it” might be is the challenge.

3. Finally, for some schools, there is a genuine disdain and contempt for working with any organisation that is not their own, and publicly funded. Here, business and schools can't even agree to play with each other.

February 22, 2015

Set a clear destination, but prepare to change the route #28daysofwriting

Article-2713930-20326D7200000578-882_634x379

This morning I set off for Dubai, and on to Hong Kong and Nanjing, before returning for a couple of days in Dubai, and then home in time for tea on Friday. It's a hectic week, with a lot of time in the plane. Something I've noticed over the past year is that flights have become longer. Most of the time, this is because of war and conflict 38,000ft below.

Take the initial route to Dubai, for example. Until last summer, this trip took me routinely over Southern Turkey, Syria, Mosul and Basra in Iraq, down the Persian Gulf sea border next to (but avoiding) Iran, and into Dubai (the blue line in the graphic above. Source: Daily Mail). I used to enjoy peering out at the flames from the oil fields of Iraq and the bright beacons of Kuwait.

Now, the safest route is a good 10-30 minutes longer, over what is deemed safer - Ukraine, the annexed Crimea and Iran, coming in through the back door to Dubai.

The destination hasn't changed but, due to horrific circumstances in Syria, Iraq and Eastern Ukraine, the route has had to.

When an organisation is looking at its strategy, I often find that the route and destination are conflated, they become one and the same. If the destination is too far flung or far-fetched, then we don't leave the current status quo. If the destination is appealing but the first attempt to get there is thwarted, we tend to see strategy teams crash land, declare a failure, and walk all the way back, slowly and painfully, to the status quo of before.

The teams who reroute overnight are rare. The teams with a genuine pioneer spirit are rarer - they tend to be the ones who call up my team to help them get to some genuine BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

Because this is the key to rerouting. It's a multi-team multidisciplinary effort, and everyone needs to know their role. Having everyone 'collaborate' on the same stuff is just group work, and the equivalent of having the entire ground staff, airline leadership team, crew and, if there's any space left, passengers on the rerouted plane:

  • teachers and students need to really understand where the institution is with a snapshot (three-week?) immersion. They need to learn the questioning skills that will unearth the really interesting emotional, empathetic and factual stories in the institution.
  • leadership need to provide a space in which the war room of thinking can be visible (and addable to) by everyone during this tight period of immersion.
  • the same research team need to work with school leadership to synthesise the mass of data they have gathered.
  • with outside help and provocation, the design and leadership team need to have confidence in putting forward to the Board the key problems and opportunities they have found, through pitches.
  • the Board have to be pushed to think beyond the micro and 'safe', and think about the inspiring future they can envision using the data they have been shown.
  • design teams need to iterate their nascent ideas to solve the problems they identified, before the Board commits to their wording. Their prototypes and feedback will inform the process.
  • everyone, whenever and with whomever they are working, needs to be aware of their decision-making rights and role in order to really collaborate.

Having a strategy, having a destination, is not enough. You need to have a timeline that shows when each of these steps will take place, and when each prototype will become more solid, should they prove successful. These tools enable the leadership to leave the flight deck, and let teachers, students, parents and other teams get on with their jobs, confident in the turns they take.

February 14, 2015

The school design process is broken. Isn't it? #28daysoflearning

Flexible Furniture - really?

I've been shown hundreds of 'flexible learning spaces' over the years, and none of them are any more flexible than the addition of a wheel here and there might allow. In fact, if you look on Google for 'flexible learning spaces', the above panoply of wheel-laden MDF and plastic is what you discover. Now, I'm all for the wheel - a marvellous invention for which we still find a great use.

However, the humble wheel is not the basis of flexible learning.

We need to stop spending billions on school spaces, technological and physical, that respond to a brief about learning that reinforces the (mistaken) understandings about what makes great learning experiences still held by many architects and the commissioners of new learning spaces.

I'm preparing a new talk on designing spaces for learning, based on NoTosh's work in helping school innovators, leaders and architects to move beyond the current clichés of "flexible learning":

Learning space design and construction has never been a more pressing issue for schools in both state and independent/private sectors. Even those with small or no budgets are seeking to renovate and constantly improve the learning environment to better harness our growing understanding of what makes for strong learning, and the ever-changing technology options that we face.

And yet, most of our multi-million dollar decisions are based on anecdote and seeking to emulate or synthesise what others have done, with little research or questioning “why” before the budget is allocated, the masterplan produced, and the work on design begins.

In this keynote, Ewan McIntosh, founder of global creative and learning consultancy NoTosh, and Subject Coordinator at Charles Sturt University’s Designing Spaces for Learning Masters, sets the scene for what’s working, what’s not, and where the most innovative learning space design might want to head. Above all, how can our learning space help us to raise attainment and better engage learners in a more current, engaging form of learning?

The traditional process of deciding a new space is required, writing a brief, commissioning an architect to create a masterplan, involving the community in the masterplan creation and the subsequent phases of build is, frankly, the wrong one. It cannot, by definition, be user-centred. The users are involved far too late in the day. The architect needs to know the bid is worthwhile going in for. The commissioner needs to know the budget in order to write a brief which, by default, adds a constraint that, for most architects' masterplans, leads to a different set of pastel shades with which to paint the now de facto glass, steel, atrium and, yes, 'flexible' spaces for all that wheel-endowed furniture.

This fault-line strikes most design - the designer is nearly always at the centre of the process, rarely the people who will use the design. Even in so-called 'human-centred design' practice, you'll find it's the designers, not the users, who end up doing the synthesis, coming up with the ingenious ideas to 'solve their problems'. I'm a firm believer in bringing users into the design process. I don't think designerly skills are that specialist that they cannot be taught, in time, to better prepare the ground for a design.

And when you're going to spend $40-80m on a new build, that investment of time and effort is worth it, to get it right for the users' needs.

There are some examples of people getting it right, or at least righter. Dear Architect is a joyous document, written and designed by the students of one generation to build a space for the next group to come up to Walker's "The Works". By designing the brief, by doing the lion's share of the design before the architects even get sight of it, these students and teachers have gone a long way to changing their existing practice, too. Just by envisioning where they'd like to be, helps shape a move from the status quo to something new in the teaching and learning, new building or not.

The talk has a way to go to move beyond rant (like this) and into the research that I uncovered in writing the Masters course. And it has even further to go before a 16 week course can become a 20 minute punchy, inspiring talk. But the basic premise is one I'd like to bounce around with educators - is this a process, behaviour and frustration you recognise?

February 09, 2015

A vision statement should only ever work for your organisation #28daysofwriting

167418602_4467a7bdd7_b

Does your organisation have a high level vision statement? That's it. On page three of the strategy document no-one reads. The motto that makes everyone roll their eyes slightly. It probably involves something to do with excellence, being "the best", or caring, or striving, or something else with a similar drone. What if I suggested that you might come up with a vision statement that no-one else on the planet, no other organisation, could ever get away with using themselves?

Think about some of the great strategy or vision statements of our time. These ones are taken from my new book:

  • Amazon: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.
    Ford: Democratize the automobile.

  • Google: Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

  • JFK's Moon Challenge: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

  • Microsoft: A computer on every desk and in every home.

  • Disney: Be the best company in the world for all fields of family entertainment.

  • Hewlett-Packard: Be one of the best managed corporations in the world.

  • Sony: Embody changing the image of Japanese products as being of poor quality; create a pocket transistor radio.

Closer to home, I was lucky enough to hear the backstory to the vision statement of Linn, the world's best music player company (based in Glasgow, Scotland):

Linn makes anything you listen to at home sound better.

Let's break that down:

Linn makes (in our factory) anything (games, tv, iPad, MP3, streaming music) you listen to (Linn products are so good, and relatively expensive, that they are not the kinds of product that you would just "hear" in the background, while you do the hoovering) at home (not at the office, nightclub, restaurant) sound better (this is their major technological point of difference: reduction of loss from studio to ear)

It took Linn's MD Gilad Tiefenbrun and his team over 18 months to get to the point where they had this one sentence that helps any one member of staff, and their customers, understand precisely what they are getting, and how it is made. Every word counts. Together, they create something that is genuinely unique and exciting for all those involved in building, and listening to, the product.

What's your current vision, and how might you change it to make it unique?

Pic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/167418602

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

Recent Posts

    Archives

    More...