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Showing posts from 2011

You Can't Continuously Improve Your Way Into Something New

The Total Quality Movement and the notion of continuous improvement has made significant contributions to business, industry, and education. Continuous improvement enables organizations and individuals to maximize the potential of a given product, design, or desired outcome. But what happens when that product or design is maximized to the point of diminishing returns? What happens when the desired outcomes and needs change so dramatically that they call into question the very thing that has been the effort of continuous improvement? Those who continue to hang onto the notion that they can "continuously improve" themselves out of the mess their in find themselves continuously frustrated and increasingly obsolete. In short, when there are dramatic shifts in context and direction, continuous improvement becomes a feckless and expensive dead-end. But it doesn't have to. Combined with the notion of design thinking, continuous improvement can once again be called to action and

From "Consumer-Oriented" to "Producer-Oriented" Learning (and schools)

I'm excited about the future of education. The problems we face as a nation, state, and community are seemingly intractable and the decisions made by Newtonian government structures and processes seem to make things worse. Despite all of this, I believe in the American people and the leaders - education, community and business - who understand we must transform education to remain viable. As I continually search out easier, simpler, more direct ways of expressing what is meant by "tranforming schools" I've come across the concept of "producer-oriented" schooling and learning. I can't say exactly from where it came, although I know I am certainly not the originator. Perhaps it was in my renewed conversations with my mentor and friend, Al Rowe or perhaps it was a collection of ideas from multiple conversations and readings. As Steven Johnson says, "an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm." Where Good Ideas Come From. The Natural Hi

Leadership in Times of Transformational Change

While my reading list continues to outgrow my ability to get them all read, I continue to find myself drawn back to Russell Ackoff. Yes, I know - I'm a social systems junkie. However, we are working on and in social systems and so I return to social systems design to better understand how to lead and influence the education system - my area of passion. I think a lot about leadership and what it means in an age of transformation -when it is no longer about reforming or improving our systems but changing their very essence. Perhaps it was this bias in my thinking that caused one of Ackoff's quotes to jump off the page: "Inspiration without implementation is provocation, not leadership. Implementation without inspiration is management or administration, not leadership. Therefore, leaders must be both creative, in order to inspire, and courageous, in order to induce implementation." (A Systemic View of Transformational Leadership). Inspiration: rather than persuade, dem

A Tipping Point in Our Patterns of Thought

Most of us have heard variations on Einstein's quote but I bet few have seen what he actually said/wrote and that is this: "Without changing our current patterns of thought we will not be able to solve the problems created with our current patterns of thought." As Russell Ackoff points out in a May, 2004 address, "Everyone I talk to agrees with this statement although almost nobody understands what it means." So what does it mean? Most educated people feel like they can solve problems and they would largely be correct. As Jamshid Gharajedaghi once told me, "Americans are the greatest problem solvers the world has ever seen - they can solve anything they are tasked with. The problem is this: the are among the worst at formulating the right set of problems!" As I've thought about this and observed people's behaviors over the past 7 or 8 years I believe both Jamshid and Russ are correct - most people don't really know what Einstein means and

Bill Spady and OBE - a brief personal history for my young educational friends

From 1992 to 1994 I was fortunate enough to get to know and work with Dr. William G. Spady - the founder and father of Outcome-Based Education, or OBE. All of us working now to implement competency-based learning systems, dynamic teaching and learning, authentic assessment, and contextualized learning in a multitude of dimensions owe a great deal to Bill Spady. If you've never heard of Bill or OBE - you might want to read this little history lesson. In 1992 my friend and mentor,Al Rowe, connected me with his friend, Bill Spady. For those of us in education and paying any attention in the early 90's we all know him to be the father of OBE - Outcome-Based Education. He was right then, he's right now and we owe a lot to our current transformational efforts to him. Bill allowed me to participate in his workshops across the country and to hone my consulting and presentation skills as a very young educator. He was an intense and unrelenting intellectual power combined with passio

Following the "Research" in watershed times, is like driving using the rear-view mirror.

First off - don't jump to the conclusion that I reject research altogether. Don't get me wrong - I find value in research. The issue for me is a simple one: research is contextual. Research is also conducted, by necessity, within the existing framework - the functions, structures and processes - of the current educational paradigm. We are at a point in history where I believe it absolutely critical and necessary to create and implement a new educational design. The simple fact is that you cannot continuously improve into something new - something new requires design or re-design. Research is about finding ways to improve within the current constraints and frameworks - great when you are actively trying to improve what you have. But what happens when we have a model we don't want anymore? Research, even emanating from the old paradigms, can be instructive. Let's just be careful that we don't simply "follow the research." The game is new, it is uncharted, an

Reform & Transform: A Difference that Makes All the Difference!

The great systems thinker and designer, Russell Ackoff, tried during his lifetime to help people understand that continuously improving a poor system is just a path for getting worse faster. In those discussions he talked about reform and transform. Unfortunately, most of educational "change" over the past several decades (right up to the very recent past and present) has focused on "reform." Reform: to leave a system as it is and try to change its behavior by modifying the means it employs. (Ackoff) Reform, then, is a lot of talk about changing things and improving things. For our culture, this usually means doing more of the same - or faster. If a few math credits in the past seemed to work, lets increase the number of math credits. If a clear curriculum with scope and sequence worked in the past, let's make it more clearer and more detailed. In short, we try to mess with processes and to a lesser extent structures without changing the essential functions OR w