How do we disrupt our thinking?

Innovation is a constant theme throughout my blog. It is a constant theme throughout the books I choose to read, the blog posts I choose to read, share and comment on, the podcasts I listen to. I am enthralled by the process, the mindset and by those who do it well. The more I read, the less mystical it becomes and in the same breath the more difficult it can seem. Largely my reading leads me to business innovation as there is so much to learn from looking outside education, especially when it comes to how large corporations (insert schools here) adjust their path (quickly) and innovate. Innovation is the reason behind the CoLearn MeetUp. I wanted to move past interest and more into action and the themes of our MeetUps are based around developing innovation cultures, mindsets and tool sets. Education needs innovation now more than ever but innovation is not a person or a thing. Innovation is a way of thinking, a way of questioning and as I wrote in a previous post, a process. Maybe my obsession stems from my love of punk rock. I like seeing the world through alternative lenses, challenging the status quo. The challenge is moving away from the way we have always done things, to disrupt the current status. Disruptive innovation, a term made popular by innovation guru Clayton Christensen is defined by Wikipedia as

an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances.

Now that’s all well and good in business but how does that translate to education. What is the education version of Uber or AirBnB? I’m not sure on that one but once again it is the thinking that jumps out at me.  How do you disrupt your thinking? According to Luke Williams, author of DISRUPT: Think the unthinkable to spark transformation in your business, there are three steps. A key part to these three steps is being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Silly ideas, crazy ideas, whatever ideas, the key is to defer judgement. Let them swill around in your brain and let them be possible. As the famous cliche goes, you need to think outside the box.

Step 1. What do you want to disrupt? 

The area of focus needs to be high level. Think big.  Let’s say for example I want to disrupt the shape of the day for schools. Time is always listed as a constraint for schools, for learning. I want to disrupt the shape of the day so that we can discover better examples for our use of time.

Step 2. What are the cliches?

Williams describes cliches as “the assumptions that influence the way insiders think about the situation”. The assumption about the structure of the day is that it works for all learners, for all ages. Another assumption is that everyone learns best between 8.30 and 3.30pm.  Whatever suggestion, let the idea swill and defer judgement. Wear it for a while.

Step 3. What are your disruptive hypotheses? 

Start provoking the status quo. What lies in the adjacent possible? What can you invert? What can you deny? We need to defer judgement on our hypotheses and let them swill around in our brain. These are what ifs, fresh perspectives. Let’s say we start the day at 11am. Studies show that a later start would work for the developing teenage brain. What about if school followed the Spanish lifestyle and we had a siesta in the afternoon, followed by our creative subjects. It works for Don Draper! We would have to minus the scotch though. Whatever you land on, the thinking is the hero. From here you need to test and validate that your assumption works.

Now I know what you’re thinking. This is exactly the definition of innovation that parents think of when they hear teachers and schools talk of innovation. Experimenting on their children. It isn’t. It is seeing the beauty in new possibilities and finding out (quickly) whether or not this works. A great framework for how school’s can use this thinking can be found within Richard Olsen’s Inquiry Oriented Innovation process.  The strategic component of the framework has four categories.

1. Educational goals 

This is largely the purpose of school. The why. It can differ from school to school, school segment to school segment but it is the overarching vision for the school.

2. Stakeholder expectations/beliefs

What does the school community expect and believe? A strong correlation and connection between the educational goals and the stakeholder expectations is extremely important. Many families chose schools based on the school’s beliefs, goals and values. Many families Ieave schools because of the same thing. The strength of this relationship is paramount. The same goes for teachers. Teachers need to feel that they are valued and that the school that they work at aligns with their values (well at least they should!).

3. Student needs

According to Olsen, these are the pressing, changing or unique social and emotional needs, content, skills and traits that learners possess or require developing.  The needs of the students needs to drive all innovation in my opinion. Contributing to the development of young people is our core business and so should drive all quests for improvement.

4. Compelling opportunities

What are the great opportunities at our feet? What local, community, technological, global opportunities present new pathways? Identifying these can help develop innovative opportunities in your school. We can start to bring in the disruptive thinking process here. Most innovation is from recyled or repurposed ideas and so we can start to let the great, crazy and zany ideas swill around in our heads. Remixing ideas or smashing two or three ideas together. Using the ten types of innovation to see new possibilities. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

From here we develop our innovation thesis, our hypothesis. I’ll touch on this more in my next post.

If you are keen to know more about this process, come and join us at Collective Campus on Wednesday September 28 at 6.30pm. This MeetUp is for Melbourne based educators at the moment but the next MeetUp will be online. More to come shortly.

As always, comments welcome. Thanks for reading.

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