Scenius: building a culture with permission to innovate

Scenius: building a culture with permission to innovate

My dad is a massive Queen fan. Of the band that is. I grew up on the music of Freddie Mercury and co and I am now starting to introduce my daughter to their timeless music. They have had so many hits over such a long period of time. It just blows my mind when you work through the song catalogue. From ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to ‘I want it all‘ to ‘This thing called love‘, their song catalogue is an eclectic mix of genre hopping genius and innovative songwriting.

What drove this ongoing creativity and innovation?

Of course, all four members of Queen were highly skilled musicians. This, however, wasn’t the key factor. It was their democratic process of writing songs. Queen is the only band in which every member has composed more than one chart-topping single, and all four members were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003.

The internal rule Queen had was that if you wrote the song, you received the publishing royalties. It was this constant striving to create, to push the boundaries that drove their career. Creative one-upmanship with high reward. As a group, they created a culture of creative competitiveness built on a bedrock of professional and personal respect. In her book, Beyond Measure, Margaret Heffernan describes this structure as heterarchy. Heterarchy is:

“an informal structure that changes in response to need. Central to the idea of heterarchies is the belief that everyone matters. The best idea leads.”

Through heterarchy, Queen created a culture where the best idea led, irrespective of where it came from. And culture is everything! Brian Eno (musician and producer) calls this a scenius.

“Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals—artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers—who make up an “ecology of talent.”

The great music scenes of our time had this ecology of talent. Motown, Seattle, Los Angelus, the list goes on. Creative competitiveness, imitation, idea expansion and support are key drivers in the advancement of a music scene. In Show your Work, Austin Kleon writes

“Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of those great individuals; it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.

Every school has talent. Every school has silos of innovation. The challenge is creating a scene where great ideas are allowed to lead and that ecology of talent is allowed to blossom. The right structures play a key part. Staff should feel that they have the freedom to innovate. Adrian Camm at Geelong College allocated his staff cards that stated “Permission to Innovate”. A tangible token that permits all staff to ‘have a go’, to ‘jam out an idea’. This frontline approach impacts classroom practice because it creates a culture where staff question everything, think divergently and constantly iterate on their practice. The ecology of talent improves as each teacher permits themselves to innovate.

A groundswell builds.

A culture shifts.

A scenius is born.

Lessons to learn from the naughty kids

Straight off the bat I’m going to tell you that I don’t believe there are naughty kids. There are kids that challenge us, that make poor choices, that rebel but as an educator I believe that all kids are inherently good.  I have taught my fair share of students that have given me grey hairs or have driven me to want to publically share my grasp of colloquial language but I believe that everyone can succeed in the right environment and with the right support. The bagging of students is one reason why I’m not a huge fan of staffrooms.  I understand the need to vent after a challenging lesson but I also believe that there are more productive ways to do this and number one is finding opportunities for positive encounters instead of conflict.  Anyway rant aside, the point of this post is about what we can learn from the “extreme” student.

The word ‘extreme’ is borrowed by IDEO’s Human Centred Design process where interviewing ‘extreme users’ can provide incredible insights and ideas for innovation.  Empathy is the driving force behind the Human Centred Design process and this method forms part of the inspiration stage.  It allows us to take a deep dive into all areas of a problem and look at the problem from all angles. Lets look at an example, getting teachers to use technology in their teaching.  We can instantly think of extremes at both ends.  Think of two people in your life or school that would qualify as either extreme users of technology or extreme non users of technology.  What about their behaviour classifies them as extreme?  When we analyse how they work, what jumps out at you?  When you speak to these people about how they work, what do you discover?  Extreme users often have unique work patterns or workarounds. For the hyper-connected extreme user, he/she might automate mundane tasks through IFTTT (IF This Then That) recipes and this workflow helps create time for more important tasks. For the analog user, their use of their diary to collect anecdotal notes might serve as a powerful formative assessment tool. We can learn new ways of working or highlight practices that are highly efficient.  On the flipside, we can also find new ways to connect the dots and work through our problem. Whatever the case is, there is much to learn here if we spend the time noticing.

Source: https://i2.wp.com/image.slidesharecdn.com/workshop1-digital-innovation-nesta-150206105315-conversion-gate02/95/presentation-by-nesta-on-designing-and-prototyping-made-at-the-oecd-conference-on-innovating-the-public-sector-from-ideas-to-impact-1213-november-2014-16-638.jpg
Source: http://image.slidesharecdn.com/workshop1-digital-innovation-nesta-150206105315-conversion-gate02/95/presentation-by-nesta-on-designing-and-prototyping-made-at-the-oecd-conference-on-innovating-the-public-sector-from-ideas-to-impact-1213-november-2014-16-638.jpg?cb=1423241786

You can find two great resources to help you learn from the extremes from the Stanford d.school and the IDEO design kit.  Being able to empathise with the extreme users in your class can allow you to see the world through their eyes and can help you discover new ways of thinking or design new ways of connecting. We have much to learn from the extremes in our life.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

The art of noticing.


My daughter borrowed KooKoo Kookaburra by Gregg Driese from the school library last week (absolutely beautiful story) and as we were reading I came across this gem. You have two eyes, two ears and only one mouth. So you should look and listen twice as much as you speak. It was a key theme for the book and Zara and I spent a long while talking about the meaning. We talked about the importance of truly listening to people. Afterwards this conversation kept turning over in my head. In meetings or conversations, am I truly listening to the words and meaning or am I hearing and preparing to reply? How about you? In the busyness of life, it is so easy to forget.

The story reminded me of a great technique employed by IDEO in their Human Centred Design approach. It is called “Listening with your eyes”. The technique requires you spend time watching and truly observing and noticing. Noticing the detail, the interactions, the movements in your environment can tell you so much about a situation. Taking the time to notice the human detail in a situation can paint a really interesting picture. I spent time in a cafe and while it felt wierd and slightly voyeuristic, I did pick up on so much around me. There is so much detail if you take the time to notice. Take a minute to stop and just observe. What do you see? How do people interact? How do they move? What stands out? What subtle details can you see?

Ten years ago my brother passed away suddenly and time in my life stood still. Days went for weeks and weeks for months. Time crawled. I remember nearly every moment.  Since his death, it’s sad to say but there have been so many days that have gone by the wayside unnoticed. I wouldn’t say unmemorable just normal. We’ve all had that sensation. Think of a drive you’ve completed recently where you arrived at your destination and then realised that you didn’t remember a thing about getting there. Your brain was on autopilot. Now we need the autopilot in our lives but there is so much to see if we take the time to notice. When Kev died, I noticed the warmth of the sun more than ever. I still do. Whenever I run on a warm day and I’m listening to our shared taste in music, I feel like it’s a warm embrace. That sensation makes me feel like he’s running with me. When he passed, it was the middle of winter and there was a streak of hot days and so this sensation is really important to me. We were also inundated with butterflies. They were everywhere…..or maybe I just noticed them more because of my headspace. Whatever it was, the butterfly is a symbol that regularly catches my eye. My daughter even now calls butterflies Uncle Kev. Noticing the butterflies can change my mood in a heartbeat. For example, the other day I left my house in a stink of a mood and as I was closing the door, a butterfly landed on my shoulder and I had a moment with the universe.

In education, there is so much to notice if we take the time. Whether it’s how students transition between classes, the interactions between teachers and students in a classroom, the look on a child’s face, whatever it is, you can capture so much “real” data by stopping, looking and listening. Capturing this information can also help problem find and problem solve in your schools. I take a notebook everywhere with me so that I can write down the little details and this curation has assisted me so much with planning future strategy. NoTosh create Project Nests to capture this detail as it can lead to brilliant insights. For the team at Google Ventures, it contributes to the War room, a space to layout strategy and to see the whole playing field. This collection of field notes can help to provide the colour to a black and white problem and can allow for new and exciting innovations to develop. It can allow you to see what Amy Herman calls the “pertinent negative“, the details or behaviours that aren’t there. No matter what it is, there is much to gain from listening with your eyes.