When we talk about innovation and change in schools, are we overly focused on the rate of change? We talk about the need to fail fast and fail forward. Does that breed myopia on speed, pace, and the frequency of innovative ideation?
What about magnitude?
I shared a fascinating dialogue on Twitter yesterday with JoAnn Delaney, Holly Chesser, Angel Kytle, Kami Thordarson, and Bo Adams. What if we had something like the Richter Scale to measure the magnitude and impact of innovation in our schools? Why the Richter Scale? Because it is not linear; it is logarithmic. A magnitude 6.0 earthquake has ten times the shaking power and releases about 30 times as much energy as a 5.0 earthquake. Are we stuck thinking of change in relatively equal increments?
Bo suggested we consider the so-called Madonna Curve, a fascinating reflection on music diva Madonna’s ability to reinvent herself every few years in a mode that keeps her in front or “abreast” of the latest trends in music and pop culture. I think it is a great measure to keep in mind, but it speaks to frequency, not magnitude.
What if there are innovations that could have ten times, or a hundred times, or ten thousand times the impact of another innovation? Do we think about, dream about, or can we even comprehend those increasingly impactful orders of magnitude? As we look to the future of what learning can and will be, are we pushing ourselves to contemplate disruptions, mutations, and opportunities on these orders of magnitude?
With respect to the Earth, and, I suspect in the evolution of large institutions like education, frequency and magnitude are inversely related: small earthquakes happen all the time and have little impact while large earthquakes that massively reorganize the earth’s crust are rare. If we focus on rapid innovation, are we de facto NOT focusing on those changes that will have far greater, perhaps unimaginable, impact?
I am going to start working on a scale (OK, let’s call it the “Licht-er” Scale for now!) that will allow school teams to imagine future education innovation and plot them on a logarithmic scale. I might not use orders of ten because that is going to blow our minds…maybe orders of two or three. This will push us to stop assuming that innovation and change come in equal, or even controllable, packets. It will push us to consider the un-considerable, which is not at all the same as the impossible.
Want to hear something really scary? When I was at Stanford as a geology student, a professor explained the top end of the Richter Scale to us like this: a 9.0 quake is like what caused the tsunami in Japan four years ago; we have never measured a 10.0; an 11.0 would have enough energy to put a crack all the way around the earth; a 13.0 would split the earth in two! What does the top end of education innovation, a 9.0 or 10.0, or 11.0 look like??
What are the realistic limits of change and innovation in schools? What are the signals to watch for? If you have ideas for how we might label some of these higher and lower levels on the Licht-er Scale, Tweet them to me @GrantLichtman and we will start to build it!