Innovation: Are We Overlooking “Magnitude” With Focus on “Frequency”?

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Innovation: Are We Overlooking “Magnitude” With Focus on “Frequency”?

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?

imagesI 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?

images-1With 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.

images-2Want 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!

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By | 2013-08-16T13:52:13+00:00 August 16th, 2013|Innovation in Education|34 Comments

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34 Comments

  1. boadams1 August 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Grant, this is a great thought exercise. Thanks. I will be noodling on this. However, one quick clarification – I don’t think the Madonna curve is so simply explained as “frequency” only. (I wonder if their is some confirmation bias there, buddy!) I think the curve/graph that results has frequency and magnitude – BOTH/AND – as the reinvention can have size and time sequence.

    Some of what I’ve been arguing about with you lately – about PD project we are discussing and “revolution vs. evolution” – is directly related to how I believe the magnitude must be large, AND the pace quicker, so that transformation happens more readily for THIS cohort of learners in schools now. At the same time, we are talking about a human, relational dependent industry, so we must be systemically thoughtful about how we “shake things up!”

    More later, after further noodling. Off to make some sine waves now.

    • glichtman August 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm - Reply

      Probably right about the confirmation bias. I agree on need for both magnitude and frequency. I think the interesting reference to the Richter Scale is the log scale as opposed to a normal scale. Do we really contemplate an innovation that might have 10,000 times the impact of another? I don’t know that Madonna could ever have that much more impact on the pop music industry than another current star. One could argue the Beatles did, and any others? Michael Jackson? Elvis? If these are magnitude 7 or 8,or 9, then Madonna’s curve over the last dozen years would surely be no more than a 4-5. Agree? Disagree? That is what I am trying to feel my way towards.

  2. Angél Kytle August 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Grant, Bo, et. al,
    I am so enjoying this noodling or thinkering exercise as it has my blood pumping! More thoughts are needed from all of us, but I do want to expand a bit more on one of my tweets about size of impact. I do believe that there are learning ecosystems out there that are more mature and more developed than others. Grant shared some of these with us on his educational journey, and Bo is working in one as we speak! In these more mature ecosystems– perhaps those that have had more earthquakes already, to use the Lichter scale analogy, can handle more tremors on a regular basis– be they small or large. They are used to innovation; they thrive on it; they hunger for it. Indeed, even within these more mature ecosystems, there are individuals who are more mature/ready for these tremors than others. How might the Lichter scale work for these types of organizations?
    Differently, there are many organizations out there who do not view themselves as a learning ecosystem for a variety of reasons: ignorance, fear, lack of leadership, etc. So if an innovation comes their way, how might that measure? If measured on the same Lichter scale as the mature school, it probably wouldn’t register. But, here, it may be a whopper of one! Somehow, I think that needs to come into play here.
    It seems as if we are revolving around some interesting questions all together, each of which would benefit from deeper thought or design: 1) an organization’s readiness for innovation(s); 2) an organization’s stamina/endurance for innovation(s); 3) the effect an innovation has on an organization (both intended and unintended); 4) the sustainability of that innovation within the organization; and I am sure I am missing others….

    • glichtman August 16, 2013 at 10:01 pm - Reply

      Really good thinking, Angel. I agree. My sense is this might be a tool for a school to use for self assessment: what does the scale look like for you. I think the different thinking, as I mentioned back to Bo, is the log scale. I just don’t think many educators see “this” as being 1000 times more impactful either positively or negatively than “that” (short of total economic meltdown or nuclear war). Yet if we believe some of the futurists, the changes that any industry undergoes over time can very much be impacted by mutations that are that much more impactful.

  3. cfee | chris thinnes (@CurtisCFEE) August 16, 2013 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    I am excited by the thought exercise, appreciate everyone’s contributions, and also just want to expand on a tweet for fear it may have implied an ascription of ill intent.

    I love the idea of the logarithmic scale to consider the impact of innovation and transformation, but just want — from 30,000 feet — to question our collective and continual use of figures of destruction, disruption, catastrophe, etc. to represent transformative change (in this case, earthquakes, meltdown, war, etc.). I’m just questioning the inadvertent impact of these figures on folks who may be less sympathetic, and/or those folks whose experience of change leadership may have been different than yours or mine. For example: given that this discussion is amongst folks whose primary affinities are with independent schools and educators, I think it’s important to consider the intersections of this discussion with public school ‘reform’ discourse that are continually attached to the language of failure, disruption, etc. What the folks in this conversation tend to trumpet — as distinct from the proponents of accountability-based ‘reform’ in the public school sector — are the most generative, constructive, imaginative, collaborative, and engaging possible models of education leadership and design; I’m just saying I want to give some thought to the language with which we choose to represent these ideas, so that they aren’t misunderstood as people are invited to consider them.

    (So what else grows in magnitude on a logarithmic scale?)

    • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 6:07 pm - Reply

      Lots of things grow on a log scale in the biosphere. Population growth I think is exponential, maybe not log. Money earning interest grows on a non-linear scale.

  4. boadams1 August 17, 2013 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I love this thinking. Among Grant, Angel, and Chris, I am now noodling on the choice of words and language we use – as Chris encourages us to do. So here’s my latest noodling this morning…

    I think I am now at a school that does not see itself as one of the buildings on the surface during earthquake. Rather, I believe I am at a school that sees ourselves as the plates in plate tectonics.

    What do I mean?

    If we suspend thinking like a human inhabiting a building during an earthquake (for a moment), then an earthquake or volcano eruption is NOT a thing of destruction. Rather it is an act of creation. Through the plate tectonics, new structures are formed and molded on the earth. It’s a matter of perspective in that regard.

    But this change happens slowly, relative to the hourly ticks of the clock.

    So I am still contemplating the convergence of BOTH magnitude AND frequency.

    I think a faculty can see itself in multiple metaphors. In this case, a faculty might wonder, “Are we the buildings being shaken?” Or “Are we the plates doing the re-creation?” I am blessed to be at a place that tends to view from the second half of that proverbial spectrum.

    We;re creating new landforms, and it’s not so much destructive as “natural.”

    On another note, I did some checking with a friend who happens to excel at mathematical thinking. She shared with me why we use a logarithmic scale on an exponential function. And that has me noodling on some additional pushes to the metaphor.

    On yet another note, I am deeply curious if anyone here (or elsewhere) is actually playing with REAL DATA that might be patterned into such a graph as Grant includes above. In other words, is this ONLY a thought exercise at this point, or does someone(s) have actual data that helps us know what certain types of innovations and modifications and morphologies might register on the scale – whatever scale per school we might be considering (as per Angel’s great contribution)? I’d like to really build such a measurement tool, but I would hypothesize at this point – like Angel – that the SAME EXACT tremor would actually register at different points on the scale for different people at a school “standing in the same exact spot.” There is an interpretive component to the scale feel based on the individuals’ mindsets, current practices, “risk tolerances,” etc. That is ONE thing that makes leadership so important – how to move people to shared understanding and value from diverse positions…and without endangering the inherent worth of those individual differences that contribute to the overall health and vitality of a diverse team.

    Again, I feel blessed to be at a school that appears to me to have some serious understanding about how to lead this type of complex dynamic.

    And it’s exciting. So much so, that I want to devote as much of my bandwidth to that work and trade off the “bandwidth efforts” elsewhere that I don’t believe have the same relative impact in frequency and/or magnitude for educational transformation (not destruction!).

    • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm - Reply

      Wow; thanks to all for such amazing thinking. Here are a few comments:

      Chris is so right to bring up language and how it can direct response in unintended ways. That clearly got Bo thinking about different ways to approach the problem, and Bo’s comments are much more in line with what I intended. I was not thinking of this as a way to measure the bad things that happen from an earthquake. When I talked about “impacts”, my mind was thinking about the positive, or inevitable, consequences of school innovation. Like Bo’s use of the plate tectonics language, earthquakes are not bad or good from the point of view of the “organization”, which in this case is the earth. They are just a system for distributing energy, just like a budget of a daily schedule is a system for distributing resources at a school.

      I also appreciate and like Bo’s and Angel’s understanding that this would not be best developed as some absolute scale. In fact many measures of earth movement are relative to an observer. Perhaps a better scale to think of in this regard is the Beaufort Scale of wind at sea, which is entirely empirical. As Angel and Bo say, clearly what is a tectonic shift for one school might be a small tremor for another.

      But the reason I like the Richter model as opposed to the Beaufort model (and maybe we combine the two ideas) is the non-linear scale. I think ALL (or at least most) educators see the future largely as a continuation of the past, and that is what we have to get beyond. As I use tools developed by folks like The Institute For The Future, we have to push leaders to see two things: they can embrace change that is more dramatic than they have in the past; and there may be change coming, completely outside their control, that is much more dramatic than in the past. This is mutation that Zuboff speaks of (and by the way, I am going to email all of you a final draft of my ISM article that is going to come out in the winter so you see some more of my arguments in this regard). The log scale, or some non-linear function, where we can ask school leaders to imagine indicators and signals that are off their current scale of both frequency and magnitude, I think is very important.

      You guys are all great to take time to collaborate on stuff like this. Watch out; the geologist in me has lurking all kinds of other earth and eco-based ideas that may just relate to education!!

  5. boadams1 August 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    So, Grant, in your penultimate paragraph, are you ultimately saying that schools have to be willing to reinvent themselves…

    like the Madonna Effect?! 😉

    And she’s still alive. Your other music examples are mostly deceased. So, we’ll see if she can get to the 10 on the scale. And, of course, it’s only a metaphor for amplitude and rate of reinvention…and, most importantly, a willingness to adapt with environment and learning – as part of the ecosystem.

    Static crumbles. Dynamic humbles.

    • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 3:33 pm - Reply

      Yep. And I do think the Madonna Effect is a good one to use; I just did not recognize magnitude in it as quickly as I did frequency, but after being led by the nose, I concede!

      • boadams1 August 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm - Reply

        Matt Glendenning of Moses Brown is who put me onto Madonna Effect and Madonna Curve – from his talk at #NAISAC13

  6. hollychesser August 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    Watching the new Jobs movie last night, I kept thinking about this conversation about magnitude and frequency in innovation. Jobs was intent on magnitude; he wanted to transform people’s lives and change their behavior and way of thinking by giving them access to music, people, ideas, and opportunities for creation. The movie, which wasn’t all that good by the way, focused on his inability to get others to accede to his vision and foster his creativity. He struggled because, while his innovations were logarithmic, his human approach was linear: he marched over people.

    The connections between the movie and our discussions both here and on Twitter are many. Bo initially commented, “At the same time, we are talking about a human, relational dependent industry, so we must be systemically thoughtful about how we ‘shake things up!’” I agree although I think all industries, all creation, and all endeavors of lasting merit are relationally dependent. Jobs struggled with this, which affected both his family life and his friendships.

    That’s why I tweeted last night that I think Chris’ comments about violent imagery and language are important. Humans unconsciously feel and hear the subliminal messages latent in language. Personally, I cringe at spiritual music that references words like swords, armies, or enemies. I understand the metaphorical connection intended by these conquering images, but the dissonance with peace unsettles me. I connected with Chris’ suggestion, “I’m just saying I want to give some thought to the language with which we choose to represent these ideas, so that they aren’t misunderstood as people are invited to consider them.” In particular, I appreciate his word invite.

    I’m fortunate to work with Bo at an amazing school. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my immersion experience these last two weeks, thinking about what it is that has made me feel so inspired and comfortable here in such a brief period. I tweeted to Grant the first week, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” The magnitude of the transition has seemed like moving from a Midwest farm to Oz. So what is it that has made this possible? I think it began with a seismic shift – the arrival of Brett Jacobsen and the board’s support of his vision. It was followed by another series of high magnitude shakes, which led some people to leave the campus, uncertain of the stability of the ground. Those that stayed, to use Bo’s explanation, viewed earthquakes as acts of creation, busting up silos and dams. There’s still frequent disruption: our pre-planning days weren’t spent in our classrooms; rather we were all engaged together in intense professional development, all working out how to enhance learning, how to develop experiences to enhance learning, and how to deliver those experiences. The intense engagement honestly reminded me of scenes from Job’s movie. Chris’ anxiety about words that connote violence come to mind here. I kept thinking that if this PD were attempted at other schools with which I’m familiar, many teachers would have revolted, unwilling to do this type of work during time traditionally set aside for setting up rooms and grade books. So how is it that our school was able to do this, and people were energized not demoralized? I think it boils down to finding the right people, treating people with respect and care, honoring the capacity in each one of us for growth, and using language intentionally and repeatedly to remind us of our shared mission. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the mantra “assume the best.” It’s a simple phrase but it’s import is essential in a high energy, fast paced, albeit stressful environment.

    So in my mind it’s about magnitude and maintenance. The big shifts have to happen, but in order to ensure that individuals see quakes – both big and small – as creative forces, there needs to be frequent, intentional maintenance.

    I’m deeply grateful to all of you for helping me better understand this process.

    • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Holly, for this wonderful reflection! And I clearly had MVP in mind when I thought what magnitude looked like for different schools. What would be a 9.0 on the Lichter Scale at XYZ School might be a 3.0 at a school like MVP. The question is, then, now that the metaphorical MVP is operating at this elevated scale, does it reset to a linear function? Or does it re-define what innovation looks like on a log scale?

      The comparison to Jobs and Apple could not be more appropriate. They initially innovate technology that is a 10.0; then they reset and come up with 4.0 innovations and their stock tanks; then Jobs comes back and the iPad/iPhone etc are another 10.0. Don’t get me wrong; I know a school is not on the stock exchange, but the idea of resetting to linear or log expectations is just as important to organizations with a track record of innovation as to those with no such history.

  7. Julia Osteen August 17, 2013 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s comments on this topic. “Impact” is a word that we, as educators, need to consider more often. I believe the frequent smaller disruptions should lead into more significant and higher magnitude innovations.

    • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Julia. You may be right; or it may be that external stresses of large magnitude are outside of our influence as school leaders, and we need to be more adept at recognizing those signals. That is where I am headed with this. Thanks!

  8. Angél Kytle August 17, 2013 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    This dialogue just gets better and better! I do believe we are converging on some balanced, positive, and meaningful ideas. The earthquake and tremors themselves are the focal points and show how the earth is different in big and small ways after they occur. The logarithmic/exponential curve is exactly how we should be thinking rather than linear as it also provides more meaning. But, one clarification that I think would be important is for educators to be equipped to determine which innovations/changes they are contemplating can be described in a linear OR a logarithmic way. I am thinking back to much of school reform (bringing back my doctoral student days!) that has occurred and was truly linear in that it did not sustain itself (meaning it set itself back to 0?) due to the fact that the culture of the school not changing. Those changes/innovations that have logarithmic/exponential effects are those where the culture of the school (ecosystem) shifts– like plate tectonics– to allow for the change/innovation to permeate and move the needle. A jump occurs that catapults the school forward; thus it can not reset to zero in the linear way. It may reset, yes, but the exponential leap changes the zero’s location. Sorry if that is confusing too much geology with math!

    • boadams1 August 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm - Reply

      Not too much geology or math. Ironically, “school” is the only place that really even makes the two seem like two different things – in two different buckets. We’ve all too easily come to accept those labels (in this case, math and geology) for things that are simply and beautifully two parts of a same whole.

      In fact, I think our overindulgence in labeling and bucketizing things is one major reason we’re even having such a rich discussion on a Saturday in August of 2013 ADE (a case date in point of the “sameness” of geology and math).

      If curriculum were really more about the whole person and whole world, then I hypothesize that we’d teach a lot more quilt and a lot less separate patches.

      • hollychesser August 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm - Reply

        Have always loved the quilt metaphor for curriculum. Individual patches are often seen as worthless and easily discarded. Used to create a quilt, which possesses value for its warmth and comfort, these scraps take on meaning and develop purpose both in themselves and as a coherent whole.

    • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      It would be an interesting exercise to have a school reflect on what change looks like for them on a linear scale and what it looks like on a log or exponential scale.

  9. cfee | chris thinnes (@CurtisCFEE) August 17, 2013 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    A big part of me was actually hoping that my thinking might not really be challenged until at least a few days of the new school year had gone by 🙂 Thank you all for testing the limits of my brain’s capacity to follow the complexity and gravity of your great ideas!

    Reflecting on Holly’s comments about care, and Angél’s comments about culture, I wonder if the intersection of my personal concern about language and reception, and our common interest in transformative change, isn’t more about the communities of our schools than about the innovative ideas that transform their programs. I really do believe — and my point is not to push this but to explore it — that the discourse of disruptive innovation is almost always anchored with a few conceits: (1) figures of catastrophe, shock, violence, rupture, interruption, etc. as the catalyst, (2) analogies to singular products, persons, or protocols obligating communities to react and adapt, and (3) the mythology of the individual leader/change agent/innovator who pops a Mentos into the Pepsi bottle to great acclaim and accolade. I don’t by any means think our intent is to affirm that transformative change should be defensive, rather than generative; reactive, rather than creative; or authoritarian, rather than democratic . . . but I think that is sometimes the impact of the language that we use. And I think that is a very dangerous tendency in a dialogue that is ultimately about learning in a community, and not about competitive position in a marketplace.

    I just want — cloyingly, perhaps, I admit — to affirm, alongside these other transformative thoughts that have been offered, that each school that has in fact been transformed for the better shares a deep allegiance to a democratic imperative, from its classrooms to its conference rooms. There are shared visions of teaching and learning, generated in many cases by the school’s constituents. There are purposeful engagement strategies to ensure the needs and interests of learners, teachers, and families are identified and supported. There are clear protocols to ensure that decision making is a shared enterprise. Every member of the community understands itself as a participant in a shared movement, as a learner in a shared inquiry, and as a responsible party for the school’s success and failure. In some ways I wonder if the most disruptive innovation we’ve actually called for is to the structures and systems of authority in our communities. That one’s a ’10’ on any scale.

    Here endeth the digression…

    • boadams1 August 17, 2013 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Beautifully said, Chris.

    • Angél Kytle August 17, 2013 at 6:34 pm - Reply

      Absolutely, Chris! For myself, where I begin to get the most excited (and perhaps the most anxious?) is when I see the potential of exponential change an institution has by new leadership (extending your systems of authority). You can feel momentum and electricity. Yet, at times, the momentum is lost or doesn’t get fully off the ground– not necessarily by the leader– but by something within the culture itself. One, I am speaking from my research from many years ago. Two, I am speaking from personal experience most recently that I am spending much time in honest reflection as to my part. I want to be sure I do my part so that leaders/schools can get to the point where their changes/innovations register on the logarithmic scale.

    • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 7:32 pm - Reply

      I would like to make a living just coming up with ideas that then Chris could write about. Seems someone would pay for that!!?

  10. Mark Silberberg (@SilberbergMark) August 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    Thanks all for the many rich comments and to Grant for initiating this line of inquiry. Like Bo, I too am wondering what data we might collect to establish a scale of innovation/evolution/revolution that really tells us something about the learning/caring state of a school environment.

    As others have mentioned, the current state of the school ecosystem is an important factor. I think that schools are distributed across a continuum of innovation magnitudes, which likely can be seen in terms of quite different scales (linear, geometric and logarithmic). A school’s potential for change seems deeply connected to the nature of relationships in the ecosystem.

    I’m reminded of the rich information that that often comes from creating sociograms in the classroom. Creating sociograms of a whole school ecosystem would likely give us useful insight into the interaction webs that are present in schools that have found ways to innovate with frequency and magnitude in the service of learning and care. I suspect that the sociograms in these schools would show significant interactions across grades and disciplines and that there would likely be organizational structures to support these interactions (i.e., schedule, integrated programs, specific leadership positions to support/sustain these relationships, etc.).

    In schools that are not as far along in innovating as a part of the collective mission, the sociogram would likely indicate those individuals who are doing so in spite of the prevailing school culture. These individual represent key leverage points for the school to support as they work to scale for magnitude.

    In reading this thread, I was reminded of an article from several years ago in Reading Research Quarterly (Mapping literacy spaces in motion: A rhizomatic analysis of a classroom literacy performance; Kevin Leander, Deborah Wells Rowe; 9 NOV 2011). They argue that rhizomatic analysis one can “follow the emergence of relations and differences by mapping performance-in-motion. [They] discuss how rhizomatic analysis shifts attention away from fixed meanings and toward action and the new ‘becomings’ that are an important part of literacy performances.” The idea of mapping attractions and influences seems important in working towards some idea of a scale to describe the magnitude and frequency of sought after change in our schools. Will continue to ponder on this. Thanks all for spurring some good weekend thinking

    • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Mark, for these great contributions to the thread. I have also been thinking (as I know Bo has) about mapping organizational interactions in different ways. Going back to the earthquake metaphor, since I am a geologist, if you want to predict where and when quakes are likely to occur, you put up a series of strain and tilt meters on the ground that signal what would otherwise be imperceptible changes in the relationships between rock or land masses. What if we could map those in a school organization through analytics? Not an expert on this, but am about to wrap some people into the conversation who are.

      • Mark Silberberg (@SilberbergMark) August 17, 2013 at 8:17 pm - Reply

        Yes, but where with earthquakes we aim minimize risk through better prediction methods, in schools our goal would be to amplify those initial tremor points. Or to extend Bo’s metaphor, how can we better identify those points/surfaces where pressure is building up on plates coming into contact or perhaps more importantly bring plates that are not in contact into contact with each other to engender the friction/force for innovation.

        • glichtman August 17, 2013 at 9:20 pm - Reply

          This is where I would like us to get away from our idea that earthquakes are bad, destructive things. Yes, they have horrible impacts on people, but vastly more so when the humans are unprepared or chose not to prepare. Earthquakes are not inherently associated with risk and downside…they just are. Many quakes, even large ones, occur with no damage. But they are inevitable, and that is where I want us to focus. Change is inevitable; some of it we are a party to, and much of it will occur regardless of what school people do. So we have to tune our strain meters correctly for our organizations. If they are not tuned correctly we might overlook indicators of a huge tremor, or we might overvalue signals of little real consequence. That is the reason we need to consider non-linear scales.

  11. Jon Bluestein (@JonBluestein) August 18, 2013 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    Thanks Grant et al. I have been following this thread with great interest. Grant’s last comment in response to Mark compels me to raise a question. Could it be that the seismic shifts we need to be better at monitoring are the ones that take place in society at large? It seems to me that one of the weaknesses of our education systems is the inability to correctly gauge/measure/predict/react to the huge cultural tremors rumbling throughout the world. Why is it that education seems to lag behind the world of business or entertainment to such a degree that we frequently find ourselves struggling to merely introduce “innovative” concepts or tools in schools when they would already be considered passé by our counterparts in other fields? If we could tune our meters correctly so as not to overlook or overvalue these societal indicators, which are the most realistic indicators of the real world for which we are supposed to be preparing our students, perhaps we could get to a point where innovations in schools could be more than weak, long-delayed aftershocks.

    • glichtman August 18, 2013 at 9:52 pm - Reply

      I think you have pegged it right, Jon. We need to be able to read the signals as the outside world does so we are not always playing defense.

  12. Steve Nordmark August 19, 2013 at 3:04 am - Reply

    Grant, glad you looped me in on this discussion. Must admit, I’m completely ignorant of the various measurement devices that comprise the Richter scale. However, the concept that there are a variety of factors, not just one, that can be blended together to indicate algorithmic progress – that makes sense. That’s not easy in measuring learning or educational effectiveness because unlike the Richter scale which is measuring a physical phenomenon, in educational transformation, we would be combining all 5 dimensions of a human – emotional, intellectual, physical, social and spiritual. Then, as you can imagine, what one person values most would not necessarily be the same as what another person would value. This would suggest that coming up with a single algorithm (which produces linear or logarithmic change) would be quite challenging. However, measuring not just the pace of change but the magnitude is a wonderful way to look at it.

    Within this thread, there was the question of where else the logarithmic change has been used to illustrate speed and magnitude of impact. In Ray Kurzweil’s “The Singularity is Near”, he makes extensive use of the logarithmic curve to highlight a variety of changes that have occurred in social, biological, technological, etc. realms. He uses these functions to support his argument that technology will augment our biological limitations in creative ways. However, for me, (especially given my own cognitive limitations), I find it difficult to keep up with Kurzweil’s postulates and quite frankly cringe at the thought of blending technology and humanness.

    Moving away from Kurzweil’s views and closer to my own… I totally agree that changes in other industries will be strong indicators for the potential for large magnitude changes in learning/education. The health industry has fabulous parallels and is often used as a proxy for what to expect in education. I wonder what logarithmic (or large magnitude) changes have occurred in Healthcare that could signal educational transformation possibilities. Certainly, there are changes, leveraging technology, that are making it possible for use to take more ownership and control over our health and communicating our vital signs to those who support our ongoing health. Perhaps if we focus on those innovations that focus on preventative maintenance and especially those that focus on promoting proactive health, we can find some nice parallels that blend a variety of measures that blend into an algorithm of health – especially if it’s one that can adapt to an individual’s perspective on what “healthy” means. Because, in addition to “physical” organ function, healthy translates into the same emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual realms that must be considered when measuring impact on education.

  13. willrich45 August 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Late to this, but I’ll throw this in, and apologies if it’s already been articulated in the thread. (Reading fast at an airport.) With earthquakes, we have a context for an 8.5. It’s horrible. Lots of people perish. Much is destroyed. We have a tangible sense of what it means.

    With change, particularly in education, I’m not sure we can even come close to understanding what the top of the scale might represent. I mean, where would it be now? Would a “10” be schools cease to exist in their current form and learners forge their own paths to an “education” that an institution plays little role in? I mean, that is a potential outcome of all of this. (Feels like it’s a desired outcome in some parts.) As Grant asks, can we imagine that? Is it un-considerable? I’d think we’d have to define (for now) the “10” and work backwards from there. Is it possible to create a scale without it? (Thinking, however, we’ve never reached the 10 on the Richter Scale, have we?)

    I’m not sure enough people have a sufficient context to even come close to framing the “un-considerable,” that most of those visions would be orders of magnidtude too conservative.

    • glichtman August 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Will, and you have hit right on what I as thinking when the Richter Scale analogy went through my head. I don’t think we think about what a “10” is, so how can we know what is possible. Thankfully I think we can get by the images of destruction as the scale increases and think of positive outcomes to log scale change. So that is what I want to do; perhaps by shifting the mindset from a linear to a non-linear scale, we will start to be able to frame what is currently ‘un-considerable’. I am going to try this out in several workshops in the next month and see what happens!

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