I have studied problem solving and the arts of strategy for decades, and their application to schools for more than 15 years. Simply, school organizations have gotten strategy wrong; we have been active but ineffective problem solvers. During times of relative stasis, that is a condition we can live with; during times of dynamic change it is not. If we want educators and schools to shift from static mindset to growth mindset, we have to re-build our toolkit.
With all due respect to the strategy thought leaders of the past, those time-tested methods are no longer effective. From the board room to the principal’s and headmaster’s offices to the classroom, we have to leave behind those worn out methods and adopt a new way of finding and solving problems, of creating innovative opportunities, of re-tooling our organizational mindset to flourish in this time of change.
This is the first of a six-part blog series on the shift from traditional strategic planning to what I have started calling “zero-based strategic thinking”. It is relevant to teachers, administrators, trustees…and students. My thinking is completely intertwined with, and influenced by, that of Bo Adams, with whom I am presenting on this subject at the National Association of Independent Schools conference later this month. Bo and I have been collaborating on the evolving nature of strategic thinking and implementation in schools for nearly five years, and that collaboration is bearing real fruit. His work at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta is setting a new standard for how schools create and implement a transformed vision of the learning experience, particularly at the classroom-teacher-student interface. My focus has been at the organizational level, and as I work with both private and public school teams we see just how much more effective and inclusive this new approach to strategy can be. This blog series is based on a slide that Bo and I will use for the first time at our NAIS presentation next month, and that I will use a few days later at a workshop I am leading for the National Business Officers Association.
Here is the shift; it is relevant if you are a chief executive, principal, department chair, classroom teacher, or any other adult or student, working with others to solve a problem, or to find the right problem to solve:
- From brainstorming within the frame…To questioning that expands the frame.
- From coalescing ideas around what we have done…To building vision around what we might do.
- From covering all the bases…To imagining what school looks like without “bases”.
- From creating a comfortable action plan that angers no one…To designing capability that amplifies innovation.
- From preserving traditional roles and silos…To building a sustainably dynamic learning community.
In the rest of this series, I will go into more detail about each of these shifts and how they apply to your forward leaning work. I will also build on these in my book that will come out later this year, and in my upcoming calendar of workshops with school teams around the country.