I am almost done reading the powerful biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaccson. It is certainly a must read for all of us who have grown up with, or are the recipients of, the generation of technology/design geniuses who changed the world forever. While Jobs was anything but a role model of empathy or perhaps even personal decency, he remains one of the most influential thinkers and innovators in recent human history.
Were I running a school and looking in the Jobs story for truly helpful hints about how to run an effectively innovating organization, it would be this:
Jobs frequently gathered his leadership team to think about where their products were headed and where the company needed to go in order to claim or stay at the forefront of their industry. They would brainstorm, list, discuss, and debate many ideas. Jobs could be downright cruel in his dissent and ruled the discussion by fanatically controlling the white board in the room. By the end they would cut their list down to ten areas of focus…and then Jobs would force the groups to cut THAT list down to just three things. Apple became one of the most successful companies in the world, in large part, by focusing massive creative energy on doing no more than three things really well. And remember: they did this during times of both huge challenge and enormous success.
How does that compare with your current strategic plan? How uncomfortable would it be for your board, leadership team, faculty, and larger community to commit to being utterly great at three things? Its worth a try. Dare yourselves to be utterly great, to set your school apart from other learning opportunities that your students and families now have. List all the ways you might get there in the next 3-5 years. And then cut those down to three pathways, and align your resources…time, people, budget, space, and knowledge base…to those three pathways. And it is not successful to combine lots of initiatives through the use of vague, combinatorial language like “we are going to hire and retain excellent teachers who will meet the needs of each child”. We love sentences like that because we can satisfy more people in the room, avoiding the discomfort of real decision-making.
Even if you are not willing to take this on for real, what a powerful 1-3 hour thought experiment for your board retreat or next faculty professional development day.