How Do We Know What Will Create Value?

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How Do We Know What Will Create Value?

Innovation is the process of enhancing the value of an organization.  In schools, if we believe that what customers will value in the future is the same as in the past, we run a real risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant as educators.  How do we gauge what might have value?  This is one of those areas where we can learn from outside our traditional comfort zone.  Stephen Wunker specializes in new market creation. Writing in Forbes he articulates some solutions and traps to assessing future value.  (HT Rita Hunter McGrath for Tweeting.) I find the following to be compelling and relevant as education goes through the unfamiliar process of sustainably re-inventing “school”.

Wunker: Determine the major end uses – Start with leveraging a range of opinions. Determine the size of the important markets as they stand today, but don’t be bound by that.   (Don’t limit) thinking to what’s here-and-now, but it’s simple to begin there.

Both public and private schools are trapped by their histories and have a hard time seeing ho learning might evolve in a dramatically different framework.  For millennia, education has revolved around a simple relationship: the transfer of knowledge from a teacher to a student, often in a daily face-to-face setting.  That simple framework is now irrevocably busted with nearly universal access to content knowledge via the Internet. There are no boundaries to the “market” other than those we choose to create.


Wunker: Assess the latent demand – My mentor, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, has written extensively about understanding the jobs that people are trying to get done, rather than focusing exclusively on the market from the perspective of a company trying to sell something.

Christensen, and to an even greater degree Shoshona Zuboff, tell us that we have already shifted from a world where consumers buy what companies try to sell to one where companies must sell what consumers want to buy.  We see this customization of education in play as increasing number of families select non-traditional education pathways for their children. If these trends continue, and there is no evidence that the rate of change is slowing down, traditional schools will either dramatically change what and how they teach in the next ten years, or will become bench players in the education game.


Wunker: Understand value creation – If a new offering creates calculable value for a customer, by all means run the numbers for a variety of scenarios and customer types.  If the value is difficult to figure objectively, ask about the sort of trade-offs people would make.

Creating value in a school organization is not an exact science, but neither is it a completely subjective exercise.  Customer families vote with the attendance of their children. Neither public nor private schools are immune to the increase in available options.  In the past we have assumed that families will stick with us because…well, because they always have and we are still good at what we have always done.  That assumption in no longer valid.  We need to increasingly listen to what our families want, and help them to translate those desires and aspirations through our knowledge of educational best practice.


Wunker: Learn through the marketplace – When a large food company tests out new products, it sets up what it calls “lemonade stands” at grocers to see who is curious about a concept, what questions they ask, how they respond to various marketing angles, and how they react to different price points.  Be wary of what people will say in sterile focus group facilities in response to abstract concept statements; the real world is the place to gauge actual reactions.

Innovating organizations try things, and successfully innovating organizations try things in real-world practice.  It is safe for a school to test a new idea with the faculty or at a parent coffee…but those are not real-world test grounds.  School leaders (which is ALL of us) must have the courage to create pipelines of new ideas with value-enhancing potential.  Some are riskier than others, which create balanced portfolios of risk.  Get those pilot projects out for teachers, students, and the community to see, touch, and respond to…like the lemonade stand with a new brand of drink.


Wunker: Crowdsource – Crowdsourcing is a wonderful way to access new ideas…  However, when the crowd lacks context to understand something truly distinct, and if it reflects a company’s internal outlook rather than deep marketplace understanding, this approach simply magnifies the challenge seen with traditional concept tests.

Nearly every school I have worked with suffers to a greater or lesser extent from an overly inward focus: we do not get out much to see what other schools are doing, much less the rest of the world.  If we “crowdsource” from within our own groups, we limit the possible results to a narrow window of experience.  Many schools that see themselves as innovative are really not challenging themselves in any fundamental ways; they are relatively static in a highly dynamic environment.  We need to widen the filters through which we crowdsource ideas, by actively and frequently connecting with other educators and many non-educators who will bring fresh idea-DNA to the mix.


Wunker: Quantitative simulations – …quantitative techniques are beguiling in their data-rich complexity.  Executives can adore the seemingly rigorous nature of such models.  Alas, they are frequently bogus.  Such approaches simply layer on complexity over the basic errors seen in the other models, and through doing so they hinder debate about what drives divergence in estimates.  Garbage in, garbage out.

K-12 education has become a slave to test results: grade-level standardized tests, SAT’s, AP’s, and more.  Data are fabulous, but not unless they allow for an evolution of what we test for, and what it means. I won’t go into this battle over assessments; we all know that it lies at the very heart of the debate over standards, college admissions, curriculum and pedagogy.  The take-away: don’t ignore data, but always question the foundations that they represent.

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By | 2014-01-11T14:58:43+00:00 January 11th, 2014|Governance and leadership, Innovation in Education|5 Comments

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  1. Sheri Edwards January 12, 2014 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Interesting ideas. Innovation occurs outside of the status quo, yet you’ve shown how it can exist within the status quo if we don’t venture out of our own arena. “We need to widen the filters through which we crowdsource ideas, by actively and frequently connecting with other educators and many non-educators who will bring fresh idea-DNA to the mix.” It seems that this would be true for administration, local and state school boards, and the Department of Education. It’s not just to connect, but to “widen the filter,” and with that filter, we see things with fresh eyes that could lead to true innovation. We’re stuck now in transition: the old data systems applied to supposed forward movement to improve. However, we aren’t moving forward, we’re using the same old school rhetoric, same old foundations.Are we supporting innovation or are we adding more rules and punishments, especially in schools that really could use innovative strategies to engage students?

    • glichtman January 12, 2014 at 9:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Sheri; I think you are right. As long as we measure progress by the metrics of the past, we are caught in the past. I think most schools and districts are more inward and backward looking, rather than outward and forward. Innovation involves breaking these bounds, and for that we look at how other knowledge based organizations have done it.

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