“Productive Discomfort” Through Zero-Based Strategic Thinking

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“Productive Discomfort” Through Zero-Based Strategic Thinking

There is the traditional and relatively easy way of developing strategy for your school. And then there is a non-traditional, more complex, and RIGHT way.  Which is better in a time of rapid change?

Traditional strategic planing and implementation goes something like this:

  • Brainstorm ideas.
  • Group those ideas together.
  • Make sure all of the bases are covered.
  • Write a plan that is inclusive and does not make any group of stakeholders angry.
  • Write goals and tactics and turn those over to divisions, departments, grade levels, administrative leaders, and committees to implement.

The result is a set of implementation steps that are almost completely confined within the old framework,  implemented by silos of traditional thinking and protective, provincial responsibilities.

With the same amount of effort, though perhaps a bit more “productive discomfort” (I just came up with that term and I LOVE it!), we can map futures for our schools that are dramatically more outwardly and forward-focused, that deflate silos and replace them with collaborative innovation. At a very macro level, the process looks like this:

  • Ask open-ended questions that expand our options for the future.
  • Identify our most cherished goals as a community of learners.
  • Define the meta-framework of a school that transcends silos: leadership, pedagogy, environment, relationships, overarching themes and purpose, curriculum and assessment.
  • Map our goals to the meta-framework.
  • Align our resources (time, space, people, money, and knowledge) between the meta-framework and our most cherished goals.

The process embedded in these steps is completely different than the traditional strategic planning process.  It is wildly inclusive, generative, collaborative, iterative, transparent, and on-going.  It does not end in a long, wordy, static plan that will somehow serve in a dramatically dynamic world. It borrows elements of design thinking, and will be unique for each organization. Since it is not a cookie-cutter process, the results will not look the same for every school, as most traditional plans have in the past.

I call this process “zero-based” strategic thinking for two reasons. First, it starts with questioning all that we have done in the past. Second, it is builds an on-going capability, not a plan that sits on a shelf. This is how successful knowledge-based companies have embraced a culture of innovation for decades.  It is time for schools to do the same.

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  1. Sheri Edwards January 18, 2014 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on What Else? 1DR and commented:
    Grant Lichtman has shared on new framework for school improvement, a framework that may include “productive discomfort” [ as Grant calls it ], but definitely provides “open options” [my words]. It’s forward thinking, not tied to the past status-quo.

    Read this post to understand the framework and strategies.

  2. boadams1 January 20, 2014 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Can you show us two examples – from two different schools – and “chalk talk” how they are not the same as the old model of strat planning?


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