Monday, December 20, 2010


In his article, In Pursuit of the Perfect Brainstorm, in The New York Times Magazine, David Segal writes about ways in which Corporate America is seeking help to come up with new ideas.  Successful managers are being defined not by their mastery of data, but by their leadership, creativity and vision.  Companies are seeking ways to nurture those qualities.

Segal writes about Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.  Govindarajan “presents companies with what he calls the three-box framework.  In Box 1, he puts everything a company now does to manage and improve performance.  Box 2 is labeled ‘selectively forgetting the past,’ his way of urging clients to avoid fighting competitors and following trends that are no longer relevant.  Box 3 is strategic thinking about the future.  ‘Companies spend all of their time in Box 1, and think they are doing strategy,’ he says.  ‘But strategy is really about Box 2 and 3 – the challenge to create the future that will exist in 2020.’  He recommends to clients what he calls the 30-30 rule: 30 percent of the people who make strategic decisions should be 30 years old or younger.  ‘The executives who’ve been there a long time, they grew up in Box 1’, he says.  ‘You need voices in the room that aren’t vested in the past.’

I suggest that while schools may talk about preparing students for the future (while going about business as usual), they spend very little time thinking and planning for the future.  What significant change has today’s high school, for example, undergone since you were a high school student?  It is pretty much people going about doing the same things in the same predictable way.

The people who run schools are Box 1 types.  They grew up in Box 1.  They may want to spruce the box up a bit, but at the end of the day, Box 1 leaders beget more of Box 1.   

Box 2 school thinking is called, “How does what we do compare with other schools?” “Excellence” gets defined by what everyone else is doing.  The standardized testing consuming schools today is done for the purposes of comparison. Look at the similarity of curriculum in schools across the country.  What gets taught and when. Everyone is watching their neighbor.  The result is school as a place where, as Seth Godin says, “the curious are punished.”

How much time do schools truly devote to Box 3?  Either thinking about the future or focusing on the communication, collaboration, and creativity skills the future will require?  How many schools that do engage in any sort of strategic planning employ anything near the 30-30 rule?  Much less using the 30-30 rule for decision-making. How many schools, or school systems ask current consumers, i.e. students, to participate in strategic planning?

Schools are, by and large, “boxed in”.  Run by people who grew up in Box 1, confer with people in Box 1, and evaluate their success by comparing themselves with other schools.  In one school I worked in those people were most aptly titled, the Senior Staff.  Real change in schools will come about not through the managers, not through senior staffs, but through the people on the shop floor, those teachers brave enough to anticipate the future and willing to create and share new ways of teaching for it.  Some, alas, will end up teaching outside schools as the price of their courage.  That may ultimately be a very good thing.  That may be where real learning can flourish.        


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