I just attended the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), where I was speaking about how to engage stakeholders with a new approach to presenting an organization’s financials. Again and again, I learned in other sessions about innovative models for education—both models to sustain institutions and also to engage young minds for 21st century challenges.
It got me thinking about my own business model and that of my clients. How innovative is our model? Is change built into our decision-making mechanisms, or is it hard to achieve? Why?
All NAIS attendees received Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Switch” (they are the best-selling authors of “Made to Stick”), which discusses how to make lasting changes in our companies, our communities and our lives. One of the core messages of the book is that change is hard not because people are lazy or uncreative, but because the self-supervision required for repeated behavior change is exhausting. It’s like driving on a new route to work. On the old route, you can be on “automatic” and not even remember certain miles of your trip. On a new route, you will need to constantly check road signs and cues to be sure you are going the right way. That’s really tiring. The Heaths discuss how “scripting” the critical moves for the people within an organization (not all the moves, just the key ones) can reduce this exhaustion and has helped many companies successfully implement lasting change.
To create a reliable path for change, “Switch” looks at how to adjust the environment in which change needs to happen and build habits that lead to change, all through what they call “the humble checklist.” Atul Gawande has made waves—even on The Daily Show—with his simple safe surgery checklist that has radically changed patient outcomes in hospitals around the world. Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto shows how something as simple as a checklist empowers us—if we can overcome our belief that we already know the right way to do something–to put our knowledge to use more effectively, communicate with our team at the most critical points in a process, and get things done…right.
Another book that looks at innovation from the standpoint of a national case study is Dan Senor’s “Startup Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.” Senor looks at why Israel, a nation of 7 million people the size of New Jersey, has more startups than any other country outside the US, and more companies on the NASDAQ than India or China. He looks at factors such as a history of overcoming obstacles, a culture of questioning group-think, a government policy of rapid integration of immigrants into society and education, and a willingness to integrate employees with military service (which virtually everyone in Israel has) into the private sector.
Ultimately it is the willingness to dare, to take risks and try something new, which helps organizations—and students, and nations—succeed at change. How can you create a culture that values risk-taking, and provides a path for success for the innovators in your organization?