Monday, 31 March 2014

Where Have My FE Colleagues Gone? Lost Boys... Or Missing Opportunities?

I am the eternal optimist. As such when others see problems I can, on occasion, wonder if there might be some new and interesting opportunities.

Now that I have finished my latest research I have been sending some updates to my FE contacts recently regarding my plans, and the number of emails that have been returned "undeliverable" has been significant.

When I checked these contacts on LinkedIn, I then get confirmation that they have moved out of FE and into other sectors. All these bounce backs in your inbox provides an interesting visual demonstration of how FE has lost 30% of their staff in some departments recently... and makes you wonder about the impact this has had at the college.

I really do detest this from the student and staff perspective - hard working educators forced to leave due to budget cuts and all this expertise leaving the classroom. But is there an opportunity here?
Connecting business with FE
If this 35% drop in academic staff is consistent with other departments who have left FE, this would mean that some 60,000 are now working in different industries and sectors. I wonder to what extent FE are using former colleagues to establish links with industry? 

One of the best ideas that I have seen regarding the successful implementation of a strategy is for teams to answer "yes" to these three critical questions;

1) Do we have enough assets for the outcomes?
If Yes then you can go on to ask "What should we do to accomplish the outcomes, if no;
2) What assets do we have that we haven't identified yet?
3) Will behaviors accomplish outcomes

With a 30% drop in staff I can imagine that the answer to "do we have enough assets for the outcomes" may well be "no," but surely a credible and viable answer to question 2 is "How about we see what our former colleagues and their new employer can do to help achieve this outcome?"  

The 5-minute Favour & Reciprocity Rings
Wharton University Professor of Management, Adam Grant, discusses the secret of Adam Rifkin's success as one of the most connected networker, who is trying to change the way that people network and is an advocate of the 5 minute favour.

Reciprocity rings is one way to instigate this kind of collaboration. This is where a group is gathered for the purpose of members asking for something important for them in their personal or professional lives.  A request is put out to the group and participants make connections, offer introductions, contacts or more tangible help with achieving member’s goals

This idea was developed by University of Michigan psychologist's Wayne and Cheryl Baker and their website Humax has all the tools you will need to develop the method.  Some of the business benefits listed on their site include:

  • Real business benefits are achieved
  • The monetary values of benefits achieved typically exceeds $150,000
  • The time saved by participants typically exceeds 1,600 hours
  • The Reciprocity Ring builds community, strengthening the network of relationships among participants
  • The Reciprocity Ring is transformative — and informative. Not only will you learn solutions to your issues, but you’ll also learn more about your colleagues and co-workers.

Private Vs Public Solutions
In February Michael Gove said that State Schools should be more like Private Schools. I agree that State Schools can learn a lot from private schools, but also feel that some comparisons are more than a little ridiculous.

As I highlight in my Culture in Education post, it takes a village to raise a child and this is something that private education excels at... they make use of "The Old Boys Network" to find opportunities for their children. This can be evidenced in Miles Corak's "The Great Gatsby Curve" and how 75% of children with wealthy parents have worked for the same employer as their parents did (this raises to 90% of the super-rich).    
Unfortunately people from deprived areas have parent who don't work, some even an entire network of friends and family who don't have jobs?! 

Parents in private education tend to make any requests regarding their children's career public with their networks, could FE fulfil the same role for their students? Could this help some of the lost boys of the council estates, in the same way that it helps their privileged counterparts in the private estates?  
FE Network
If 30% of FE staff have left the sector in the last few years leaving existing staff with a greater workload due to budget cuts etc, and as reciprocity rings have demonstrated that they can save participants time, I'm sure that they could have an impact on FE whether to; 

  • Helping students to get work experience or employment
  • Develop courses and/or apprenticeship programmes that fit their employers' needs 
  • Encourage employers to look at FE for training and conference needs
Surely there is an opportunity here to make this community of ex-colleagues and former FE staff work for existing college staff and their students? 

If you have worked in FE and/or are interested in exploring the concept of reciprocity rings please feel free to take a moment to fill out the details on the following link - Left FE: What Next?

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

From Nightmare Scenario... To Living the Dream?

It's been an interesting week... One where a lot of work over the past year is starting to come together. 

The week started with a visit to the cinema with my kids to see Turbo... and I sure could I relate to Tito, the owner of a run down Taco restaurant who discovers Turbo, and his being misunderstood because of his continued attempts to find and convince people of the merit in his wacky ideas!

I read Alex Banayan's post called "
5 Books Every 20 Something Needs to Read" where he asks; 

"Did you chase the dollar or did you chase the dream? Did you do what seemed safe or did you do what felt right?"

I have read three books from this list and 2 are among
 my all time faviourites and both have play a role in making me make unconventional, value-based, risky decisions that others have advised me against... and suggesting that I should "play it safe" instead. 

I got confirmation that one of the ideas that I had  would become a reality.  I had the #EdTechChat inspired idea of #startupeduchat which I presented as "a Twitter chat that was a PLN for suppliers." The presentation for this wasn't quite right, so integrated it with a similar idea that other educators had.

I think this is quite fitting, given that my work over the last 14 months has been all about the need for EdTech suppliers to develop their ideas in collaboration with educators. Please support @Mr_Isaacs and @Katyamuses on the 2nd April with the inaugural #EdTechBridge chat session

Two EdTech suppliers that I admire followed me on Twitter. This was followed up with emails from these startups, who asked me to provide input on some of their latest developments. When I provided some comments they were delighted with my suggestions and invited me to contribute to their blog. How cool!

I have a number of very interesting companies approaching me to see if I would be interested in working with them. All of these organisations are keen to incorporate 
my current plans... the same plans that have previously been rejected by a number of funding bids, whether by mainstream FE bids or application to EdTech Startup organisations.

I look forward to 
weighing up these new opportunities with the proposed roles with what I believe HR departments call "Person-Environment Fit" for my personality as well the position that is the best match for my career and personal goals. I am currently preparing for the first interview which is on Friday.

I have been short listed to attend the first interview for one of these roles, which is an exciting new position with a market leader in UK education.

Good Week for me... But where's the "So What!"

So a good week for me? But "So what"? Why would my having a good week be of so much interest to blog about it? Am I reverting to one of the less desirable aspects of social media and saying "Look at Me... Look at Me..." self promotion and hype? 

Definitely not!  I would like to focus on Monday's post by Banayan and to let any 20-somethings who are just starting out to consider taking "The road less traveled," and to tell anyone who is going through a rough time in their work or studies to hang on in there!! 

Nightmare Scenario

Just over a year ago I left paid employment. The reason? Because I had worked with two startups over the last 13 years who had promised much to all stakeholders but, ultimately, failed to deliver... You know how the saying goes "Once bitten, twice shy, three times a fool"

I was keen not to make the same mistake for a third time so undertook a search for the right organisation to work with. Dave Feinleib highlights how difficult such a search is

"Nearly everyone has an idea for a product they could build or a company they could start. But eight out of 10 new businesses fail within the first three years. Even only one in ten venture-backed startups succeeds, and venture capitalists turn down some 99% of the business plans they see. The odds appear to be stacked against you!"

Finding an organisation with the right product, the right market, the right team and culture is challenging in any sector, its even tougher when you're a "random sales guy" in a niche area of education.

The Best Laid Plans 

Having discovered the joys of inbound marketing within my education contacts, I wondered if I could to the same with the community of EdTech suppliers. I undertook some research which would incorporate what I had learned in traditional sales, inbound marketing and the advice from educators, startups, VC's and other experts from Scilicon Valley, MIT and EdTech incubators.

The plan was that this research would take 2-3 months to complete, which I managed to do. I had sourced all the data and pulled a draft together between January-March 2013, and shared with some critical friends. The only problem was that some critical friends were, well... critical. Here's a comment from what I thought was the finished report;

March 2013

"As an educator I was losing the will to live as you gave context and detail to the technology adoption cycle." 

Six months later and after two complete restructures of the report the same critical friend had this to say;

Sept 2013

"I have read this report again and again believe it is very timely and interestingly reads a lot better. Is that because I am reading second time round... or has there been an evolutionary process in place. Whatever, I am challenged by it and reminds me of my responsibilities in regards to future proofing and engaging in the debate linked to teaching  and learning"  

So things did not work out regarding the schedule I was working to with this report... The same might be said of my expectations.

I was delighted at the comments people made about the final report, but disappointed that the offers didn't come rolling in; or that the area of education I work in didn't respond to the report in the way that I had anticipated.

Undeterred I continued with my goal over the next five months, which is to make it easier for good suppliers to reach educators in the community that I work within. This week it felt like real progress was being made.

Do you see the significance of my week for a wider audience now?

How Many Time Should You Try - motion graphic

I wanted to share details of my week to let people know that
I'm starting believe that creativity is really just persistence, I'm also getting first hand experience from some of the things I've blogged about other people in the past about the value of persistence; 

Persistence - Never Give Up
Persistence - Temporary Setbacks
Lessons in Adversity

Will You Succeed!
Now this has been a positive week, but I'm still pragmatic about the situation and I am aware that my chances of success may be the same as my chances of failing. But I believe Roosevelt was onto something when he says; 

“It's not the critic who counts. It's not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. It is the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And, who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

On a more positive note there is the fantastic comments and insight from James Allen in his 1902 publication "As Man Thinketh" which encourages you to cherish your dreams - James Allen: Visions and Ideals

Friday, 21 March 2014

Good Roll Out Processes Come to Those Who Wait...

In my last post I highlighted that I have had some ideas in the past that I felt had merit but were not necessarily heard and would like to detail some of these ideas in today's post. Before I do I would like to highlight the three main reasons that these ideas have not been taken forward;

1) Looking for "Product-Market Fit"

I have been looking for ideas that have the potential to be winners - that will fulfil a need and be fit for purpose. 

“Product-market fit is being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market” Marc Andreessen

In my EdTech report I detail how MIT's Bill Aulet and the Sensable Technology team spent 6 months looking for the best niche market for their product (See Appendix 1 on P33). In my case this is the other way round... I don't know what the product is but, for personal reasons, I know that the right sector for me is Further Education. But I realise that achieving "Product Market Fit" takes time and this is definitely a case of "Prior preparation prevents poor performance." 

I could easily roll something that looks like a good idea, only to find that you end up questioning how fit for purpose the idea was after you're working with 50-60 colleges, but you find that your roll out plans have ground to a halt because the service doesn't live up to your or your customers' expectations.

At this point not only has lot of time and money been invested... But it will be harder to backtrack once you've got paying customers; but its also difficult to grow as these customers will be disappointed with the results, compared with what they were expecting. This makes roll out through referrals and word of mouth all but impossible (See P37 Appendix 3 - "Danger of Not finding Product Market Fit").

2) Finding the right customers 
Finding the right customers in early
sage is crucial... but can be hard to reach
I have worked on projects where everything about the service has been the same - the product, customer support and account management etc - but have had completely different results at different colleges.The only explanation I could come up with was that the product was being managed by people at the college who either didn't have the time to explore the service or they were working with the service at the wrong time in the product's development and roll out phase. 

3) Roll out process 

The 2 points above highlight to me that the roll out process in FE at the moment isn't ideal. Under the current model you could easily spend a year+ trying to work with 40-60 colleges with traditional sales methods... Personally I feel that this is way too long for a great product and way too quick for a poor products that are not fit for purpose.

Instead of spending a year trying to sell an untested product that you eventually find has no tangible or quantifiable results, I would far rather have 3-4 pilot projects run for a year and then get roll out to 40-60 colleges within weeks after publishing the results. The latter scenario seems to be worth the wait. 

Therefore before considering rolling out any of the ideas I have had in the past, I feel it would be better to work on developing a network consisting of the right mix of people within the sector.

If I asked Customers what they wanted...
While I am all for collaboration and am keen to hear to the sectors' views... that does not necessarily mean that I will listen to the overall consensus! I realise the need to balance the information that you get with your instincts, which will sometimes tell you to go against the advice of the market and trust that the idea will catch on.

"If I asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse."

But even if you decide to go against the consensus and disregard this feedback the same process applies - Test the idea with the right customers on a small scale and, if your judgement is sound, roll out... If wrong, thank you're partners for their time, kill the idea, discuss what you've learned and see if you can build on the experience and refine the idea. 

And that's where I am with some of the ideas below. I'm just gonna start building... Building on a small scale until we have the results, and roll out any that are successful.

Good Ideas?
I have come up with and/or sourced some interesting ideas which focus mainly around;

  • Social Media 
  • Promoting the college brand/identity and positive messaging 
  • Income generating and Business Development ideas
  • Technology that have good case studies in other areas of education
Just like some useful tools like @LinkedInU few of these ideas would cost any money, but a lot of them could increase revenue. I have included a few examples below and, as you consider them, it may be worth asking;

"How easy would it be to get this established at the college? How long would it take before everything was in place?"

The Hard Sell... Or a Tough Market?
Assuming that any of these ideas are good (or reasonable), if it's such a challenge to get good ideas that are free, you can imagine how hard it is for any that cost money?! This is something that Bryan Mathers also highlights in his latest post "Getting Hands on with Emerging Learning Technology"
For some examples of these ideas please find my Business Development Ideas and suggestions that I came up with for #ukfechatrq.

Business Development Ideas for FE
UK FE Chat Research Question (#ukfechatrq) Ideas

Inspired by Stanford

I'll leave you with the summary of what the outcome might be if the ideas from the Business Development Ideas were successful;
"A busy regional MD reads about a new network of national training & conference venues “The College Conference Consortium” in a business trade magazine that he subscribes to. This includes 280 locations nationwide that can be booked at a central point and at a fraction of the cost he usually pays, so has the potential to save him both time and money.
When he sees the network is FE Colleges at first he is surprised at the variety and quality of the services available - he had no idea all these services were available in colleges.
He loves the fact that his new supplier could be FE colleges as this fits his company’s “Corporate Social Responsibility” ethos and their commitment to young people & the community.
When he requests more information he is delighted to learn that he can get a further 20% off through the “FE Corporate Loyalty Card”, which is valid at any college - great news for his sales team who travel a lot.
He subscribes to the Colleges' business e-mail updates and gets sent a brief outline of the training sessions that the college is considering running this term and is asked what his level of interest is for each session.
When he books the training, he indicated he was "Very interested" in, he is surprised to find that his costs can be reduced even further if he can encourage more people to attend. He e-mails some of his contacts with details of the training session and the discounted offer.
When he arrives for the training there is the offer to have his car valeted/serviced during the event and when the session finishes he is handed a voucher for a discounted meal/salon/spa. He is also given a list of the outsourcing service that FE can provide. 
This MD's perception of FE, his experience as a customer and the range and quality of service means that he is set to become a keen supporter and regular user of the college & its facilities.
How achievable this might be is unknown, but in essence it is not dissimilar to Professor Fredrick Terman’s recommendation to his staff in 1930's Stanford
"Get out and get acquainted with local industry and with the people in it who were doing interesting and creative things. Likewise he encouraged industry to know about the university by getting acquainted with what was going on at Stanford as it related to their own interests and to make the acquaintances of those university people who had similar interests."
A region that was as badly affected as everywhere else in the 1930’s depression is one of the least affected areas in today’s economic downturn because of one educators’ frustrations at student opportunities and his vision to change the situation.