Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Massively Creatively Disrupt... Or Someone Else Will!

Move! Do something! Anything! The action you take will generate clarity.

That's the advice from a book called "Flip" which looks at how to survive and thrive by turning your business on its head, and is written by Peter Sheahan (who is also the co-author of Talent Magnets: Attracting and Retaining Young Teachers through Courageous Leadership).

Change is hard during difficult and uncertain times, but disruption to your organization by third parties sure seems an even tougher path to go down.  

Disrupting College Admissions... “Can I have my Education to Go?”
I recall reading an article about how Netflix is constantly looking to do something that a lot of organisations struggle with - which is to continually disrupt themselves.

This is can be especially challenging when you have the unhelpful combination of expertise, limited budgets and information overload… a sure fire breeding ground for more nimble, less encumbered organizations to come in and massively, creatively disrupt so much that they take an organisations bread and butter away…and turn your strategic plans into toast. 

Part of the reason this happens is because the industry insiders and experts take a "Maintain the status quo until the dust settles" perspective; meanwhile the external challengers experiment, test and innovate their way until one day you prospective students asking; 

Can I have a degree with my latte? Can I have my education to go?” - Starbucks entering education? What? The Future of education is attending Uni at a CafeRidiculous! ...Right?

I'm sure that's what EMI senior managers said about Itunes; What Woolworths said about an online book seller taking high street retailers market share; What Game said about downloads; What Kodak said about mobile phones.

With these industries the established organizations dismissed any threats as a “flash in the pan,” which can be a result of the "curse of knowledge" as industry experts tend to "stick with what they know" rather than looking at “what is possible.” Sheahan makes the point very well;

Take, for example, the diminishing impact of a 30 second TV ad. Once a guaranteed way to drive sales, this form of media and advertising has become much less effective, especially with younger people, since the growth of the internet, or more specifically of massive multiplayer online games, social networking sites and greater access to broadband connections. 

Imagine what it is like for the 40 year old consumer brand manager where the market requires entirely new messages delivered in entirely new formats through entirely new media. You’ll definitely have confusion and ambiguity in the mind of a once-unstoppable executive. Perhaps you are that forty year old executive, or your industry’s equivalent. (Sheahan, P 17)

We have seen this in the music industry, photography, gaming, the media & retail. Some commentators question if Education will suffer a similar fate and asks if FE is at risk of getting left behind in the digital dust

However, when we stop and consider any "Starbucks University" proposals with people’s expectations today - that people want to be able to work, learn and study whenever and wherever they want - as opposed to the perspective of "but this is the way things have always been done" then its a lot easier to see how an organization with hundreds of conveniently situated city centre locations might have the potential to become a major competitor to Further Education.

Ramp Up Innovation? Or Reduce Risk?
Almost every topic that I have comment on seems to have some basis in organisational culture, and the issue of Technology's ability to "massively, creatively disrupt" FE is no different.

A study by the Corporate 
Executive Board showed that the most profitable businesses in the long upswing after recessions are the most forward thinking and innovative during the downswing.

In 2008, when global stock markets were in free fall, a regional CEO of Apple was asked; 

"What's Apple going to do in response to the market turmoil and the economic crisis we are facing?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, with your new retail store, the products that you have just launched in the midst of the most frightening economic times in recent memory – how are you going to deal with the crisis?”
“We are going to innovate through it!” he replied. 

Compare this response to the managing partner of a mid-tier accounting firm 2 months after this conversation. They had just fired a significant number of its staff (ironically the directors' biggest complaint was how hard it was to attract and retain great talent...) 
“Is your business suffering?” 
“No” he replied. “We are getting ready!”
“Getting ready for what?”
“For the downturn. We have more work than ever, and it looks like our newly formed insolvency practice will be a hit, but you never know...”

Sheahan's research advises that; 

Most important of all is that you can’t let frozen capital markets freeze your behaviour. You have to remain active and ramp up, not slow down, your experimenting. It is so easy to be paralysed by the fear brought on by uncertainty. You will need to act in spite of the uncertainty. 

Without doubt those leaders and organizations that stay proactive will reap the greatest rewards in profit, brand reputation, and talent acquisition when the overall economic conditions improve.

Of course I appreciate that this is a fine sentiment but it is easier said than done, especially when there can be problems with; 

Multiple Alternatives... 
Not only has technology provided some new ideas in education but the array of choices truly is dizzying, just to give a few examples we have;
  • Classroom Technologies - BYOD, ePortfolio, Flipped Classroom, Gamification, Makered
  • Learning Technologies  - Badges/Microcredits, Analytics, Mobile Learning, MOOCs, Open Content, Personal Learning Environments, Virtual and Remote Laboratories
  • Social Media - Collaborative Environments, Collective/Tacit Intelligence, Digital Identity
  • Visualization Technologies 3D Printing, Augmented Reality, Information Visualization, Modeling Software, Visual Data Analysis, Volumetric and Holographic Displays
  • Enabling Technologies - Affective Computing, Cellular Networks, Electrovibration
All of which come with resource implications that are in short supply, whether its staff time or money.

…Which Perpetuate the Status Quo?
With so many options and so little time (and no budget)... what do you do? Do you ramp up innovation as Apple suggests? Or do you hunker down, focus on core objectives or restructure other departments while you wait for the IT dust to settle?

When it comes to decision making some studies demonstrate that we can be hampered in situations that offer multiple alternatives. Donald Redelmeier wanted to know if situations involving multiple options can paradoxically influence people to choose an option that would have been declined if fewer options were available. He found that the introduction of additional options can increase decision difficulty. Hence the tendency to choose a distinctive option or maintain the status quo. 

Awareness of this cognitive bias could lead to improved decision making in complex situations.

You can perhaps see how some of the above might apply to
the 40+ something education Director, and maybe even the feeling of dread at all these bewildering choices... many of which were not available a few years ago and/or when they started their career.

I like how Henry Ford describes and deals with this uncertainty… as well as his ideas on how to inhibit the competition while encouraging innovation.

Endow the Opposition with Experts
I do not recall anyone who thought that the internal combustion engine could ever have more than a limited use. All the wise people demonstrated conclusively that the engine could not compete with steam. They never thought it might carve out career for itself. 

That is the way with wise people – they are so wise and practical that they always know to a dot just why something cannot be done; they always know the limitations. That is why I never employ an expert in full bloom. If ever I wanted to kill opposition by unfair means I would endow the opposition with experts. They would have so much good advice that I could to be sure they would do little work. (Ford)

Where Angels Fear to Tread
“It can’t be done, no machine built will do that – it is out of the question” said the expert engineer. “Out of the question? If you will come down to the main floor you will see one doing it; we built one to see if it could be done and now we want more like it.”

The factory keeps no record of experiments, a record of failures – particularly if it is a dignified, well authenticated record – deters a young man from trying. We get some of our best results from letting fools rush in where angels fear to tread. (Ford)

If people in FE were to follow this line of inquiry along with some of the advice from Talent Magnets on retaining young teachers, we may find that SMT utilise younger members of staff enthusiasm, idealism and technical expertise is put to good use by being told - go and look into "what's possible" and see how we can integrate it with "The way things are usually done"

Act! …Do Something! …Anything!
This would certainly be in line with Sheahan's advice in Flip, that you should take action to differentiate your products or service, even if you don't have 100% clarity;

The worst thing you can possibly do is sit down and try to factor every suggestion and every change into your next project plan. It would be poorly spend... at some point you have to stop thinking, stop planning and just do something, anything!

“In the future, there will be two kinds of companies: the quick, and the dead” 
David Vice, CEO of Northern Telecom 

If you want to develop a better business strategy - Move! Do something! Anything! The action you take will generate clarity. From the clarity you will gain clearer vision on what you want to achieve, and the feedback you will receive will let you rejig your strategy to focus on the activities that are actually working as opposed to what you think might work. I call this “strategy on the go”. (Sheahan, P 32)

“Forget about 5 year plans, we’re working on 5 day plans here.”
Meg Whitman eBay CEO

In an industry that has seen 30% staff reductions as a result of severe budget cuts these decisions are extremely important in FE. Reducing risks appears to be as prudent and ramping up innovation.

Are there any solutions to these challenges? Here are some potential solutions that might be worth considering...

One suggestion that Sharon Plante came up with was for all the early adopters to start their own school "What if #SatChat started a school..." Here are some other suggestions for Further Education... 

Solution 1) Get Involved with FELTAG
With an interest in Technology in Further Education, I have been following the work of FELTAG, and would recommend to anyone involved with FE to get behind this initiative! 

It's perhaps important to make clear that I have no association with FELTAG. My only involvement here is a shared interest in Technology in FE... although we may also share some frustrations around the issue of a lack of engagement.

This initiative is headed up by Matthew Hancock and am keen to point out that I have absolutely no affiliation with politicians of any persuasion. Out with the daily misgivings in the press by "the political classes," I have both professional and personal experience of how much self interest and how much of a waste of time dealing with the "political class" can be.

However, I do know a good idea when I see one, and am able to put any differences aside to do whatever I can to support good ideas.

The last time I checked there were 40 responses on the FELTAG webpage, out of a staff body that numbers some 200,000 this equates to 0.0002% (...and a number of those were from corporate organizations!)

This issue affects everyone in FE regardless of w
hether or not you are involved with procuring technology at the college, because;

1)      There are few in FE that who don't use various Tech tools every day, and
2)      Everyone at the college will pay the price for any poor decisions, or indecision, for allowing any potential "creative disruption" to develop that threatens FE

What do you think of the tech you use?
What could be improved about them?
Furthermore how often do policy makers ask for your opinion?
Let FELTAG know your thoughts and Join the FELTAG Conversation.

NB FE is undoubtedly tough for everyone these days so just in case any educators in FE are reading this and feel that the difference they are able to make is limited - whether with policy makers, within their organization or with any troubled and disaffected post 16 students - I would strongly urge them to get “Switch –Change when Change is Hard;” “Work Hard. Be Nice;” and “Give and Take

Solution 2) Predicting the Future of EdTech… Help is on the Horizon
I have had the privilege of being on the Advisory Board for the Inaugural "Horizon Europe" report which tries to assess the trends of Technology in Education in the short, medium and long term.

The Horizon Reports are in their 6th year in the US and have been extremely accurate in predicting which technologies will take shape and when (give or take 6-12months in some cases). 

These reports could help in assessing which emerging technologies will gain traction over the next 12-24 months - so take a look at the Horizon Europe report when its out. In the mean time check out some of the US ones.

Solution 3) Be Willing to Change Tactics…

I was involved with an organization that was once so innovative that they were ahead of the curve with desktop apps. However this organization didn’t realize what they had. I spent almost 10 years with this organization and the last 12 months was a text book example of Jim Collins’ “5 Stages of Decline" that he outlines in “How the Mighty Fall”

Stage 1: Hubris born of success
Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit for more
Stage 3: Denial of Risk & Peril
Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation
Stage 5: Capitulation to irrelevance or death

So I have first hand experience on the impact poor leadership & inaction can have in uncertain times; and how difficult it can be during disruptive periods when there is so much new information. Collins has this advice during uncertain times;

“Never give in. Be willing to change tactics, but never give up your core purpose. Be willing to kill failed business ideas, even to shutter big operations you’ve been in for a long time, but never give up on the idea of building a great company. Be willing to evolve into an entirely different portfolio of activities, even to the point of zero overlap with what you do today, but never give up on the principles that define your culture. Be willing to embrace the inevitability of creative destruction, but never give up on the discipline to create your own future. Be willing to form alliances with former adversaries, to accept necessary compromise, but never- ever – give up on your core values.
The path out of darkness begins with those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation. Its one thing to suffer a staggering defeat – as will likely happen to every enduring business and social enterprise at some point in its history – its quite another to give up on the values and asperations that make the protracted struggle worthwhile. Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, without end.” 

Solution 4) Collaborate
I heard a comment from the World Economic Forum which was something like;

In times of change and uncertainty networkers are needed as much as leaders” because they can draw on the experience of numerous sources to try to solutions, which is in line with Steven Johnson's ideas about "Where Good Ideas Come From"

The level of collaboration that we are seeing from the most successful businesses is staggering, and seems to be a key factor that sets great organizations apart from others.

With regard to education last weeks’ Question Time highlights this issue very well. During the debate about whether or not public education can compete with private education (A point that I believe passionately in and can cite a number of examples – many of which are included in my Culture in FE report... two notable additions I discovered since this report are “Solution Focused Interventions” & “The Pagmalion Effect”) 

David Starkey hit on a key differentiating factor when he highlighted that a key difference between public/private education is that everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet in private education – teachers, parents, administrators all pulling in the same direction. This is not necessarily always the case in other areas.

77685 600 Teachers in 1960 and 2010 cartoons

For example, we see this anytime private education comes under fire, like with charitable status. Schools who are usually in competition with one another come together to stave off any threats to their organisation.

While there is a strong united front in FE through various associations and quangos, I have also seen some frustratingly fragmented goings-ons too.

I could cite a number of examples, but for the purposes of this post, I think the FELTAG responses is good example… so please allow me to reiterate - if you have ever complained about the college IT infrastructure or about politicians not listening to educators or forgetting about FE, then I hope you have responded to the FELTAG consultation?

Solution 5) Ramp Up Experimentation
Our recent EdTech report "Developing Relationships & Delivering Value" highlights how the early adopters are undervalued, despite their contribution being invaluable as "change agents".

I am working on idea that will turn this report into a workable plan and just might lead to better Tech tools AND at a hugely reduced rate (anywhere from 30-50% reduction or, in some cases, free of charge!). The plans for this were drawn up precisely so that experimentation could still be a possibility despite the current budgetary constraints.

However, these plans rely on getting the sectors' views on Technology, so need people involved with FE to take a few moments to complete this survey; Critical Friend & Early Adopter Survey

So far I’ve had a response rate which is on a par with the FELTAG consultation... Indeed I was starting to take things personally until I noticed that FELTAG was facing the same challenges.

Regardless of your position or department at the college, I am keen to hear your views and would be extremely grateful if you could take a moment to fill this survey out

Equally if you are an educator and have your own ideas remember that Ed-Invent are interested in hearing from you.

I’m going to give it another couple of weeks before taking a decision about my current plans and hope people will complete this and share it with colleagues.

While I’m waiting I think I'll head off to Starbucks for a coffee, perhaps I should pitch my ideas to them while I’m there… Just in case.

This post has been so much about the negative consequences or inaction that I almost forgot the best bit - the rewards of proaction... Enjoy! Here's the story about an organisation that Fast Company has named as one of their most innovative organisations;

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