Monday, 25 August 2014

Collaborate... As If Your Business Depended on It!

The EdTech community rallying round EdShelf has shown the potential benefits when all stakeholders come together to pitch in and help out... What if EdTech orgs changed their perception of competitors and started viewing them as collaborators?
Like many people I read EdShelf's blog post that the company was closing the business and I found the heartfelt tone very emotive. However, unlike many people who read the post and sent messages of support to Mike Lee, I had never engaged with him or his company prior to this point.

But boy! Did I empathise a great deal with him and the struggles he had to make his idea work!! I have been working on plans to improve the roll out process of EdTech in the UK for the last 2 years, and had been struggling just as much with getting buy in with my proposed business model.
I saw Alicia's Tweet and took a few moments to detail my experiences in the hope that it might help. I'm not sure how much this post impacted on the overall result (My view is that the post had a limited impact compared with other factors)... But WHAT A RESULT!

The word spread to such an extent that, on the day the business was due to close, there had been such an outpouring of support that EdShelf decided to see if crowdfunding could do what the investor discussions could not... Save the company, not just financially but also in terms of sticking with their original mission.

What an experience for Alicia Leonard! Try telling this Pre-Service Teacher that her ability to make a difference is limited because she didn't have the experience, resources or the authority.
Embedded image permalink

I've blogged and Tweeted about EdShelf to support #SaveEdShelf quite a bit over the last few weeks and want to highlight that this post isn't another in support of the campaign... it's a post to ask what else could be achieved with more collaboration like this?

At the moment #SaveEdShelf is something of a unique example but I'd like to see more of it... Indeed, it is my view that it's something of a necessity to;

1) Prevent other EdTech companies from going to the wall, and 
2) Because the current roll out model is unsustainable and inefficient
Many EdTech companies struggle because the cost of overheads tip the balance before the sales orders have time to come in. Would so many EdTech companies go out of business if some functions were shared including Sales & marketing, as well as admin etc?

As individual organisations EdTech companies promise time and cost savings to educators but, collectively as an industry, are these time and cost savings negated because of the time it takes to listen to the thousands of sales calls and presentations made each week? 
I KNOW there are more efficient models, but the level of collaboration required may be outside the comfort zone for some people/organisations. 
Diverse Portfolio 
This is where EdShelf's successful Kickstarter may benefit the whole sector, and not just one small startup. If you take a moment to look at the backers for EdShelf you'll see a diverse portfolio of investors from people across the EdTech spectrum: educators, suppliers, policy makers, think tanks, teaching assistants, admins and even competitors.

I've explored the roll out process over the last two years and my assessment is: I am 100% convinced that this is the kind of diversity that's needed with each and every EdTech project/company or idea, but this kind of collaboration rarely happens. 
Where it does happen is with larger, well funded organisations who have enough resources to have the luxury of time to test and refine their ideas... a luxury that startups simply don't have!

Competitive Edge

As I mentioned I did not have any interaction with Mike Lee prior to reading the "EdShelf Closing" post, I also have absolutely no vested interest with any success that EdShelf may or may not have achieved... That said, I certainly HAVE benefited from helping out someone who, under normal circumstances, would have been a direct competitor: How helping a Competitor has Been Beneficial 

These are ideas I have advocated for some time now, and can be seen in previous posts. For example;
I feel that my advocating for greater collaboration prior to #SaveEdShelf is an important point, as is explaining my involvement with EdShelf before, during and after this campaign.

I got involved because I thought I could provide some insights as to why this model hasn't worked out but how it can, and why it could eventually be a mainstream roll out method. During the campaign I shared any updates and did what I could to spread the word.

A result of helping to spread the word and doing a few "5 minute favours" is that we have got to know one another, so there is now an environment where we are willing to share ideas and collaborate. Compare this with the typical competitor working relationship of "Don't speak to them, they're the competition." Talk about "Collaborate Vs Collaborate"

Taking Sides  
So all things considered this has been a fantastic experience. Although there does appear to be one downside with my being associated with #SaveEdShelf. 
I get the impression that some people who I had quite a good relationship with feel that by supporting EdShelf that I've "taken sides" 

The reason I get this impression is because some organisations that were previously very friendly and responsive have seem to have went a little quiet. So please allow me to stress that:

What I did here I'd do for anyone: I did some "5 minute favours;" I wrote a blog post; I asked someone "Can I help" and they responded with "Yes Please" so I helped; I collaborated.

I did everything I have been advocating in my reports and blog since I started writing content
Just because you help one company and do what you can to help them succeed does not automatically infer that you want others not to succeed and/or that you won't want to talk to others in the same space! 
I am keen to hear from, and collaborate with, anyone in Edu & EdTech who is trying to do great work! I know others are keen to share ideas too, and have reached out to competitors previously 
Jiminy Crickets! What do you mean people won't collaborate?!
Sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Or maybe it sounds a little naive, maybe as naive as;
  • Thinking that an EdChat where suppliers come together to collaborate might work
  • Thinking that raising awareness of a company in trouble on social media may make a difference 

For anyone who feels this is a naive perspective I'd encourage them to see the reply that this weeks Community Manager Google Hangout panel (#Cmgrhangout) gave to my question: 

How do you encourage competitors to collaborate with each other?

The panel spent 5mins answering this and I was delighted to discover that I was already doing what these Community Managers were recommending... These guys are so experienced that I'm not about to ignore their advice!

I'm going to be reaching out to a number of groups who are working on alternative roll out models with the offer to collaborate. I'll keep you posted on any progress.

In the mean time I'll leave you with the #Cmgrhangout discussion on the topic of collaborating with competitors (The responses to my question is from 21:30-27mins):

How Can I Help? Let's Collaborate...

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Problem with EdTech Integration: Educators Don't Know How to Sell!

How many products whether good, bad or indifferent have been successfully rolled out across your school or college to the extent that most educators are using them to their full potential?

Every week during EdChats regular participants often comment that this is the best form of PD for them. However... out of all these teachers who are huge fans of EdChats, how many have more than a handful of their colleagues from the same school join in the chat? Why is this? Is it because Educators and admins don't know how to sell? Or more accurately, because they don't understand the sales process?

"No leader can hope to persuade, regularly and single handedly, all the members of the group. A forceful leader can reasonably expect, however, to persuade some sizable portion of group members. Then the raw information that a substantial number of group members has been convinced can, by itself, convince the rest. Thus the most influential leaders are those who know how to arrange group conditions to allow the principle of social proof to work maximally in their favour" Robert Cialdini

Sales Matters in EdTech
I met with a very good Principal friend recently. This was more of a social visit and we ended up talking shop. We had the kind of discussion that can only occur if you have the strongest possible relationship. I have to admit that, as a recovering EdTech Salesman, I took great delight in stating;

"ARE YOU INSANE?! That is entirely the wrong strategy! It won't work... All this will do is create division, possibly  resentment towards you and disrupt the culture that you are trying to establish!"

Please find below a summary of some of the points of this discussion and how the right tech integration strategy and roll out model could improve the school/college culture, level of innovation and adoption of technology... but the wrong process could do nothing more than fragment the culture.

What are you doing with Technology this year?

We're going to be blogging, we've 
all had some training so we're good to go.

How do staff feel about it?

Some are really up for it, others are OK with it... and a few are quite negative about it.

Me: That's natural, the adoption of tech isn't a linear process. The early adopters will get behind it and will encourage others to get involved. That's the way the roll out process works. How are you handling this? What are you doing about it?

Principal: I've told them they've got to do it?

Me: That's insane! You're wrong to do that. 
Working with the entire organisation en masse could do nothing more than fragment the culture. This kind of meeting will frustrate the innovators because of the detractors negativity and, at the same time, will be another reason for any detractors who disagree with your leadership to say "Here we go again another bright idea that won't work"

Compare this with the right roll out plan for technology... It will help to ramp up innovation AND could play a role in improving the culture.

Life Sucks... And You're an Idiot!
Culture: The people who are negative about this will be because they are at stage 2 or 3 in Dave Logan's Tribal Leadership scale and forcing them to do things will make things worse, it will confirm their assessment. People in stage 2 or 3 need to be mentored, coached and encourage to see the value in Stage 4 or 5.

Technology: Alternatively the issue may be a technology one. The people who have concerns may be laggards. 

Combination: Forcing a technology laggard who is also at stage 2-3 on Logan's culture scale to do something they don't see the value in could be quite negative in any tech meetings and seriously disrupt progress and implementation of the product/service... This will add to any feelings of "My life sucks," or maybe even feelings that "You suck, my boss is an idiot"

I discussed the principles of Tribal Leadership and the 5 categories team members fall into;

There are examples where this model has transformed the culture within 9 months. One case study that Logan highlights saw a hospital go from failing to world class... So world class that they now have to charge for tours as it was taking up too much staff time.

EUREKA MOMENT: EdTech Integration
It was during this conversation that I realised two reasons why, after almost 2 years of trying to make a plan work, that they weren't working
  • I had been looking in the wrong sector of education when trying to change the roll out process.
  • Maybe my "Product Market Fit" wasn't with helping EdTech companies with their roll out plans, maybe it was with helping educators to understand the roll out process.
We can test the need for out... Besides Microsoft Office or Google Docs how many products are there that every educator in your school/college uses?

As I've already highlighted with Twitter lots of educators find a lot of value in EdChats but very few appear to work at a school where every educator is on Twitter and participates in EdChats.

Now we all know that there's ineffective EdTech out there, but I'm going to jump over to the EdTech side of the fence and make a bold claim: 

The reason schools/colleges don't have the tech integration that they would like is because
Educators Don't Know How to Sell!

Yep you heard me! If my early discussions with my PLN is anything to go by, the content of this post may prove extremely valuable to educators. If this is the case, I find it quite amusing that the thing that is universally despised in EdTech - sales and sales people - might end up being key to tech integration. The Fox of EdTech is in the chicken coop and is ruffling feathers! Lol

Using Tech Integration to Improve the Culture
Principal: So what should I be doing?

Me: Do you not read my blog? Did you read my EdTech report? Everything I'm about to tell you is in there!

You take the 2 educators who are positive about blogging, and technology in general, and you give them free space to discuss their ideas... this is a very important point. I highlighted the impact this had in Professor Kathryn Kellogg's case study about changing the culture of junior doctors seeing 36+ hour shifts as a badge of honour: See "A Different Operating Procedure"

Culture: This is exactly the same as what Steve Jobs did with creating his "Why join the navy if you can be a pirate" counter-culture when his team was competing with the PC that the Apple Board had backed with Lisa PC Vs Apple2.

Steve Jobs was given his own office in a separate building and a small staff, partly to get him out of the way and to stop him from interfering with the Lisa development team.

Technology: As people saw how much progress (and fun) the pirates were having people slowly, but surely defected...this might be seen as the tech enthusiasts/visionaries influencing the "Early Majority" to "Cross the Chasm" 

Combination: This poaching of staff drove the establishment (The Apple Board) mad, but this counter-culture also helped to energize people who were fed up and disagreed with senior managers leadership and/or who felt the culture wasn't great... Oh and the Apple 2 ended up saving the company as the Lisa PC was a flop.

A great orchestra is not composed of great musicians but of adequate ones who produce at their peak. When a new conductor is hired to turn around an orchestra that has suffered years of drift and neglect, he cannot, as a rule, fire any but a few of the sloppiest or most superannuated players. He also cannot hire many new orchestra members. He has to make productive what he has inherited. The successful conductors do this by working with individual orchestra members and with groups of instrumentalists. The conductors employee relations are a given; the players are nearly unchangeable. So it is the conductors’ people skills that make the difference. Peter Drucker

A Cunning Plan?
Principal: So how do I identify these early adopters?

Me: Well with this particular project you've already got the 2 members of staff who are keen to explore blogging... Start with them... Have them try blogging first and explore the benefits etc for a few months... Give them some time in your office every 1-2 weeks to discuss their ideas... As word gets out and people read the posts and see the positive results and feedback, the next group (The early majority) will start to take an interest, your two bloggers should invite them to the tech meetings

In these meetings the early adopters can discuss anything and everything about tech ideas, you might want to use IBM Founder Tom Watson's format with assessing ideas;

1st Meeting Format: Here's the challenge we're trying to solve... Let's hear your ideas. Nothing gets ridiculed, there may be the kernel of a good idea in the stupidest suggestion. People develop these ideas for the next meeting

2nd Meeting Format: Is a roast, these ideas gets explored from every possible angle to assess what could go wrong and how to fix any potential challenges.

After these meetings you should have a good idea of how to progress with the implementation of the schools tech needs.

What Would Google Do? Control Supply and Demand!
Principal: What, so I ramp up innovation? But my staff says that I'm trying to do too much?

Me: Yes you ramp it up! But you do it in the right way. The reason they're complaining is because you're doing it wrong... Have you read my EdTech report?

Technology: Your early adopters are the only ones who are given the opportunity to test the new idea. They are tech savvy so they will provide the best assessment regarding its value.

Culture: In addition, this strategy does something more than this... It creates optimal distinctiveness (See What's the Difference between the Cinderella of Edu & Stanford). By the way these ideas are not the ideas of some random EdTech sales guy, these are the practices of Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Do you remember when Gmail came out, or Facebook? Remember how you could only get an account if you were a member of a club (Gmail: Google tech fan; Facebook: Ivy League uni).

Do you remember how this made those with accounts feel special about being in the "in crowd" but, at the same time, drove up demand for those who couldn't get into their club? This core group of tech proficient people helped refine the early product before the it was rolled out... but was rolled out in an extremely controlled manner (Facebook: People with an Ivy League Unis, only people with a email address; Early Gmail users got 20 invites for friends)

Combination:This strategy did one of two things;

1) It established "Network Effects" and a cycle of "Positive Feedback Loops" 

2) It also helped these products "Cross the chasm" into the early majority market... This is the toughest thing to do with any product, but was taken care of very effectively by the major companies.

How easy is it to open a Gmail account or Facebook account today compared with this early roll out period? Why was this? Because Tech adoption is not easy! It needs to be sold. Facebook and Google didn't use sales reps to sell it... they mobilized their users base for the most Effective Roll out

Effective School Roll Out
With a plan like this you can have your tech group explore as many ideas as you like in a 3-6 month period. This group is proficient with tech and are motivated enough to explore all the possibilities.

Technology: After their assessment they can "invite" the next group in to test the idea further.This will be the group that ask questions and instigate a discussion about it in the staff room "Hey I saw your post that was really good" and generally start to take an interest.

As this is rolled out and is approaching the late majority and laggards, the people who might have said "I don't get why we should be doing this," "That's not the way we do things around here," or "That's not in my contract" They start to feel that they are missing out on the party and begin to show intrigue and eventually ask "Can I try it"

You've crossed the chasm, you'll still have a tough demographic to engage, the laggards, but that will come as and when - and only when - the case studies that demonstrate value builds up. This takes time

Culture: Dave Logan advocates that progressing people from stage's 2/3 to 4/5 requires mentoring, this roll out process could do this. The culture and ability to adapt to new tech ideas could be transformed.

This process may or may not take as much time as all staff being in the same room together and being told, "we're all going to be blogging, you've had the training now just get on with it and stop your belly aching!"

Sales Matters in EdTech
I produced a series of blog posts called "Sales Matters in EdTech" where I highlighted that it was wrong to consider sales and sales people separately from the rest of the EdTech ecosystem. I never thought that it just might turn out to one of the most central themes! 

Not the sales of cold calling with bad EdTech, the sales process of Apple, Google and Microsoft et al. These guys control the pace of roll out until they have achieved "Product Market Fit" they innovate with the tech enthusiasts and their fans until the product is good enough to ship to the next group. 

If you are still not convinced of this approach I'll leave you to compare what Apple has achieved since 1997 Vs what our politicians and policy makers have achieved with the roll out of technology in Education.

Leaving FE
This is why I am now only working with a small group of people in FE... Not because I'm being difficult, but because it would be a waste of my time and others to do otherwise.

I've spent the last 2 years working on the right ideas but was focusing on the wrong audience. I wanted to work with innovative EdTech companies to help roll out good ideas into FE. I now realise I should have been focusing on working with the innovators in FE to roll out the practices of companies... had it the wrong way round.

FELTAG has been focusing on technology. As I've argued in this post and my previous one, I believe that people should be focusing on the roll out process... In doing so they just might be able to fix the technology, level of innovation and the culture. 

The primary challenge here is not technical, but cultural. Geoffery Moore, Crossing the Chasm

BillAuletCulture2Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast, Technology for Lunch and Everything Else for Dinner
Peter Drucker and Bill Aulet

Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organisation's makeup and success - along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials and the like... I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. Lou Gerstner

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Problem with FELTAG

In my previous post I raised some questions about the Gazelle initiative. Whatever the intentions, this has turned out to be a costly initiative, the value of which has come under question. For me this has highlighted that educators ideas can be just as prone to making the same mistakes as startups;

“No-one sets out to create a bad product, yet it happens all the time” Dave Feinleib

There is a reason for bringing Gazelle up at the moment, it’s in the hope that people will hear some concerns as I see some parallels with Gazelle and FELTAG. In Susan Cain's Book Quiet: The Power of the Introverts she highlights that;

"The banking crisis was caused the extroverts who had the run of the place. Introverts would raise the alarm to senior management to say the company had entered into business deals that were risky enough to threaten the company's survival. Management refused to listen and those executives were stripped of their power." 
Elsewhere there were claims that "The extroverts would argue that they never heard from the introverts"
This book will rock your world! Here's the Ted Talk
I understand that David Cameron had all his Cabinet Ministers read Quiet. As an introvert who was not heard with concerns I had about Gazelle, I have written to Nick Boles in an extremely unconventional manner to make sure my views have been heard. I have not heard from him directly, I am led to believe that he has seen my correspondence.

I do have some observations regarding what I have seen with the FELTAG and was keen to express my views… I am as likely to be wrong as anyone else and you’re welcome to disagree with me but, at the same time, the roll out process of technology in FE has been what I have been working on for 2 years. Here are my views and experiences.

Alternative Roll Out Model
During 2011 I worked on 2 separate projects that enjoyed almost instant feedback regarding colleges’ intention to participate. One project had over 200 colleges interested, another saw orders of £76,000 being confirmed. These results were both achieved within 3 weeks of letting my (In bound, opt in) FE contacts know about each idea… Any enquiries about these projects were from people contacting me looking for more information, not me selling to them.

The methods of engaging with FE were different to the traditional sales methods I had used for the previous 4-5 years. These initiatives led to me realize that there were issues with the EdTech roll out process in FE.

I researched the issues and produced this Technology in FE Report "Developing Relationships and Delivering Value" with the kind permission of some seriously knowledgeable people regarding technology: Bill Aulet (MIT), Doug Edwards (Google) Geoffrey Moore (Author Crossing the Chasm) and Dave Feinleib (Silicon Valley VC)
I'm no Tech or Startup Expert... But I know some people who are!
After publishing this report I went about identifying the vital "early adopter" group in FE. I was making good progress with about 100 people who I identified as tech enthusiasts and change agents.

Early Adopters Vs Celebrity CEOs/Extroverts
Then FELTAG came along and all of a sudden a number of other organisations and groups became interested in EdTech and are interested in looking for early adopters... None of whom seemed to express much interest in my EdTech report when I sent it to them 12 months earlier.

Based on my experiences with other projects and my exploration of leadership I wondered "Are all these people talking to one another? Or are they competing with each other? If they're competing and not collaborating, then any new Tech project is in trouble." (NB When Gazelle was being established I counted some 250 young enterprise initiatives, did they collaborate with one another?)

I'm a huge fan of Jim Collins leadership ideas and I love his "Level 5 Leadership" model

I don't see too much of this in FE, of the "level 5 leaders" that I am aware of they don’t appear to get too involved with these national initiatives… But they are truly fantastic to have Edu/FE discussions with.NB These two links are a MUST READ/WATCH for any aspiring leader;

Change of Plan
With the arrival of FELTAG I thought about how I was going to make my plans work now? I am a massively collaborative individual and wondered;

"What if I put my Business Plan online?" 

If these groups are able to implement this, great! The extent of my resources for the last 2 years has been a laptop and an internet connection! So published my Business Plan, but highlighted that;

"I've been eating and sleeping this idea for over a year and have made good links with various organisations, it might be a little silly not to utilise that kind of experience and enthusiasm"

You see there is a key ingredient needed for this kind of plan to work... it is a massive amount of collaboration, it's putting aside egos and proprietary rights etc (Want an example besides making my business plan public? How about that I've been supporting a potential competitor? See #SaveedShelf, I'll even work with groups of people I'm not a massive fan of i.e. politicians).
Do you know how many Committees we have at Apple?
The early adopters account for 20% in any sector/industry if all these FE tech groups are ran by people who are out to make a name for themselves or and/or will only collaborate with this other group or that, then there will be problems.

Led by Early Adopters …Or Ego Driven?
I've been to a couple of meetings that are FELTAG based and followed some webinars/live streamed events and Twitter discussions. An observation I've had is that;
  •  The meetings are attended by senior members of staff 
  •  The event hashtag has low level traffic
  • None of the people that I have identified as an “early adopter” in FE appear to be involved 

Based on what I've seen from the demographic of the attendees and the lack of chatter on social media, I would question if right people are in the room at these events. Someone who is listened to in this space has actually said as much;

 "A lot of the people who THINK they are innovators and are early adopters, actually are not"

I could not agree more with this sentiment. I wonder if it's the most senior person at the college who wants a day out of the office who attends.

As with Gazelle, I do not disagree or mean disparage the aims of FELTAG, the issues are with the "Cracks in the floor" of the culture. This is why I worry that the outcomes for FELTAG may be similar to Gazelle... and for the same reasons: A lack of collaboration (as an example: Where in FE is Everyone), ego and a bad culture leads to scaling ideas too early and/or poor implementation.

Rocket Booster on! Destination... Abiline?
There are too many people who I admire that advocate the importance of culture and the description above isn't it! I have some ideas about how to improve the culture at the same time as the level of innovation with technology. But these ideas would not work under those conditions.

I will remain in FE but will only be dealing with a small group, the people who have engaged with me, the people who I believe are innovators and who I know I can work with... because the relationship matters!

Not only do you need to be heard, you also need solid relationships. Relationships that will allow you to say "I think we're all getting on the bus to Abiline here" without the kind of trepidation that I have about publishing this post or my previous one because of the potential backlash.

Less Speed... More Haste
Whether you agree with my views or not, the urgency is real and the need to get this FELTAG thing right is crucial!

Februrary 2014: I wrote a post called "Creatively Massively Disrupt... Or Someone Else Will" which suggested that Starbucks, yes that's right... Starbucks! Could threaten FE for admissions.

June 2014:  Starbucks announced they will be offering free tuition to baristas IF they do The University of Arizona's online course... They are using staff to iterate their way to Product Market Fit.

With these alternative models FE is going to have to get it right very quickly. However, there are plenty of examples of lots of clever people have got together in their committees and have still got the decision making process wrong with EdTech, as this article demonstrates: Go Slow or Go Home.

What's Really Important with EdTech?
For all the strategising, meetings, conferences etc I do wonder if FE remains largely oblivious to some of the most effective things do be doing with regard to the adoption of technology in education.

Furthermore, I wonder if failure to understand the right concepts could result in the laggards continually putting a spanner in the works at every twist and turn when trying to implement change...So much so that the innovators throw their hands up in despair and leave the sector.

Meanwhile ...back at the coffee shop, Starbuck's (amongst other) will be exploring alternative models, and may well make progress in leaps and bounds and eventually surpass and usurp FE as they become more effective.

A US supplier wrote to me looking for my advice about rolling their service out in the UK, I was tempted to say "Go speak to Starbucks... I believe they will have iterated their way to Product Market Fit in education before you have any chance of getting traction with FE." Sad but true.

This has led me to believe that FE is a "bad market" as David Feinlieb would put it. Furthermore, when I add my experiences to EdShelf's in the US, I've been left asking myself and my PLN

What's Next?
I do not believe that all the innovators are included in the various groups, meetings, webinars etc... If they are, the culture clearly isn't right. Maybe the issue is that FE has been dealing with politicians for so long they're starting to behave and think like them. Perhaps they've got confused about the kind of collaborate they need to be using: Collaborate Vs Collaborate

I will collaborate with the people I know I can work with, who I know will listen to me and value my contributions and who appreciate the kind of culture required... the level 5 leaders that I've found on my travels and/or the people with this kind of attitude: 

Out with this small group, I'm going to take my ideas to other areas of education. I may return in the future if and when I get more buy in.

In the mean time, if any individual colleges who are not part of my PLN want to explore effective roll out further, you may want to consider subscribing to "EdShelf for Schools"... those guys have a good understanding of what's required, they've been exploring the same issues for the same amount of time as I have in the US.

Obviously I will also continue to write reports and blog posts which anyone who's interested in my ramblings can read, including my next post which considers some ideas for simultaneously improving tech integration, innovation and culture in education. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Problem with Gazelle

In group situations, the presence of a blocker can actually make the decision making process more rational and less likely to go off the tracks. It gives us a new appreciation for someone who tends to play “devils advocate” ...Although no one is likely to win a popularity contest by playing the devil’s advocate, businesses would do well to respect a dissenting opinion – if not straight out encourage someone to take on such a role. The dissenter, of course, is as likely to be wrong as anybody else, but the discussion of the points made by the dissenter can add perspective to the debate. Sway

The comment above is one that I would encourage anyone who works in FE to bear in mind as they read this post. The observations in my next few posts may upset some people and groups within FE, but I feel what I have to say needs to be said. I don't feel that I have been heard regarding some concerns when I've tried to reach various people and FE groups, so I thought I'd publish my views on my blog. Here are my observations regarding Gazelle, based on what I have seen.

June 2011: I shared the research that I was working on about the importance of innovating during a recession with a senior member of staff who had ran a cool campaign on social media to raise revenue for the college.

January 2012: Gazelle was formed. When I heard about this I tried repeatedly to engage with the organisation, but any emails or Tweets regarding Gazelle went completely ignored.

February 2012: I published my Business Development Ideas for FE report  which I felt was relevant to the organisations aims.

March/April 2012: I was asked by members of SMT who read this latest report if I was aware of Gazelle. I said that I was and that I had tried to engage with the organisation on a number of occasions… but had given up trying.

June 2014: Gazelle comes under fire as it is found to be “An expensive initiative which had little Educational impact” in this article: Colleges under fire on Gazelles £3.5 million.

What a Success?
£3.5 million? Could you imagine the outcry if this was a private company who lost this amount in a sector that is crippled with budget cuts?

But some in FE are defending these costs, some are even hailing it a success? Why is it a success? Why are the people who are teaching students to be entrepreneurial losing a small fortune? Should we be concerned about the quality of the enterprise programs they teach? (I understand that some current enterprise initiatives insist that you attend college in a suit every day... The dress code doesn’t seem to have much of an influence on the level of innovation in Scilicon Valley!)

"He who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions"
 The Richest Man in Babylon

Enterprising Colleges
If you read the introduction of my Business Development Ideas for FE report, you will see that I 100% believe that enterprise has a role to play in education. Who wouldn't when you see that the companies that MIT alumni start generate as much as 11th richest country!

Economic Impact of MIT
I do not think that entrepreneurship is suitable for everyone but, as Inc Magazines article “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” demonstrates it’s a tough lifestyle even for the successful ones! But I do think the core values and skills that enterprise programs develop are valuable in today's economy (See Selling Education).

Product Market Fit
Where I feel things went wrong was that the program was either rolled out too early and/or the implementation of these enterprise programs wasn't quite right. I have researched the roll out process in technology, which includes looking at how major companies iterate their way to "Product Market Fit" this confirmed that I was right to be concerned with the issues that I had tried to raise.
Questions should be asked regarding the roll out process and what these enterprise initatives did to achieve “Product Market Fit,” if for no other reason than to prevent this from happening again in the future.

I've spent a few years looking for an idea that had the potential to be rolled out in FE and, after two years, have only just realised what one of issues has been! Even Google, Microsoft and Apple don't get it right first time... they cycle through new ideas and then latch onto the right one.

As a fan of the leadership styles that Jim Collins, Adam Grant, Susan Cain and others advocate, I find the different approaches that people come at the same problem with fascinating. With Gazelle we had some big personalities come sweeping in with some grand plans who stamped their name all over the program.

In a sector where budget cuts were starting to bite, I did find some of the methods used rather curious. Is it just me that thinks if an entrepreneur had a commitment to a particular sector that was struggling with budget cuts, wouldn't the obvious thing to do be to help find additional revenue streams? 

Or were these people the kind of "rock-star celebrity leaders" that Jim Collins talks about, "Whose deepest ambition is self-centric." Were these celebrity leaders more interested in their next TV appearance and book deal than getting their sleeves rolled up?

Or maybe it was that these entrepreneurs whose advice was sought actually didn't know how to help? Was it that they made their money under different economic conditions? I highlighted at the time that one popular entrepreneur who runs a chain of luxury gyms had opened 2 gyms in the same space of time that the no frills "Gym Company" had opened 60 new facilities.

Then there is the concept of what these courses look like, I went along to an open day and interview for one of these courses. I found some of the ideas quite surprising, and wondered if these practices were part of MIT, Stanford or Harvard’s curriculum.

Where should the early pilots for an FE based entrepreneurship program take place? At the end of my Business Development Ideas report I included a comment from a college that is one of the least dependent on government funding, were colleges like this one involved with these enterprise initiatives? If not, why not? Why would the most enterprising colleges not be leading on the FE enterprise agenda?

During a recent discussion with a principal in another area of education I realized the extent to which that educators were not aware of the tried and tested roll out process that major tech companies use… the implications of this lack of awareness would appear to have some far reaching implications.

One of these implications might be that initiatives can tent to get rolled out too early and end up costing millions, with questionable results. This is a common issue when there is a lack of due diligence, as Geoffrey Moore highlights in “Crossing the Chasm” (See P40-42). 

In my Business Development Ideas for FE report I put forward some projects that came in at almost £12.5 million. Now, as anyone will tell you during the “Product Market Fit discovery process,” there is absolutely no idea how feasible these ideas might be or how realistic the projections... but they most certainly would not have cost £3.5 million because;

1) I understand the need for Disciplined Entrepreneurship and the need to achieve product-market fit
2) FE Colleges would have insisted on seeing some early case studies before rolling anything out

If any plans failed they would have "Failed Cheap and Failed Fast," while any success would have been rolled out at a steady pace. 

What does this experience tell me? It tells that whether you’re an educator or an EdTech developer that getting the implementation process right is VITAL to success of any idea. More on this topic to follow in future posts.