Monday, 28 October 2013

Apply some constraints to unleash some creativity...

'20 % Time', 'Genius Hour', 'Passion Time' - all inspiring names for initiatives that hold similar principles. Namely, people being allocated significant blocks of time that are designated for the pursuit of personal interest areas in a highly-autonomous environment. Part of the popularity of these initiatives is that the large amounts of freedom bestowed are often in [very] strong contrast to the remaining [80%... ] time in the work day / week! 
Increasingly, workplaces are using initiatives like these as a means to spark creativity and new solutions. Schools, too, are getting in on the act, driven by a growing recognition of the importance of creativity, of developing new ideas, solutions and products, as well as building diverse skill sets for a future that is less-predictable.
There certainly is a lot of 'gung-ho' support for these sorts of initiatives, so I was interested to read a slightly-critical perspective here: http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/2013/08/20-time-and-schools-not-the-best-of-bedfellows.html
This piece suggests applying some boundaries and focus to these sorts of times, rather than allowing such time to be completely loose, directionless and out of alignment with the needs and goals of the organisation [or the child themselves, in the school context]. It does seem quite easy to imagine inefficiencies, irrelevancies, as well as general time wasting and low productivity starting to seep into these times if the freedom wheel is turned up to 10... 

In the article, Ewan McIntosh identifies how children in 20 % Time-style settings "often don't know what to do, or... they run out of steam.
I'm sure the same argument could be applied for many adult workplaces - people often don't have the skills or, perhaps more crucially, the experience in working with high-levels of independence and empowerment. They will often need some boundaries to work within and some support with how to get started, in order to confidently go off and exercise their 'genius' or explore their passion... Having these 'loose' constraints in place will also make relevance and alignment with the needs and goals of the company more likely to occur...

Last week, we did try something along the lines of 'Genius Hour' or 'Passion Time' at our final pupil-free Professional Learning day for the year - the afternoon session was dubbed 'Choose Your Own Adventure', with staff able to go off individually or in small groups to investigate and find out about a topic of choice. 
We did apply some constraints to this activity, providing a starting list of seven topics for people to choose from, which were drawn from staff feedback from previous PL days, recent Professional Learning foci, or school priority areas. 
We encouraged staff to nominate any other topics that they were personally interested in - the only proviso being that this was negotiated with school leadership first. This ended up seeing about four new topics added to the starting list and which people explored on the day.
We also gave some starting suggestions for how people may go off and do this work [read articles, view case studies, watch video clip, talk to colleagues, etc... ]

We also wanted to add a layer of 'internal accountability' [read Elmore re. this], by designating time at the end of the session for each staff member to share their learning experience with a small group of colleagues. As well as ensuring that everybody needed to contribute something, this element also enabled some new ideas to spread and pollinate, as well as gave individuals opportunity to demonstrate their own developing expertise to their peers.


Hopefully, we will be able to continue to give supportive, personalised opportunities to our staff to develop their own skills and capacity as learners, whilst continuing to strengthen our collective capacity in identified school priority areas.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Improving your Tribe...

I recently read the book, Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright and found it really interesting, but this talk from Logan is a quicker way in to most of the key principles:

There were many interesting messages that I got from the book... One was that individuals within a single 'tribe' [typically a group of 20-150 people] can often be at different 'stages'. Despite this, the tribe itself will typically have a dominant culture that resides at one of the five stages. Thankfully(!), an individual or even a tribe itself is never 'locked in' and stuck at a particular stage with no hope of moving forward - the authors spent a lot of the book detailing how to 'upgrade the culture' of tribes so that they can move closer to the ultimate level to aspire to - Stage Five, where the typical mindset / outlook is "life is great"... 
Leading up to this are four other stages, with each step forward illustrated by an increasingly positive and admirable mindset / outlook:

  • Stage One: "life sucks" - not workable for an organisation to either operate at this level or to have individuals that are at this level themselves...
  • Stage Two: "my life sucks" - tends to be characterised by people comparing themselves unfavourably to others and believing that they have little or no ability to change or improve their situation. Apathy, low motivation, resistance to new ideas and change... 
  • Stage Three: "I'm great [and you're not]" - the stage that tends to be the most common among workplace tribes... This is where competitiveness kicks in and people are individually aspirational... They are primarily motivated by showing that they are good performers individually - that they are better than those around them... 
  • Stage Four: "We're great [and they're not]" - this is where the penny has dropped for those that have previously been driven, motivated and high-achievers as individuals - they now have recognised that there are greater, more important accomplishments that can be achieved by working with other people. This sees people that have shared values working together with a common purpose or in pursuit of a common goal - one that is bigger than an individual would generally be able to achieve on their own.
The fifth and final stage is a relatively subtle - but still significant - development from the fourth stage. The main difference is 'who' the competitor is. In stage four, a tribe may be 'competing' with other teams or organisations. In stage five they are not generally competing with other groups of people, but rather with bigger, more audacious challenges like solving a difficult problem, creating or doing something new, making a significant positive change, etc... 

Clearly, one of the most important aspects of getting individuals and whole tribes into stage four and even stage five cultures, is developing the skills and will of people to work collaboratively, working on the principle that the collective capacity of multiple people is greater than the capacity of an individual working alone. Indeed, a recurring theme about the role of 'tribal leaders' - whose role it is to help progress people through these stages - is the importance of connecting people, thus expanding the skill and knowledge sets that people have access to, as well as extending the 'reach' of their tribal members.