When this article Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War was written by Venkatesh Rao back in 2008, it sparked a heated discussion ranging from totally right on to totally way off base. Much of the debate focused around his choosing to call it a generational war with Gen Xers being in the middle and neutral.
I agree with many of his comments regarding Knowledge Management as being top-down driven, highly structured (i.e., idealistic). But as a Boomer myself, I choose not to buy the argument that our age bracket is responsible for this approach. I believe that our perceptions and therefore, how we see the world, are influenced and shaped more by our intellect and experiences. Nevertheless, it’s a stimulating read.
Mary Abraham was stimulated. Her response is posted here. She writes: “…it’s [KM] trying to transform itself from a purely archival discipline to a more dynamic and informal approach that puts people in direct touch with each other, without the obvious intermediation of a knowledge manager.” Sounds like the naturalistic approach to me.
Teaching in a classroom is a complex issue. Some teachers try to maintain a stable, predictable environment – train by rote, test, retest, pass anyway to keep in the age category. Sir Ken Robinson calls this teaching using the factory model. What are the alternatives? One that’s catching on is Flipping the Classroom.
On YouTube, an 8th grade math and Algebra 1 teacher at a public school explains why she flipped her classroom in 2011.
Recently the Vancouver Sun newspaper carried the heading “Flipped classrooms create magic and controversy in schools.” Carolyn Durley “flipped” her Biology 12 class at Okanagan Mission secondary in Kelowna. On the other hand, David Wees, a math and science teacher at Stratford Hall in Vancouver, isn’t a fan of the flipped classroom because of the potential for homework overload but said he supports any strategy that reduces teacher-led instruction.
This blog isn’t about the pros and cons, why you should and why you shouldn’t. It’s not about lambasting lazy teachers, lazy students, lazy administrators, lazy parents, lazy school trustees. Or perhaps, it’s not laziness but a matter of just too busy working on other life priorities; it’s easier to stay conditioned with the factory model.
This blog is about how do make change in a system steeped in tradition and culture. It starts with somebody not happy. In Durley’s case, she began to wonder if she was serving her pupils well as “the sage on the stage,” given the wealth of information available online and the growing expectation that schools in the 21st century will do more than deliver content and help students prepare for standardized tests. It might be educational leaders desiring a better solution to achieve the real goal: putting students in the centre. Or it could be a school trustee frustrated with the present money-sucking black hole and wanting more bang for the buck. In Change Management terminology, we call this the “emotional need for change”. Without it, the status quo will continue.
So our heart is now pumping and our head is demanding something needs to be done. Where do we start? Sadly, we often start off on the wrong foot. How many times have we seen this: A splashy announcement is broadcasted stating the formation of an astute task force mandated to launch a study. In 6 months they will report back, confident that the “problem” will be fixed. Alas, with the passing of time more urgent problems have arisen so the report is shelved indefinitely. The problem hasn’t gone away, it’s just been put on the back burner.
If the preceding was the wrong foot, what’s the right foot? It begins with the correct approach, recognizing that the teaching is a Complex Domain issue. The aim is to try to make sense of what’s happening and searching for behavioural patterns that can lead us to new solutions. We are on the Unordered Side of the Cynefin Framework where we observe to understand and learn, not the Ordered Side where we fix, repair, or get back on track.
Flipping the classroom is Safe-Fail Experiment
Conducting a Safe-Fail Experiment involves probing the system, sensing the behaviour changes, responding by either accelerating the positives or dampening the negatives. We will even shut it down if it is becoming dangerous to health and wellness.
What Southridge school in Surrey did last year is a great example. They gave the flipped classroom a test run and invited three experts to the school in late August to train all of the senior school teachers.
Be aware that Safe-Fail Experiment is different than a pilot project in the Complicated domain. Pilots are typically the second step in a larger implementation. The first step was developing a business case prepared by an expert analyst. In some circumstances, money may have been spent on a feasibility study prior to the more detailed business case. A decision is made and approval to proceed granted. The pilot project’s role to pick a test area, find oversights and make refinements before rolling it out to the masses. Once launched, very rarely are implementations stopped. After all, who wants to look bad and confess they made a mistake. Nope, once the track is put down and the train leaves the station, the project manager’s goal is to stay on track and get there on time, on budget.
This isn’t to say a Safe-Fail Experiment or Probe is an off-the-cuff effort. On the contrary, the discipline of project management is just as important. There is a leader and a team who follow a prescribed method to put the experiment into motion, monitor the impact on a regular basis, assess whether positive outcomes should be increased and negatives should be reduced. Like a project, it has a start and an end point. The Safe-Fail Experiment usually run 3 to 6 months, ample time to sense how the system behaved and what patterns emerged. And herein lies the big difference. It’s the patterns that potentially lead us to new solutions. It may or may not be the actual probe put into motion. You may discover serendipitously something else significantly better. In fact, a radical, provocative, crazy probe is a more effective simulate to jolt the system.
Flipping the Classroom is a radical probe and is gaining traction. But it may not be the final destination. “This is an exciting time in education because technology is finally pushing people and organizations to change the way they do things,” said Cameron Seib, Southridge school’s math curriculum leader.
If I say “let’s get a coffee at Starbucks”, what images start appearing in your mind? It’s a high probably it’s one of these pictures below. This is the brand that Starttarbucks has successfully created and the paradigm they have imbedded inside our brain. It’s how we perceive what a Starbucks store looks like, a traditional store with large square footage. And we feel very comfortable being in one.
While we as customers feel comfortable, Starbucks understands it can’t be otherwise it will start heading down the negative slope of the S-Curve business life cycle. There are only so many large coffee houses you can build and expect profitability.They need to constantly think differently and explore other ways of meeting their mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Understanding why people will visit a coffee house is a Complex Domain issue. Type of drinks offered, food served, price, location, convenience, ambience, social atmosphere, free amenities like WiFi and iTunes downloads are all factors that go into making up the Starbucks brand. These needs are well established. However, are there other consumer needs that a Starbucks store can satisfy? What about Art to emotionally touch the heart? As customers become more energy-saving conscious, what about a coffee house that has a small carbon footprint and is environmentally green? Really good questions that need answering.
Decision time. You can choose to analyze and build a “fail-safe” business case filled with forecasts, assumptions, and mitigations for every known risk. Then run it up the corporate ladder and negotiate with the strategy, marketing, finance, operations people to support it.
Alternatively, you can pose a “what-if” Value Proposition and conduct a Safe-Fail experiment. Try something small, monitor how people respond, learn what works and amplify, learn what doesn’t work and dampen, and be on the lookout for better opportunities that serendipitously emerge.
Smart business people will do the latter because it’s relatively better, cheaper and faster to execute. You avoid ego problems that come with owning an idea and defending it when it goes awry. The initial idea is simply a starting point. It’s just a probe, a drop of water into a pool to watch the ripple patterns and see where they go. If the idea catches on and even goes viral, then you have discovered a new solution. Now move back into the Complicated Domain to install the processes, systems, and structures.
This week in Colorado, Starbucks opened a store unlike any before it.
There are no leather chairs or free power outlets. In fact, there’s no space for the customer at all. Starbucks has reimagined the coffee hut as a “modern modular,” LEED-certified drive-thru and walk-up shop. The building was constructed in a factory and delivered from a truck, but its facade is clad in gorgeous old Wyoming snow fencing.
At a mere 500 square feet, they have just enough space to squeeze in three to five employees along with all of the coffee making apparatuses necessary to execute a full Starbucks menu.
Their new building paradigm is a confluence of all these various impulses: the environment, localism, market growth, low-cost, low-risk expandability. While officially labelled a “pilot program”, it sounds to me it’s still in the Safe-Fail experiment stage. Conceivably the local Denver folks might totally avoid it and the store will fail in terms of profitability. No big deal. You respond by closing the store, picking it up, re-imaging, and trying another location. Consider the money spent as an investment in learning and anticipating the future.
This blog was inspired by the design folks at Fast Company. To read their awesome article in full and learn more about Starbucks, click here.