I was fortunate in September to be able to attend and present at really great conferences. One of these was TinyCon, TinyPulse’s annual conference focused on employee engagement. The event featured fantastic speakers, and one of my favorite talks came from Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks. Howard is on our board at Education Elements, and I’ve been lucky to hear him speak a number of times. However, at TinyCon I found that his message resonated in a particularly deep way with me, both personally and professionally.
Often as leaders, we want to make things run smoothly. But Howard continually pushes us to see that people are not machines who can be “smooth” all the time. As he often says, “People are not assets. Assets are trucks, boxes, etc. Assets always give you what you expect. People are people. People never give you what you expect. You don’t even give yourself what you expect!” People are inevitably going to surprise, wow, and disappoint you. Howard offers this powerful question you can ask yourself and your organization when these people moments occur. “What happens when someone makes a mistake in the organization?” This singular question can have a tremendous impact on how we as leaders reflect and act.
Over the past few weeks, I have been traveling from state to state talking with superintendents and systems leaders about how to create a culture of innovation. One of the key themes we discuss in these conversations, workshops, and keynotes is around developing deep trust. For me, and many other leaders, deep trust is built through fostering a psychologically safe environment. Amy Edmondson, the Harvard Researcher who coined this term, defines psychological safety as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”
Last month I had the opportunity to collaborate with Kawai Lai, a former Education Elements (EE) teammate who recently founded VizLit with Lisa Kay Solomon and Dan Roam. Kawai and I are working together to create a Responsive Org Playbook for EE (sneak peek here). We believe the playbook will help us clarify our organizational design, support us to continue evolving as a company, and enable us to share our responsive practices with others (and build on what we’ve already shared with The NEW School Rules). During our three days huddled in a room together, it became increasingly clear to me that visuals are the best way to simplify complex ideas. This isn’t an insight unique to me, in fact, many others including Nancy Duarte, Dan Roam, David McCandless, Willemien Brand, and Jamie Slater have expressed the power of visuals to clarify and synthesize your thinking.
One of the unspoken rules of The New School Rules is “make your organization human.” From the way you make decisions to the way you shape rules and communicate information, being responsive is at its core about making your organization value people over processes. There is no better way to start valuing people than starting to put connections before content.
As someone whose career has spanned everything from circus performance to management consulting, I am constantly impressed by people. Individually, humans can be incredible learners, capable of resilience and adaptation. And, in well-organized teams, we can accomplish even more. Yet our schools are failing to adapt to the quickly changing culture and technology around us.
In Rule #1 Planning: Plan for Change, Not Perfection Alexis and Anthony articulate the importance of a clear purpose to help drive the actions and decisions of individuals and teams in an organization. As they’ve written, “We need to stick vigilantly to our purpose, not the plans we make to get us there.”
As we support districts to use The NEW School Rules to make changes in their teams and organizations, we often hear the terms complicated and complex used interchangeably. I’ve also often used them as synonyms. It wasn’t until facilitators at a change management workshop last year asked my group to define the difference that I Googled “complex vs complicated” and found a simple definition that I like and continue to use today. Complicated challenges are the “known unknowns” and complex ones are the “unknown unknowns.”
I had the opportunity to attend a webinar with Lynn Carter, Director of Talent Acquisition at Netflix. Many of you know Netflix as the first company to ship a DVD straight to your home (my mom still loyally queues up movies to be delivered to her Oregon home every week). In the past decade, Netflix has also gained recognition as a leader in organizational design and culture. Having had the chance to learn from Carter, I listen to Netflix Founder and CEO Reed Hastings on Reid Hoffman’s podcast, Masters of Scale. From these two interviews, I discerned three key lessons from how Netflix thinks about building and evolving their organizational culture that I think are relevant to any leader who wants to strengthen their own organizational culture.
In writing this blog post I revisited notes from the dozens of conferences I’ve been lucky to attend in the past year. One conference that continues to stand out in terms of content, collaboration, and creativity is the Responsive Conference. I was lucky to join as an attendee last year and plan to return with a team of colleagues and clients this September.
There were so many great sessions and presenters, but one quote, in particular, has stuck with me. Jocelyn Ling Malan, Principal Incandescent shared this concise, but powerful advice about organizational culture, “Design things as systems, not in parts.”
In one of the panel presentations at the Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit , Julia Freeland-Fisher (The Clayton Christensen Institute), Anthony Kim (Education Elements), and Lydia Dobyns (New Tech Network) shared what they’ve been reading, thinking, and writing about networked teams and learning. All three have new books out this year exploring the power of networks. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how we learn and how we share information as I’ve worked with Alexis Gonzales-Black and Anthony Kim to develop activities to support their book, The NEW School Rules.