Two Roads to Innovation


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Paro_for_Peace

I have been really trying to study the notion of “innovation” and how we create an innovative culture.  From what I am seeing, two make an innovative “mindset” a culture, there are many factors, but there are two ways that those factors need to be delivered that are on opposite sides of the spectrum.  One is through mass collaboration, and the other through individual connection.  With one of those areas lacking, that culture will either never happen or it will take a significant amount of time.  Through the “School Admin Virtual Mentor Program” (#SAVMP), I am trying to create something that shows both sides of that spectrum.  The ideas for the program though have been inspired by many different things (Stephen Covey’s ideas, open networks, MOOCs, etc.), yet have come together in one space:

“The history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door, exploring the palace one room at a time.” Steven Johnson

How do (and how should) these big ideas come together?

Mass Collaboration

Sitting with George Siemens yesterday (who basically blew my mind for three hours in a car ride), I listened as he shared two major ideas.

The first one talked about the notion of mass groups.  He shared the idea if that you put 100 people in a room, that you learning could increase exponentially.  With different expertise in the room, each person will bring different strengths and knowledge that they can share with the larger group.  Although each of us knows a sliver of information compared to the knowledge of the room, by sharing, our knowledge goes up exponentially.

Think of this analogy to help further the idea.

Most people know that a program such as Microsoft Word, although seemingly simple, is under-utilized.  If we use it to only 10% of it’s capacity on our own, that 10% is unlikely to grow.  What happens if you share YOUR 10% with others, and it is different from the 10% that they know?  Although we will not all know totally different things, there will be elements that we each bring to each other that will raise our learning exponentially.

The use of social networks works much this way.  Groups that I have been in such as Connected Principals, have brought each person’s 10% to the forefront and it has opened up ideas, for myself, that I would have not had on my own.  Now I do because I was willing to create and be a part of the network.  Although with Weinberger’s idea that the “smartest person in the room, is the room”, there are two important elements that we overlook.  First, we have to be able to “create the room” for those “hunches” to come together, and secondly, we have to be in the room.  If you do neither, you are more likely to be stuck with your 10%.

In my own school district, there are 22 principals and although that is a network in itself, it is not certain that you will connect with all 21 others in that position, nor is there necessarily a space that we can connect on a consistent basis.  Through things such as hashtags, blogs, google plus communities, we give an opportunity to learn from that group of 22, but also the opportunity to open it up to the world.  While closed groups tend to shrink, and sometimes die, open groups usually expand and grow as do many of the individuals within them.  How we tap into those “individuals” is just as important on the road to an innovative culture.

Individual Connection

The second idea that George shared with me was the notion of “Reed’s Law” which talks about the idea of smaller networks being developed that push a larger group.

As we continuously look at the power of networks to improve our learning and the system within our schools, we also have to look at how we tap into the strengths of individual.  With mass networks or groups, many of our quiet educators may get lost in the mix because they are not as “out there” as others, yet have much to share.  This is where the idea of starting from each individual’s “point a” and moving to their “point b” is crucial.  As we look at the #SAVMP program, the mass network is able to share ideas to a large group, but the small mentor-mentee connection is able to build relationships in a much more personal environment.  Through the small connections within the network, there is the potential to learning from both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship.

The ability to share and discuss in a smaller place brings the opportunity to learn from individuals and feel a deeper connection to a smaller network, while also creating a stronger accountability to growth.  If I am one out of 400, it is much easier for no one to notice if I am not writing a blog post or sharing my thoughts in a larger network, but if I am one out of four, I am more accountable and my lack of participation is much more identifiable.  The human connection in a smaller setting creates a higher level of accountability to growth than a large network where you can easily be missed.  It is easy to get lost in a crowd, so make the crowd smaller.

Creating These Spaces

So within a school, you often see one of these spaces utilized.  Whether it is through PLC’s for that “individual connection” or the use of a hashtag for  “mass collaboration”, it is imperative to bring these two ideas together in one space.  For example, using something such as blended PLC’s gives educators to share the same learning that they do with a small group, but also with a much larger audience that is often willing to jump in and share ideas.  Sharing the work of each PLC group to one hashtag, google plus community, blog, etc., gives the opportunity to learn from both the large group and the individual.  What is imperative though is the openness of the larger group.  Open often leads to growth, closed (or fixed) leads to stagnation.  Carol Dweck’s idea of “mindset” is not limited to an individual, but applies to networks as well.

Concluding Thoughts

So as I move forward continuously learning and experimenting in the “online” space, I look at the implications of that work and how it applies to what we do in schools every day.  The learning that is happening in groups such as the #SAVMP program tell me (and hopefully others) a lot about how we can not only lead and learn, but help people to embrace change.  The mass ideas that are shared through many large networks brings many of those ideas to the forefront, but the actual embracing of those ideas often happens on a one-to-one basis.  It is essential to ensure that we are looking at how we take both roads in our work.

7 comments for “Two Roads to Innovation

  1. August 27, 2013 at 3:34 am

    I was going to mention that you might find the work of Steven Johnson interesting, but then I noticed you’ve got a quote from him in your article. :)

    Also wanted to say that I found this interesting. I’ve focused a lot on collaboration in the past few years, but through this article realized that I haven’t spent much time analyzing the different types of collaboration. I’m going to check out Reed’s Law. Thanks!

  2. Paola Torres de Pereira
    August 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    The idea of putting minds together works! This summer, I was introduced to the concept of “Cognitive Surplus” -Clay Shirky by a fantastic PTC instructor, John Mitkon. Here’s a Shirky Ted Talk on Cognitive Surplus
    http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cognitive_surplus_will_change_the_world.html

  3. melton moyo
    August 29, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Thanks for sharing… I was particularly intrigued by the notion of creating “rooms” and being in the “room” as leader!

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