PROCESS POST: What’s your “moonshot” at your school?

Some dots in my mind are forming stronger connections among them. All of these particular dots relate to the visioning and implementing processes that schools undertake.

In my research and practice, and in my work at Unboundary, I’ve called it Pedagogical Master Planning. Essentially, PMP utilizes strategic transformation design to engage a school/learning community in the construction of “as-built blueprints” and transformation plans for it’s teaching and learning core – its pedagogical ecosystem (purpose, leadership, professional learning, instruction, curriculum, assessment, and learning environments). It’s like campus master planning or design-build architecture, but for the system that really makes a school a school  – not the buildings but the teaching and learning core/corp.

My close friend and colleague Grant Lichtman has recently coined the term and led workshop experiences around Zero-Based Strategic Thinking. On May 11, he wrote about it here. Like zero-based budgeting, Zero-Based Strategic Planning takes on more of a “start from scratch” mindset. Instead of assuming the present condition and tweaking it slightly for next year, it assumes a future-back mindset and builds to systemically accomplish that ideal future state.

Another friend and colleague Chris Thinnes may be the most beautiful writer about this moment of transition and transformation in education. The beauty, for me, resides in the creation of phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pieces that lend poetic turns to very deep thinking about the crossroads we face as school leaders and educators. As just one example, Chris writes here about “Alves, Dewey, & Rinaldi on Our ‘Season of Design.”

A third, even more recent, stretcher of my thinking is Thomas Steele-Maley. On May 14, he published “On Mutation in Education.” He provokes us readers to consider the dynamic ecology composed largely of education, content, and hours. And he reminds us that “the individual is the kernal of energy for educational design.” I wonder which individual? If I might be so bold, much of the structure of school seems to be based more on the adult individual efficiencies and conveniences than on the “user experience” or “user interface” of the student learners. (As just one test of that – find me an adult workplace, other than school, that is organized in time schedule and content structure like a school.)

Also on May 14, Scott D. Anthony and Mark Johnson published an HRR Blog Network piece titled, “What a Good Moonshot is Really For.” It’s been a serious mental-marble ringer for me in the last 24 hours.

Organizations should have their moonshots. They’re a keystone of what we call a “future-back” approach to strategy, which unlike the “present forward” nature of most strategic-planning processes, doesn’t operate under the assumption that tomorrow will be pretty much like today, and the day after pretty much more of the same. In stable times, present-forward approaches help optimize resource allocation. But in turbulent times, these approaches can lead companies to miss critical market inflection points.

At the heart of the future-back process is a consensus view of your company’s desired future state.This isn’t scenario planning, where you consider a range of possibilities. This is putting a stake in the ground — specifying what you want your core business to look like, what adjacent markets you want to edge into, and the moonshots you’ll try for. And, as Kennedy did, a good future-back strategy goes well beyond the three-year planning horizons that typify most corporate strategy efforts.

Anthony and Johnson go on to explain that a moonshot has three traits: 1) it inspires, 2) it’s credible, and 3) it’s imaginative. But to me, the very most important insight from them – “At the heart of the future-back process is a consensus view of your company’s desired future state.” Do you want compliance or commitment to realizing your vision as an organization? If we want purposeful commitment, we have to devote tireless energy to establishing the consensus view. In PMP, this is why I stress the power of the visualization in the design. It enables a community to exercise collective voice in creating the desired future state and it enables them to SEE a common understanding of what they intend to build and create. It’s why architectural blueprints are so effective for building and renovation. The various sub-contractors can SEE all of the sub-systems and how they interact and connect with each other.

Finally (this is just a 10-minute time-limit process post), I am convinced I need to do a deep-dive study into Otto Sharmer’s Theory U. An executive summary lives here.

My time’s up. We need a MOONSHOT in schools. And it needs to come from backwards design of the future we want for our citizenry and learners and the wisdom we have about brain science, engagement, psychology, flow, play, passion, and purpose… and the challenges we face as a society and the degree of commitment we have to innovating and creating toward the resolutions of those challenges.

What’s your moonshot at your school? I’m quickly growing to believe that new schools have them, and existing schools mostly lack them.

Geoff Mulgan: A short intro to the Studio School

In my regular and continuous search to locate schools that are implementing deep project-based learning, I came across this recently released TED talk by Geoff Mulgan. In just eight, short minutes, Mulgan demonstrates the set up and the success of the Studio School movement in England.

Couldn’t we establish such a studio school here – even as a school within a school? I can imagine an “innovation strategist” working within a school that is serious about transforming education. Such an innovation strategist could work with a cohort of teachers, a collection of willing parents, and an enthusiastic team of students to build such a studio school within one of our existing schools. Or such a studio school could hub together the spokes of a few willing institutions. Can you imagine all that we would learn…by doing?!

Geoff Mulgan and the Studio School are leading from the emerging future. This past week, I began my deep read of C. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. I have read the book once through on a quick read. Now, I am meandering and studying the work. It is mesmerizing and compelling. Near the opening, Scharmer explains, “leaders cannot meet their existing challenges by operating only on the basis of past experience, for various reasons. Sometimes the experiences of the past aren’t very helpful in dealing with the current issues. Sometimes you work with teams in which the experiences of the past are actually the biggest problem with and obstacle to coming up with a creative response to the challenge at hand” (Kindle location 256 of 5811). Scharmer devises Theory U to address “the core question that underlies the book: What is required in order to learn and act from the future as it emerges?” (Kindle location 325 of 5811).

I believe Geoff Mulgan leads from the future as it emerged. He established Studio School as a doorway into the future. A few could argue that Studio School looks a lot like education of hundreds of years past. Few could argue that many, if any, formalized schools of the industrial age and information age have looked like Studio School. No, Geoff Mulgan is showing us the future and leading from the future. He is leading in such a way as to help the future emerge.

Geoff Mulgan is committed to “Do Different.” Bless him.