Business, Social Entrepreneurship, and Education – Exploring Intersections and Interchanges #School3pt0

One of the things we do at Unboundary is explore the intersections and interchanges of business, social entrepreneurship, and education. In the past few days, a number of things have crossed my path that relate to this nexus of learning innovation and significant transformation. I thought I’d share just a few of these things…

A dear friend and colleague emailed me last week (we actually stay in touch every week), and with her permission I am posting a little bit from our latest e-correspondence.

Also, I usually check out your blog from time to time. Doing so always inspires some thoughts, connections, the quiet voice I hear inside me… the one who says “teach them they are not who they think they are.” That is what I heard myself say in response to “how do we teach young people to thrive in a world of possibility?”
I really love the time in which I have lived my life. I would not want to go back but I have loved the life I have lived and look forward to the future. I do struggle with the corporate influence on education. Going way back before my time I still like what Thomas Dewey said in 1910… “The aim of a 20th century education is not the creation of a labor force but the enrichment of the individual and society by developing a child’s social power and insight.” The good news I think is that 21st century skills and education really do help to develop social power and insight.

When we spoke by phone, we agreed that education is a “both-and” issue. Education should BOTH enrich the individual and society AND create a high-quality labor force. I’m not really interested in making schools more business like – at least not like many people interpret that “corporate influence on education.” However, I am very interested in examining ALL of the ways and means that business, social entrepreneurship, and education can work together as something like sections of the same orchestra – for the benefit of learners and for the benefit of the challenges and opportunities we face in our world. I may be oversimplifying the complex, but it seems to me that we should all see ourselves as playing for the same team.

With that in mind, and with a few projects happening here at Unboundary, the following two articles are well worth reading. Both articles point to collaboration among business and education. I find the comments at the conclusion of the first article particularly interesting, and I think they provide a compelling segue into the second article.

I’m forming my own hypotheses about the future intersections and interchanges for business, social entrepreneurship, and education. By sharing these bits here in this post, I hope I can contribute just a bit to the hypotheses you might be forming.

America’s Shoddy Education System Is a Business Problem,
by Jeff Stibel  |   9:00 AM December 6, 2012

Jeff Stibel’s company is implementing a three-part plan to help address some of the issues in education. The entire HBR article and the comments are intriguing, and I found these two paragraphs particularly poignant. [HT to Frank Rauss for bringing this article to my attention.]

Our most precious natural resource is not diamonds or oil or agriculture; it is human capital. The seeds we plant grow only with education. While our program will help offset any immediate gaps with existing employees, the primary focus is on the next batch of bright and talented employees — the children who will one day bridge the talent gap for businesses across the nation.

There are many ways to tackle this problem, and it’s time that businesses focus on the ones within our control. We cannot rely solely on the government, parents or educators. This is our problem too. I am honored to say that my company is doing our small part. If other businesses follow suit or take their own novel approaches, we can solve the education and talent gap.


School Reform for Realists,
by by Andrea Gabor |   August 28, 2012

Andrea Gabor shares examples of Cisco, NYCDOE, iZone, Global Technology Preparatory, and Houston Petroleum Academies. She also offers some profound takeaways about “best practices” in business-education partnerships. [Another HT to Frank Rauss for making sure I didn’t miss this link in my feed reader.]

On the ground, the most effective business–education partnerships are those that foster innovative education opportunities in which both students and parents can participate, and those that create bridges between schools and the outside world, including potential employers. The following stories demonstrate some of the principles that help these partnerships work. What distinguishes them from many outright failures is the quality of collaboration. In these examples, business leaders did more than donate funds and technology; rather, schools and businesses sought to learn from one another.

Finally (at least for this post), I recommend looking at the relatively new business structure called L3Cs (L3Cs explained on Wikipedia). As I walk Lucy in the morning and as I work, I am enjoying thinking about the potential of L3Cs for the future of schools and schools of the future.

In a “3.0 school” established as an L3C, lines between the labels of “students,” “researchers,” “social innovators,” and “employees” get blurred. Perhaps in the future, L3C “schools” will actually pay salaries to young learners (instead of collecting tuitions from them) who are studying such things as cancer cures, robotic surgeries, and transportation and communications innovations in un-siloed coursework that seems a lot more like on-the-job training complete with degree credits. An L3C working to solve the planet’s energy or water issues could synergize the NGO aspect of that work with the for-profit opportunities and integrated-studies possibilities.

Last month, Unboundary participated in an exciting meet-up about L3Cs and higher education. Here’s the press release distributed by Americans for Community Development.


On November 14, 2012, in Indianapolis, Indiana, Americans for Community Development (ACD) hosted a conference on the groundbreaking concept of implementing the L3C business structure as a form of organization for colleges and universities, using the L3C model to create opportunity ecosystems within the higher education system.  This conference was facilitated by the Lumina Foundation and held at their headquarters in Indianapolis. This meeting was the first of its kind in history bringing together a group of professionals from within higher education, business, law and philanthropy. Over the course of the day the main topic of discussion was how to connect higher education, job creation, entrepreneurship and economic development with the L3C business model as an organizational structure for colleges and universities. This concept “reflects a totally new way of thinking about higher education and how to organize it”.  L3C institutions will be individually unique but will resemble each other in underlying structure. This is a fresh outlook on the organization of colleges and universities that create holistic environments in which institutions are giving back to the students and communities and the students and communities are giving back to the institutions therefore creating opportunity ecosystems that thrive. The very first L3C university, Rockport University L3C, was formed just prior to the conference and conference attendees were asked to contribute intellectually to its development. A large number of the attendees asked to be part of a taskforce ACD is forming to advance the concept of L3C colleges and universities. ACD thanks Bo Adams and Govantez Lowndes from Unboundary for being part of the small group we invited to participate in this ground-breaking event.

Lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons #Unboundary7pt0

Some of you know that I am a stack reader. Well, some beautiful serendipity happens occasionally in my routine of stack reading. Recently, such serendipity occurred while I was exploring “illusions” and “it’s all invented.”

For my birthday, my close friend Mary Cobb gave me a copy of Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. I’ve made my first, quick pass of the book, and I took a short page of hand-written notes. I put the book and the notes in a stack with Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander’s The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, which another close friend – my teaching and learning partner – Jill Gough gave me in January 2011, and which I was re-reading for purposes at work.

In Illusions, Bach wrote about a return of the Messiah as a airplane pilot who spends time with another airplane pilot who provides rides to midwesterners for about $3 per 10 minutes. In the section of the book I am currently re-reading as part of the meta-stack on which I am concentrating now, the Messiah is explaining to Richard that life is a series of illusions. Skeptical of such a philosophy, Richard bucks the thinking, and the Messiah takes Richard to a movie – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.



“Why are you here?”

“It’s a good movie, Do. Sh.” Butch and Sundance, blood all over them, were talking about why they ought to go to Australia.

“Why is it good?” he said.

“It’s fun. Sh. I’ll tell you later.”

“Snap out of it. Wake up. It’s all illusions.”

I was irked. “Donald, there’s just a few minutes more and then we can talk all you want. But let me watch the movie, OK?”

He whispered intensely, dramatically. “Richard, why are you here?”

“Look, I’m here because you asked me to come in here!” I turned back and tried to watch the end.

“You didn’t have to come, you could have said no thank you.”

“I LIKE THE MOVIE…” A man in front turned to look at me for a second. “I like the movie, Don; is there anything wrong with that?”

“Nothing at all,” he said, and he didn’t say another word till it was over and we were walking again past the used-tractor lot and out into the dark toward the field and the airplanes. It would be raining, before long.


I thought about his odd behavior in the theatre. “You do everything for a reason, Don?”


“Why the movie? Why did you all of a sudden want to see Sundance?”

“You asked a question.”

“Yes. Do you have an answer?”

“That is my answer. We went to the movie because you asked a question. The movie was the answer to your question.”

He was laughing at me, I knew it.

“What was my question?”

There was a long pained silence. “Your question, Richard, was that even in your brilliant times you have never been able to figure out why we are here.”

I remembered. “And the movie was my answer.”



“You don’t understand,” he said.


“That was a good movie,” he said, “but the world’s best movie is still an illusion, is it not? The pictures aren’t even moving; they only appear to move. Changing light that seems to move across a flat screen set up in the dark?”

“Well yes.” I was beginning to understand.

“The other people, any people anywhere who go to any movie show, why are they there, when it is only illusions?”

“Well, it’s entertainment,” I said.

“Fun. That’s right. One.”

“Could be educational.”

“Good.” It’s always that. Learning. Two.”

And the exchange goes on, even more brilliantly.

Now, in The Art of Possibility

Indeed, all of life comes to us in narrative form; it’s a story we tell.


Experiments in neuroscience have demonstrated that we reach an understanding of the world in roughly this sequence: first, our senses bring us selective information about what is out there; second, our brain constructs its own simulation of the sensations; and only then, third, do we have our first conscious experience of our milieu. The world comes into our consciousness in the form of a map already drawn, a story already told, a hypothesis, a construction of our own making.


It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.

And, then, as illustration, the Zanders utilized the famous nine-dot puzzle.

As you may or may not know, the puzzle asks us to join all nine dots with four straight lines, without taking pen from paper.

Nine-dot puzzle, Art of Possibility, p. 13

The solution involves untethering our minds from some inferred systems constraints and drawing outside the boundaries.

Nine-dot puzzle, Art of Possibility, p. 14

And the Zanders concluded the chapter this way…

The frames our minds create define – and confine – what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear…. you can shift the framework to one whose underlying assumptions allow for the conditions you desire.

So, if you’ve read this far…God bless you. And what’s my point?

When I talk of school and education to many people, I think they unknowingly enter the nine-dot puzzle or ask “Why are we here?” But to me, school and education – the 3.0 versions – can be solved by thinking beyond the unintended boundaries of the dots…by creating a new movie of fun and learning. School 3.0 could involve a family of sorts including business, social innovation, and education. The lines that solve that puzzle may be discovered by re-imagining the boundaries…by creating a new script for the next story.

A few more quotes from Illusions, to close…

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.


Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.


A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed. It feels an impulsion…this is the place to go now. But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.


Works cited:

Bach, Richard. Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. [New York]: Delacorte, 1977. Print.

Zander, Rosamund Stone, and Benjamin Zander. The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. New York, NY: Penguin, 2000. Print.

Unboundary 7.0

This morning, at work, I was am a part of something very exciting. We are actively and purposefully transforming.

Cover of handout at Unboundary everyone meeting 10.9.12 9:30 a.m.


After almost twenty years as a professional educator based in a school, I am three months into a new venture as an educator at a transformation design firm named Unboundary. Well, technically, we are now “Unboundary 7.0.” We were Unboundary 6.5, and before I even knew of Unboundary we were Unboundary 6.0, but now we are Unboundary 7.0.

I’ve written about this version software nomenclature before. Here are two, sample posts that shed light on this methodology of being purposeful about changing, evolving, and improving as an organization.

Not too long ago, on a morning walk with Lucy (my dog), I re-listened to a podcast from Daniel Pink’s Office Hours. On the show, the guest explained that progress is achieved by a recipe of creativity + discipline. Interestingly, the guest shared that we actually have very little problem with creativity – we are humans and we are inherently creative. Where we struggle is with discipline. For a few years, I have felt drawn to Unboundary, partly because of the organization’s purposefulness about practicing the discipline of intentional transformation and continuous improvement (kaizen, in Japanese – a concept I write about often here).

Part of re-versioning ourselves is about developing a genuine clarity about who we are and what we do…

We are a strategic studio that enables organizations to transform.


We see transformation as purposefully designed change.


The need to transform can be triggered by several things – new leadership, a significant innovation, lackluster performance, or a competitive threat – but it always involves recognition of a new, greater possibility.


Enabling transformation is the best but often hardest work of leadership. It requires helping others to see, believe, understand and act on that greater possibility.


Through unique experiences helping some of the biggest and best known companies through significant periods of transformation, Unboundary has developed a unique combination of strategic thinking, communication design, and enablement workshops.


We’re a boutique-sized firm with well-developed methodologies but few rote processes. We work in a dedicated, immersive way with a handful of organizations, always focused on creating something significant.


What is our purpose?


Enabling organizations to act on what matters in important periods of transformation.

This is what my next chapter is all about. Education is indeed in an important period of transformation. With this team at Unboundary 7.0, and with our co-authors and partners, we will strategically design next possibilities for Education 3.0, which we believe is forming at a confluence of business, social innovation, and education.

Image in handout at Unboundary everyone meeting 10.9.12 9:30 a.m.

Such a confluence also locates where Unboundary sees ourselves…geo-transformationally. Perhaps that is something of the core that I love about these people and this place – we practice what we preach. Or, we transform ourselves to better teach. We learn by doing, and we do by learning.

Recently, Jonathan Martin asked me in an email to share more about what I do at work at Unboundary. What a fabulous suggestion and invitation. I plan to do more of that sharing and storytelling. Often we find our voice when we tell stories that feel important and intriguing. I believe I am a part of such a story.