Dave Lash on June 25th, 2013

The Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink has just released the first segment of their report, a resource guide for Promise Neighborhoods. This is Part I, a results-based framework to work with this population; future sections will offer programmatic and policy solutions.


Dave Lash on June 25th, 2013

childpoverty_onpointradioIn 2011, the child poverty rate was 23%, or 16.4 million children — an increase of 3 million since 2005, according to the release yesterday of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT 2013 Data Book. The problem is even worst among children under the age of 5.

The report is a wide-ranging update covered well in this stimulating OnPoint Radio discussion (46 minutes).


offline glassAnother in the keys to innovation series: how to stop the infernal texting and cell phoning in restaurants and bars? Here’s one solution:  [1.5 minute video]

Reminds me of the old door-stop jokes…

[Hat tip to The Dish]


Dave on May 16th, 2013

The Great Recession has changed market attractiveness — perhaps for the long-term — for many, many organizations. The ability to adapt will determine the survivors and thrivers. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at four key points.

First, the ability to adapt and the ability to react are not the same.
We react to a contract being cancelled; we adapt to changing market conditions. neandertal-twilight_smReacting is a response to an event; adapting is a form of evolution. Organizations, like species in the natural world, adapt to improve their fitness to succeed in their environment. (According to Scientific American, the extinction of Neanderthals may well have been caused by their inability to adapt quickly enough to rapid climate swings and not by competition or inter-breeding with modern humans. See terrific 6-minute video.)

Second, the ability to adapt has three parts:

  • Finding opportunities to add value within an enterprise’s doable sphere
  • Enrolling the necessary resources (employees, partners, capital, technologies)
  • Executing well

The ability to continually find and deliver new value to customers trumps all other business competencies. Organizations that do it well see themselves as “can-do” market leaders; others label it “change” and wring their hands.

Third, each act of adaptation is a strategic initiative: an assignment of resources to a potential opportunity. The great entrepreneurs — like Carnegie, Disney, Walton, and Gates — forged their success not from a grand vision or technological genius, but from a cascade of adaptations aimed at creating new value. These strategic initiatives are eventually aggregated and relabeled, erroneously, by history as a Grand Strategy. The truth is far more instructive!


Fourth, creating new value faster is a competitive advantage. In 1997, I first read Wheelwright and Clark’s book Revolutionizing Product Development and have been referring to it as a book of strategy ever since. In this simple but powerful diagram, they capture a truth about business in a rapidly-changing environment: if you are a fast-cycle enterprise that can adapt (create new value) quickly, you can overcome slower competitors despite their lead and improve your fitness despite turbulence.

IHI_thumbnailThere is simply no equivalent in K-12 education for what IHI has accomplished in health care — systematizing innovation through R&D partnerships with practitioner organizations.

Knowledge Alliance took notice. This is SVP Penny Carver’s slide stack at the Carnegie / Knowledge Alliance Working Meeting on January 20th.

“What’s the most central, obvious change we need need to make in order to resolve the problem?” My answer (yours may vary) was the shift from a time-based to mastery-based architecture (reconfiguring curriculum, instruction, assessment, and time). For my money, a mastery-based approach changes the playing field profoundly, creating new challenges for sure but also unlocking many opportunities to improve learning.

Microlab Innovation Strategy -- concept paperThis idea is at the heart of the attached paper, exploring the concept of small, local microlabs supported by a National Lab and focused on specific changes which I believe are at the heart of healing our education system.

In the past few months, I have facilitated and participated in a number of fascinating discussions on how best to develop a new model for K-12 education that serves all children well, makes smart use of computer learning, and leverages the looming fiscal crisis towards a more cost-effective approach. A key question in these discussions is: What system of innovation will produce effective, substantive changes in practice that can be scaled quickly?

Your comments and suggestions on the microlab strategy are greatly appreciated:

  • What are your thoughts about the fostering multi-age learning communities in existing schools?
  • About empowering local teacher-innovators supported by a national lab?
  • Can such an on-site, opt-in alternative model accelerate migration to the changes needed to provide all students with a high-quality, 21st century education?

Also, please forward this plan to colleagues interested in the topic and please let me know of any potential partners or resources who might be a good fit.

Dave on February 6th, 2010

six_stages_of_educationI’m posting a brief “visual refresher” on K-12 education over the past century and asking the question whether conditions today should be pursued as an opportunity for significant system redesign.

I’ve been increasingly involved with K-12 education since 2006 when I became part of the research team and eventually a co-author of The Turnaround Challenge, the report proposing a new framework for turning around failing schools.

Read more

Stupski_NM-Summit-Aug09_stripI’m just back from helping facilitate an incredible event: 240 talented educators passionate about building the next generation of K-12 learning. Some of the innovation models and discussions are universal and applicable to any organization; I’ll comment on those in a moment.

First, I’d just like to applaud the Knowledge Alliance, Stupski Foundation, and West Wind Education Policy for convening and delivering an incredible summit. Attendance was by invitation and there was a rich mix of private, social, and government sector representatives, many involved in innovative initiatives. Together, they spent three days exploring ways to combine and focus their efforts. [KnowledgeGarage repository]

Doblin’s Larry Keeley offered the keynote on Innovating by Design. Here are the three big ideas he discussed:

1. “Innovation is a set of skills, an everyday thing and not an event or a turn in the road.” Of course, I won’t be doing Strategy | Innovation | Facilitation if I didn’t believe that! Yet how many organizations have any consistent structure or systems for innovating?

2. Larry presented Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation model. It’s a model I’ve used in my consulting for years because it dramatically broadens thinking beyond new and better products and services. This graphic comes from an online article by Larry summarizing the model.


3. His presentation concluded with a set of tips for fostering innovation (copied here from the session notes):

  • Think big and stand in the future…Focusing too tightly on the status quo will force failures
  • Prototype a compelling model solution…Not because you will get it right, but instead because it is a shared idea
  • Co-construct, co-construct, co-construct…All of us are smarter than any of us; don’t be exclusionary
  • Avoid central control…It doesn’t work, it is woefully out of date, modern systems don’t need it
  • Start with what you have now…You will not ever have perfect conditions, so be adaptive and modular
  • Foster integrated platforms, not products…not just what we do, but how we do it, so that many independent participants can participate in the solution

Here are a few of my own observations about innovation in K-12 education, most of which are easily extrapolated to other arenas:

1. Standing in the future dramatically clarifies strategic thinking. Someone once said if you’re having trouble solving a problem, make it bigger. While the present (actually the near-future) often seems muddy and contradictory, many things about the more distant future have a high degree of confidence: for example, minority students will comprise a majority of our school-age population within two decades; mobile computing will be more powerful and accessible, and the 5% per year increase in per capita cost of education is unsustainable. Accordingly, I submit it’s easier to envision the shape of U.S. education twenty years from now than it is five years from now.

2. I loved Larry’s admonition to look for a “profound case of stupidity” at the core of any system. In education, it’s our age-graded assembly line system operating in the face of growing dissimilarity in student needs. We need to study/innovate other systems for personalizing learning that produce better results at sustainable cost levels.

great-teachers-sm3. I wrote in my notes, “Find and study the fastest moving organisms.” There are teachers and principals who are innovating new models and having success. There’s lots of research on their successes (see our Turnaround Challenge and Karin Chenoweth’s research for starters), but what’s missing is a systematic effort to identity, adapt, and adopt. In my view, these pioneers (or “lead users”) are the key to education innovation. Eric von Hippel, Director of the MIT Innovation Lab, has spent much of his career researching the vital role of lead users as the fundamental driver of innovation. He has a series of short video tutorials about lead user innovation. This bottom-up lead user innovation model needs to be married to Doblin’s top-down model if innovation in education is to have success.

4. In education, innovation is inhibited by dominant design forces that perpetuate our existing K-12 model in the same way they do the QWERTY keyboard, Microsoft Windows, the internal combustion engine, and other industry standards. James Utterback studied these forces in Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation:

User acceptance of the dominant design of the original innovation created certain boundaries within which subsequent waves of innovation wisely developed….For example, we will see in the next chapter how the displacement of gas lighting by incandescent lighting was advanced by Edison’s running wires through the very same pipes that once brought illuminating gas into consumers’ homes. […]

The lesson for technology managers and business strategists is straightforward: understand the constraints of systems, user learning, habits, and collateral assets already imposed by the existing dominant design. [p51]

I love that image of Edison running wires through repurposed gas pipes! It’s quite an analogy for K-12 education innovation, given that the current dominant design is reinforced by so many levels of standardized systems and regulations, stakeholder expectations and habits, physical infrastructure, and teacher capability! Can we be smart enough to design effective innovation from within?

5. “Careful there!” Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould might have said. Dominant design principles exist in the natural world as well and beneficial mutations are often eradicated by genetic dilution despite their benefit to the mutated organism. Gould noted that many, many evolutionary adaptations spread and gain superiority in small, fringe populations before migrating into larger populations. To apply this principle to education, Gould might point out that within traditional schools innovative methods developed by cutting edge teachers rarely propagate far from their source. Meanwhile, charter schools are small, fringe worlds where innovation is more common, yet there is no effective migration path back into the larger dominant design schools.

6. Thus, we are confronting what we might call the Gravitational Paradox of Education Innovation. If we attempt to foster innovation, as Utterback suggests, in full recognition of the boundaries of the dominant design, we run the risk that the gravitation forces of the existing model will crush progress. On the other hand, if we foster innovation in places sufficiently protected from those forces, we run the risk they will burn up trying to re-enter the dominant design atmosphere. Where then to position our innovation camp?

7. I digress here to comment: on the core task of educating high-poverty students for productive lives, we have a ton of knowledge about how to do so if we were starting with a clean slate! It’s not an easy thing, for sure, but it’s the lesser innovation challenge compared to the institutional complexity of changing the K-12 industry itself. Typing_Fingers_sm(Similarly, we know the DVORAK keyboard is 16 times easier to use than the QWERTY, but the unsolved innovation challenge is how to migrate from one model to the other.)

8. So how do we tackle the Gravitational Paradox? Where do we position our innovation camp? I’ve thought a lot about this since the summit and I wonder if the Linux/Open Source model might not offer promise. In 1984, Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation launched the GNU project to create a free version of the Unix operating system as an alternative to the dominant, proprietary systems of the time. In the early 90s, Finnish grad student Linus Torvalds extended this work, proving to be adept at enrolling different organizations and programmers, coordinating self-interested development projects, promulgating standards, and slowly nurturing an entire Linux industry around a collaborative, global, largely volunteer effort.

9. Urban education, in my view, needs the same three things that made Linux work:

  • A clear mission and mandate to develop an alternative to the dominant design.
  • A means of enrolling and coordinating local innovators (typically lead users) to build that alternative.
  • The ability to perfect and protect a rigorous, yet customizable, system with reliable, replicable performance and supported by a sustainable, professional industry.

Despite the many differences between software and education, Linux successfully solved the paradox faced by education innovators. Committing to an “Open/Urban” model could pull lead user innovators into a national coalition, focus R & D, accelerate dissemination of successful innovations, and stimulate the formation of supporting institutions and professionals.

I look forward to comments!


fosbury_bar_200On grainy TVs in the summer of 1968, ABC Sports trumpeted something dramatic: a high jumper competing for the gold by leaping over the bar… backwards! Americans ran to their living rooms to gape each time Dick Fosbury made an attempt.

Serial entrepreneur and professor John Greathouse probes the origins of Fosbury’s innovation:

[Fosbury] began experimenting with alternative, unconventional methods of high jumping as a high school sophomore. Rejecting the straddling approach, which had been the standard for the prior forty years, Dick tweaked the old-fashioned scissor kick, eventually morphing it into a new and unique approach, which was eventually dubbed the “Fosbury Flop.”

The track and field community initially scorned Fosbury’s approach, labeling it “unsafe” and “too unorthodox” for the average jumper to master. However, nothing sells an innovative idea like winning. After Fosbury set an Olympic record at the 1968 Mexico City games, jumping 7 feet 4.25 inches, track coaches all over the world took notice.

The adoption of the Fosbury Flop was rapid. The last high jumper to set a world record using the straddling approach was Vladimir Yashchenko in 1977. As shown in the chart below The Fosbury Flop had become the international standard by the 1980 Olympics.


The Fosbury Flop helps illustrate an essential principle of innovation:  “…Whereas it may be appealing to focus on the future, breakthrough innovation depends on exploiting the past.” (Kathleen Eisenhardt, from the foreward of How Breakthroughs Happen by Andrew Hargadon) It is in the combining and synthesizing of long-established or emerging elements, often from disparate fields, that new solutions spring. If we reverse-engineer the Fosbury Flop, we can tease apart the details of training, equipment, and technique assembled and refined by Fosbury. For example, he abandoned the mainstream straddle technique and began experimenting with the older scissor kick. There was also a game changer that is too frequently left out of the picture (literally and figuratively): “Given that landing surfaces had previously been sandpits or low piles of matting, high jumpers of earlier years had to land on their feet or at least land carefully to prevent injury. With the advent of deep foam matting high jumpers were able to be more adventurous in their landing styles and hence experiment with styles of jumping.”


This same recombinant pattern is evident in the birth of mass production at Ford Motor Company, as chronicled by Andrew Hardagon in his book How Breakthroughs Happen. Interchangeable parts and tools were essential but had been part of industrial production for nearly a century. Continuous flow production was already widely in use by H.J. Heinz, Campbell Soup, and other food canners and processors. The final major innovation in the Ford system was bringing the work to the worker rather than the worker to the work — and Henry Ford credited Chicago meatpackers for that insight.


Dave on May 28th, 2009

Grasshopper.com promotes their product (phone system)grasshopper_idea with a nifty video titled “Entrepreneurs can change the world.” Kind of clever — I watched it several times!

Main message: Entrepreneurs are changing the world, one small business at a time. Are we prepping young people to meet that opportunity?