How can schools survive our "age of accelerations"?

Thank You For Being Late.jpg

How should schools deal with the fact that we are living in the midst of a "phase change"? As Thomas Friedman points out in his new book Thank You For Being Late, the three biggest networks in the world--digital technology, economic and social markets, and climate / population--are all accelerating, all at the same time, and all in an interconnected way.  In some cases, that rate of change is literally exponential.

Unfortunately, human beings are not good at thinking exponentially.  We experience things as linear, and so we tend to anticipate that the future will be linear.  But strategies for linear change don’t work in an exponentially changing environment.

That is why on the wall outside my office I wrote this quote from Morgan Housel: “Someone with a 110 IQ but the ability to recognize when the world changes will always beat the person with a 140 IQ and rigid beliefs” (“Sustainable Sources of Competitive Advantage,” Nov. 16, 2016).

This phase change carries major implications for schools.  The amount of stuff that kids could know and be able to do can no longer be contained by traditional disciplines, nor by an expectation that learning will end around the age of 22.  Jaime Casap, the Chief Education Evangelist for Google, has said it best: we need to stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up and start asking them what problem they want to solve.

In addition, our “age of accelerations” (as Friedman calls it) demands that all of our institutions develop a resilience to survive and thrive amidst the chaos.  Although Friedman offers the following principles for a resilient approach to government, it seems to me that schools ought to develop resilience through an ability to:

Adapt to new knowledge sets, skill sets, and cultural memes.

Embrace pluralism (pluralism = diversity and inclusion)

Assume ownership over the future and one’s problems (e.g., “What problem do you want to solve?”).

Balance the federal and the local (e.g., leadership sets the “federal” level Vision and teachers set the “local” level implementation).

Approach problem-solving with entrepreneurial mindset.

How resilient is your school prepared to become?  It won’t be easy, but it will be essential.




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Christian Talbot