Future of Learning Top Reads for week of Sep 9 2019

The Strategic Planning Edition…


“Why Complexity Sells,” by Morgan Housel, on the Collaborative Fund blog

“1. Simplicity feels like an easy walk. Complexity feels like mental CrossFit.

“2. Length is often the only thing that can signal effort and thoughtfulness.

“3. Things you don’t understand create a mystique around people who do.

“4. Complexity gives a comforting impression of control, while simplicity is hard to distinguish from cluelessness.”

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

Let’s include one more:

5. Politics makes it easier to sell a list that contains everything rather than to make hard decisions.

Schools should think long and hard about having more than three goals in their strategic plan.

Complexity will challenge your ability to align the community, while simplicity will facilitate alignment.


“Measure Education Inputs, Too,” by Orly Friedman, on Education Next

“There are at least three distinct reasons for measuring inputs in addition to outputs. The first is to prevent misguided strategies for raising the outputs. Think about a person hoping to lose weight. A person could attempt to lose weight and stay focused strictly on the output, the number on the scale. Perhaps the goal is to lose ten pounds. The most efficient way to do that would be to fast for a few days or sweat off a few pounds in back-to-back Soul Cycle classes. The goal might be achieved, but only temporarily — much like students who are great at cramming for tests, but who retain a negligible amount when retested a few months later. This cramming, which is standard operating procedure in schools, is incentivized by a system whose sole concern is on outputs.

“A second reason to measure inputs along with outputs is to facilitate learning about which inputs work. When you measure inputs, you start with a hypothesis about how change happens. In the weight-loss analogy, a person might believe that he loses weight when he shifts to a diet low in fat and sugar and is active for an hour a day. His success would be measured by the quality of what he is putting in his body. His weight would be a source of information that might cause him to adjust his inputs, but the weight is not what he is judged on; it is the quality of the inputs that constitutes whether he is succeeding or not. In this example, and in the case of educators, scores become a metric for internal information rather than external validation. The end result still has a role to play — it’s just not for the funder, district office, or state to use as the main grounds for judgment. It’s for the organization or individual to learn from and adjust around in a cycle of continuous learning and improvement. […]

“A third reason to measure inputs in addition to outputs is that some outputs are difficult to measure. Some social-emotional skills, for example, are not easily quantified. To be sure, it can sometimes be complicated to collect the data around inputs, too, but the magic of what happens in schools is not a simple matter.”

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

Consider drafting a theory of change for each element of your strategic plan in which you create a testable hypothesis to this question: Why do we think these inputs will lead to the results we want?

The Board of Trustees and the leadership team can reference such a theory of change as they regularly evaluate progress in implementing a strategic plan.

Caveat: outcomes > “outputs” [1].


“How to Do Strategic Planning Like a Futurist,” by Amy Webb, in Harvard Business Review

“Nice, linear timelines offer a certain amount of assurance: that events can be preordained, chaos can be contained, and success can be plotted and guaranteed. Of course, the real world we all inhabit is a lot messier. Regulatory actions or natural disasters are wholly outside of your control, while other factors — workforce development, operations, new product ideas — are subject to layers of decisions made throughout your organization. As all those variables collide, they shape the horizon.

“Chief strategy officers and those responsible for choosing the direction of their organizations are often asked to facilitate ‘visioning’ meetings. This helps teams brainstorm ideas, but it isn’t a substitute for critical thinking about the future. Neither are the one-, three-, or five-year strategic plans that have become a staple within most organizations, though they are useful for addressing short-term operational goals. Deep uncertainty merits deep questions, and the answers aren’t necessarily tied to a fixed date in the future.”

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

Goodbye Gantt chart, hello “time cone.”

Strategic Planning Like a Futurist.png

Average schools focus on the “strategy” wedge of the cone (2-5 years out).

Good schools will also reverse-engineer the “tactics” wedge (1-2 years out).

Great schools will start with the “vision” wedge (5-10 years out) and work backwards.

The best schools will think about where the hockey puck is going—what Webb calls “systems-level evolution” (10+ years out)—and how that may intersect with their institutional mission and vision.


Question of the week:

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[1] Stanford University lecturer Kathleen Kelly Janus has written, “Outputs are best defined as the basic measures of an organization’s activities […]. While such statistics are vital measures of the number of people an organization engages, they are not adequate indicators of the actual impact on those participants’ lives. Just because someone participates in a program, it does not mean their life changes. And just because their life changes, it does not mean there is a causal link between the change and an organization’s services. […] The reason organizations so often resort to measuring outputs as a stand-in for outcomes is that data about outputs are so much easier to compile.” (Social Startup Success, 2017)


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Christian Talbot