Whether by watching too many cooking channel challenges or just sheer obsession with great food, I can't help but think about this month's topic using a cooking metaphor. At L+D, we often get asked, "What makes your organization different? So, here it is...the recipe for one of our secret sauces, however, unlike most grandma-guarded secrets, this one needs to be shared.
As many of you know, at L+D, we have taken this year to focus on the book, Whiplash by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe. Each month, we focus on a different chapter, and we make connections to our work in schools. This month, I want to build on what Ito and Howe discuss in their chapter outlining how diversity often outshines ability. If you have read the book, they do a nice job of showing how the field of crowdsourcing has changed the way certain complex problems are solved, and they show evidence that certain problems are better tackled by the crowd instead of the trained professionals with fancy letters after their names. For example, they tell the story of InnoCentive, a company that outsources their problems to the internet, and allows the power of crowdsourcing and the growing movement of citizen science to go to work. Their findings show that about 85% of their problems get solved, impressive given the complexity of the problems. But further, of those solutions, about 40% of them come from untrained individuals who would never be invited to the problem-solving-table if not for companies like this that are embracing this concept.
More relatable for those of us who are food people, we all know the difference between five stars on Yelp with 2 reviews and 5 stars on Yelp with 2000 reviews. Much like IBM's Watson, the simple power of adding to the diversity and computing/people power via the internet leads to all sorts of problems that can be solved better and more quickly. This is exciting in and of itself and has huge implications for schools. The ivory tower era is dead, and it is time that we open up our school problems to more people from different backgrounds. I am not trying to take away from the gravity of this finding, but I see one glaring issue that L+D spends a good portion of its time addressing, and this issue happens to be present in every school we have worked in partnership with.
That issue is that Ito and Howe's concept of crowdsourcing is built on the foundation that these citizen scientists or genius plumbers working out of their basement labs on behalf of mankind never have to meet each other and collaborate. As long as they can help solve the problem without having any human interaction beyond posting their solutions to an online board, this model works. If they did meet, I often think a little bit about how that meeting might go. My guess is that they would struggle in the same way that you see your students, faculty, staff or board struggle when they bump into people that think differently than them. This asynchronous collaboration has a place in our schools, and I hope we consider how we can leverage it more. But what about those of us collaborating with a growingly diverse group of thinkers in schools together, in person?
We know, both from science and from common sense that we are better equipped to solve problems with diverse groups of people leveraging different skills, opinions, and levels of experience. We also know that as you introduce diversity into any community, and you ask people to interact, before you get incredible results based on that diversity, you get assumption, misunderstanding, tension and sometimes even hostility. Sometimes this conflict goes unaddressed to the point that groups fracture, initiatives die, or worse, people start to dislike working in teams and instead form small groups of like-minded individuals that are capable of getting things done. This sad efficiency model kills innovation, and those great ideas, borne of radical collaboration, are left dormant and not nurtured because we lack the skills to manage the tension needed for them to germinate.
In 2018, we still break teachers and students into groups without giving them any scaffolding for how to work well together. We don't grade collaboration, we don't teach it enough, and we, as educators are not very good at it. Over the last fifteen years in schools, I have seen more collaboration, and there is definitely consensus around Ito and Howe's point, however, we still see teachers that look alike, think alike and with similar skills doing the most collaboration, and this isn't really what Ito and Howe are talking about.
The secret sauce at L+D is teaching people how to collaborate. Educators in 2018 should be able to tell you or demonstrate:
Here are the top three things school leaders can do right away: