Happy Holidays from ISA

ISA wishes you the very best of the holiday season.  In an effort to afford ourselves the opportunity to refresh and reflect, ISA will be closed from December 23rd through January 3rd.  During this time, ISA staff members will be checking email, voicemail, and our Basecamp collaboration feeds only periodically.  We wish you a safe and enjoyable holiday season and look forward to our work together in the New Year!


The Phases of Research

We throw around the concept of research to make informed decision making in our strategic discussions all the time. But, what do we really mean when we use the word research? It is a concept that is discussed widely and broadly but sometimes it is a science that is misunderstood. Let's pull it apart.

There are four phases to research that we believe are really important. The final phase is the most important to formulating strategy.  They are:

1) Data - Raw or native information gathered for purposes of analysis is called data. 

2) Information - Data that has been organized into meaningful sets is called information. 

3) Insight - Information that has been properly analyzed can reveal insight.

4) Actionable Insight - The nirvana of research is actionable insight, where meaningful insight turns into a strategy or direction.

Research rarely jumps off the page and tells you where to go or what to do. But, actionable insight can provide the needed lens to use research to move forward. Data, information, and even analysis can be useful, but only when they produce actionable insight can you move an organization forward through thoughtful strategies.

ISA Update on Email Servers

ISA has examined our email servers issues and solved earlier issues.  As a result, we migrated all ISA staff to Gmail accounts this morning. The proper Gmail accounts are found on the bio page of each ISA staff member. These can be easily located on the ISA Team page in our main navigation structure.

ISA Experiencing Email Outages

As of 8:25 AM Pacific time, ISA was experiencing some email outages on our iansymmonds.com email server.  Our email service provider has been notified and the issue is in process of being addressed.  We will post a follow-up note when we have a final solution to this issue.  If you need to reach an associate immediately, please call us at our toll free number at 888-334-6078.

Note to clients: Our Basecamp client collaboration software or toll-free phone numbers are not impacted by this outage.

Baker Selects ISA

Baker Demonstation School has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for strategic planning commencing in January. The Chicagoland school is located in Wilmette, Illinois.

Baker Demonstration School is an independent coeducational school, serving toddler through eighth grade children, dedicated to creating well-rounded students through the principles of progressive education.

ISA Adds New Team Member

We are pleased to announce that Kirsten Williams has joined the ISA team.  Kirsten recently joined Ian Symmonds & Associates, assisting front office duties, handling project research, and conducting client management.  Her background in process engineering brings an organized approach to all projects and her extensive project management and documentation experience carries over to researching, analyzing, and editing reports and presentations for ISA.

Kirsten holds a B.S. in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering from Oregon State University.  She worked for over a decade in the past-paced high tech and computer industry.  She and her husband Paul keep busy raising 4 daughters in Portland, Oregon.

Sant Bani School Selects ISA for Strategic Planning

The Sant Bani School in New Hampshire has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and strategic planning.  We will begin our work in January 2014 and complete our plan in the fall.

The Sant Bani School is a private K-12 day school located in Sanbornton in the U.S. state of New Hampshire. The school was founded in 1973. It currently enrolls approximately 170 students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

ISA Releases First iBook

Ian's first book, Long Live Strategy, is now available now as an iBook on the Apple iBookstore.  Long Live Strategy is a collection of 21 high level, select white papers focused solely on strategic thinking in education.  In this collection you will find Ian's innovative thinking about both best practices and future trends in education, including white papers from his Ten Trends series, The Pivot Point, Seven X-Factors of Market Sustainability, and much more.

Long Live Strategy covers all facets of strategy in education, from marketing to enrollment management to visioning to curriculum to planning. Most of the work featured in this book was written between 2007 and 2013, during and after the great recession, one of the most turbulent and ambiguous times in American educational history.  Buy the iBook now at the iBookstore on Apple.

Design to Market First

Famous management guru Peter Drucker was critical of the education industry for the method in which educators developed programs. His observation that educators are program-focused rather than market-focused has always been intriguing to me. Let me define the difference between the two approaches.

Program-focused marketing is the process of developing educational programs that the school or college faculty believe inherently possess value. Of course, this approach often leads to high delivery costs and inflexible delivery approaches, among other things. But, the approach remains true to the educational philosophy of the faculty. This approach focuses on developing their perceived best approach to delivering education and then placing the challenge of finding customers who want it and can pay for it later. And, it often produces extremely high quality programs. But, in some cases, for what audience?

Market-focused marketing is the process of defining the potential audience prior to program development. This approach starts with learning what customers want in their programs, how much they will pay for it, and how they best want it delivered. Used by most business, this approach places the client first in program development, followed by creating the experience they want.

Of course, no one approach is best. It's certainly not an "either-or" situation. They are both essential inputs in program development. We all should work from our competences and reach markets that want them. But, it has always seemed to me that education has it backwards, placing the organization desires before the client needs. And, if strategic planning is finding the intersection between mission and market, then both inputs are needed.

Peter Drucker knew what he was talking about in many areas of marketing and management, but he sure had a lot of insight on program development. In my view, I would start with designing for market first. It saves a lot of headaches down the road.

Putting Educational Innovation in Context

We hear a lot of folks talking about educational innovation today as if it were an educational philosophy or platform unto itself, like Montessori education, Jesuit learning, or single gender teaching.  It is not.  Innovation is not an educational platform, it is a mindset, and it has been around in every industry from the beginning of time.  This is not a new idea.

According to our good friends Wikipedia (an innovative entry itself), here is the definition of innovation:

"Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulate needs, or existing market needs. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments, and society. "

So, to learn what innovation means to the future of education, let's review what innovation has meant to other industries.

  • Innovation breeds choice.  Most good innovations provide customers with more choice and an increasing stratification of offerings. 
  • Innovation decreases price.  Most good innovations find a way to live out Blue Ocean Strategy, giving consumers more choice with less cost. 
  • Innovation enhances the experience.  Most great innovations make the product experience better for the end user, the customer. 
  • Innovation produces integration. At the end of the day, most great innovations end up living within an ecosystem of products, with mixed price choices and mixed delivery options.  Innovation rarely remains a stand alone product category.
The future of education is not about innovation that eliminates everything we know to be true about our industry: the four year college degree, clear educational outcomes, real world and work training, or global preparation for the future.  I think we need to start looking at innovation at the way it will play into our ecosystem by driving more customer choice, better price, and stronger integration into our product lines.  Unless we want to argue with history, I think we are safe to say that placing innovation in context might be useful to our campus conversations. 



Finding the Intersection Between Mission and Market

Strategic planning - or essentially the art of making good plans with clear strategy - is about finding the intersection between mission and market. And, to understand mission and market, you have to first understand that mission means internal to the organization and market generally means external. It is the old SWOT analysis in practice, as the SW of a SWOT stands for strengths and weaknesses (internal) and the OT stands for opportunities and threats (external).

For most of our educational clients, understanding the mission side of the address is easy because they have a solid understanding of internal mission, culture, and the values of the school or college. It is not hard for them to make plans that address concerns of internal stakeholders because they have researched them, asked them questions, and generally have a good idea on how to be responsive to their issues and concerns. Our experience is that most colleges and schools have a real handle on how to create plans that are aligned with mission.

Here is the challenge, though. Most schools and colleges are less adept at reading the tea leaves of the external environment. They are not adept at understanding demographic trends, competitive forces, and large shifts in delivery or business models. These leaves them at a distinct disadvantage in understanding the trends and forces that are likely to shape their industry. As a result, they tend not to be responsive to external trends and forces.

Our experience tells us that the biggest ideas, opportunities, and resulting strategies generally come from the outside. Creating plans that align with mission are important, but if most ideas in the strategic plan generally pander to internal needs rather than external forces, the resulting strategic plan is incremental at best, usually absent of a big idea. More importantly, it fails to find the right intersection between mission and market because external trends were less important in the data collection and planning process.

Finding the intersection is a tough balancing act, because at the end of the day it means managing change and tension between what internal stakeholders believe is sacred to an organization and what the market wants or needs. Our experience tells us that the best plans possess an equal measure of internal and external data and reality, and those research inputs are carefully synthesized and applied to the unique circumstances of the school or college. And, perhaps most important, best practices would tell us that it is important to revisit the external trends side annually, because that is generally where the dynamic shifts occur.

Great strategy finds the intersection between mission and market. Mission changes little over time, but market opportunity is shifting constantly. The best schools and colleges are constantly challenging their assumptions and reading the external environment to find the right address.


St. Andrew's Schools - Anatomy of a Brand

The freshly minted St. Andrew's Schools in Honolulu have a fresh look.  The updated version of their website shows off their new brand strategy, which includes a primary brand (St. Andrew's Schools) with three brand subsidiaries (The Priory, The Prep, and Queen Emma Preschool).  A result of a year long strategic planning process with ISA, which featured many other bold initiatives, the brand redesign was engineered by Robert Rytter of Jensen Design Studio.  

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St. Andrew's Priory Makes Landmark Announcement

In one of the boldest moves in the educational landscape in recent history on the Hawaiian islands, St. Andrew's Priory shared a landmark announcement on Tuesday night in Honolulu.  The St. Andrew's Priory School for Girls' board has approved plans to open an elementary school next fall tailored to the educational needs of young boys, the school announced tonight.  The St. Andrew's Preparatory School for Boys will be the only elementary school for boys in the state, and will share the downtown Honolulu campus of the girls' school founded by Queen Emma in 1867.  St. Andrew's Priory School has been an ISA client for the past 14 months.  We recently completed a strategic plan setting forth bold initiatives.

"By launching St. Andrew's Prep, we are responding to families looking for a tailored education for their boys that will help them achieve," Sandra Theunick, head of school, said in a statement. "The research is clear that single-gender learning provides both girls and boys an enhanced learning environment specific to their learning styles."

The strategic plan also included bold initiatives in both the areas technology and using their highly accessible and strategic downtown Honolulu location as points of leverage.  The school will launch iPriory and Priory in the City programs in 2014.  

ISA strategic partner Robert Rytter of Jensen Design Studio handled all of the branding for the new initiative.  A copy of the board approved strategic plan can be downloaded here in PDF file format. 


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Barrie School Selects ISA

Barrie School in Silver Spring, Maryland has selected ISA for research and strategic marketing planning. We will begin our work in November. Barrie School is a co-educational, college preparatory, independent day school, serving approximately 350 students from age 2 through grade 12.

ISA Adds Fundraising Partner Langley Innovations

We are pleased to announce that Jim Langley of Langley Innovations has joined forces with ISA as our strategic advancement and development partner.  Jim will play the lead role in serving as our client counsel and strategist for fundraising, capital campaign planning, and all things advancement. 

James Michael Langley is one of the most noted and accomplished innovators in the field of institutional advancement.  As such, he is also a highly sought after consultant, speaker, thinker and writer. Over the past three decades his visionary concepts and ability to incorporate best practices from numerous fields have produced surprising and dramatic results at several institutions. His most recent work is the monograph, "Fundraising for Presidents: A Guide" (available on the Academic Impressions website). In addition, he teaches advancement in the University of Pennsylvania's executive doctorate in higher education program.

After 30 years in higher education, he founded Langley Innovations, a strategic consulting and training firm, to help institutions and organizations dedicated to improving the human condition align their efforts with the most foresightful and principled philanthropists, and thereby advance a philanthropic revolution that has, in the past century, generated the greatest and most productive voluntary transfer of wealth in human history.

Jim will play our lead development and campaign counsel role for clients seeking these services in the future.  This strategic alliance demonstrates our commitment to having best in class strategic partnerships that benefit our clients.  ISA is also strategic partners with Jensen Design Studio for creative communications.

Strategic Planning @ Galloway

We are continuing our research phase today working with Galloway School on a soggy day in Atlanta. Established by Elliott Galloway in 1969 as an independent day school, The Galloway School serves a diverse student body of approximately 747 students in preschool through 12th grade.


ISA Launches Just Cause Project

We're launching a strategic planning and visioning process today at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. The process will ongoing throughout the academic year with community leaders, faculty, staff, and administration collaborating on the project.

The Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy provides girls and young women with a rigorous college preparatory education focused on math, science, and technology in a supportive environment that nurtures self confidence, inspires leadership, encourages critical thinking, and promotes academic excellence.


Strategic Trends Defining Education Today

I spoke near Toronto last month at the Ridley College Thought Leaders Forum on ten strategic trends that we see defining education currently. We thought we would use our blog and podcast to share them with you.

1. When the economy goes South, consumers delay the decision to purchase private education. And, even though education generally performs well in recessionary times, we've seen a lot of delay in consumer decisions lately.

2. Consumers are seeing increased stratification of educational offerings, driving price down and choices up, between MOOC's, online platforms, and hybrid offerings.

3. Young, entrepreneurial professionals continue to dwindle in numbers occupying seats around boardroom or governance tables, seeking other venues for their more action-oriented approach to socially-conscious venues to make a difference.

4. Competitive pricing and aid models remain the holy grail of independent education, with no real revolution or innovation in this financial model in two decades.

5. Students are more politically active and socially engaged in issues that define their generation that just a decade or more ago.

6. Curriculum remains incongruent with solving the issues of our times. The global challenges of 2020 don't seem well reflected in our curriculum.

7. The jury is still out on the best way to teach students, with no obvious prevailing educational philosophy taking the lead role in education.

8. With a tough economy and more lower cost choices in the marketplace, "good is good enough" is becoming a common prevailing consumer philosophy.

9. The marketing game continues to be more about flash than substance, showing us getting attention is far more important than delivering content.

10. The classroom is on the verge of explosion, with new tools, fewer walls, and more global influence than ever before.

Exciting times ahead, for sure. One thing for certain, there will be plenty of room for innovation and disruption for those schools and colleges that can breed it.

The Future is Africa

Why should Africa matter to educators in the Western world?  Here are a few facts that you might want to consider, courtesy of our good friends at TED, the Global Fund, and the United Nations.

  • By 2050, Africa will be twice the population of China and home to one-third of the youth of the world.
  • 10 million people have had their lives saved from near certain death from anti-viral medications provided from The Global Fund, Product (RED) revenue, and the collective efforts of the One campaign.
  • There are 2.65 million fewer deaths of children under five - per year - when compared to the year 2000.  That is 7256 fewer children dying each day.
  • 10 nations in sub saharan Africa - Cameroon, Senegal, Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Mauritania, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, and Uganda - have had 100% of cancellation of debt, a ten-fold increase of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and a tripling in domestic aid in the last decade.  The result has cut childhood mortality by a third, doubled education completion rates, and cut the percentage of their population living in extreme poverty by half. 
  • Africa is generally pro-Western world and has high affinity for American values, such as entrepreneurial business, democracy, and social justice.
  • Most recent economic impact studies continue to demonstrate that the bulk of the world's natural resources reside in Africa and have yet to be truly unleashed to improve the plight of African people.
  • The global fight on terror will increasingly be waged in Africa.

The numbers are startling.  Death rates are down. Education completion is up.  Foreign investment is on the rise.  Debt cancellation is common.  The percentage of people living in extreme poverty has been halved since 2000.  The world's greatest natural resources - and pro-Western views - reside in Africa.

Educators - let's pay attention to Africa. In your curriculum, language and culture studies, in your outreach and recruitment, and in your strategic thinking.  This shift is happening fast.