Jul 7, 2016

Lessons Learned #8: Independence Inspires Innovation

With all of the chatter about innovation in the different sectors of the economy, I often hold myself accountable to be honest about how our own industry of education is faring in this new era.  Are we innovating in the classroom, business models, and distribution systems at the level, pace, or substance that we should or can be in independent schools and colleges?  My quick observation says that we are innovating at an incremental level and can do far more based upon our heritage and collective culture. So, what’s the current status of innovation at our schools?  And, what’s the future opportunity?  Lessons Learned #8 is about innovation in independent schools and colleges. 

The Current Status of Innovation
As I visit with #indyschools and #indycolleges throughout the nation, I see incremental innovation.  However, it is where the innovation is happening that is truly startling.  My experience is that most of the great innovation is occurring in the classroom and is pioneered by caring and connected faculty that desire to take their teaching – and their student experiences – to the next level.  Classroom innovation in teaching style, collaboration, design thinking, and physical spaces are transforming many faculty cultures in our schools.  I think the faculty are ahead of other areas (yes, I actually said that) in that there is less innovation in business models and modes of distribution.  According to “Blue Ocean” marketing theory, the toughest trick in the marketing book is to increase client value and experience and decrease price, serving more customers that can benefit from your product.  We are just not seeing disruptive innovation in the area of business models and distribution methods.  At least not yet. 

The Future Opportunity of Innovation is Independence
History tell us that every great disruptive innovation in America is forged with the ingredient of independence.  When an organization or a group of people have complete independence to solve a distinct problem, such as declining customers, changing demographics, or scarcity of resources, they often will emerge with an innovative solution that changes or literally transforms the industry sector.  Our greatest asset is our independence as as sector. Nothing is holding us back but the potential limitations we have placed upon ourselves.  We can adjust our missions, create new visions, and serve anyone, in any way, that we believe is best.  We just have to find the intersection of mission and market opportunity.

I am bullish on the future of our independent education sector.  I see faculty rolling up their sleeves and overcoming fear and trepidation to try new things in the classroom everyday.  Thankfully, some key leaders in our industry, such as Grant Lichtman, Hans Mundahl, and many others, are really inspiring this movement, facilitating this change, and helping innovation emerge into a reality.  However, we need more innovation in our business models and modes of distribution to really transform our industry.  We need the type of innovation that leaders such as Jeff Shields at forward thinking organizations like NBOA and several others are calling upon to cultivate in our culture and advocate in our sector.  

Lessons Learned #7?  I really believe it is our independence that inspires innovation and that our greatest days are ahead.  We can collectively invent the future of education on our campuses.  Yes, we can. 

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