Seeing the wood for the trees: beware organisational blindness

blind-spot

Can’t see the wood for the trees: the whole situation is not clear, because you’re looking too closely at small details, or you’re too closely involved.

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It is probably true that the longer we lead, teach or support within an organisation the blinder, more conditioned we become to accepting how things are. Our organisational blindness restricts our ability to be shocked or provoked into action; our ability to see the ‘brutal truths’ (Collins) of our situation decreases with time (and surprisingly quickly). We are less able to see the reality of our present situation and less able to seek the required improvement.

“Organisational blindness inhibits individuals and teams from seeing the brutal truth of their reality; leading to missed opportunities, an inability to not see what really matters or be agile enough to strategically move to a brighter future.”


Which begs the question, how do we correct our organisational blindness; overcome our biases and conceptions that grow through time and be alive to the brutal truths so that we can focus on the things that matter; those things that will address the reality and not our perception of the reality? So how do we provoke fresh thinking and fresh perspectives?

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“You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.” (Collins)


What if we fully understood that we learn to live with and accept things over time. That over time we become organisationally blind to our reality. The story goes that if you place a frog in water and gradually boil the water, the frog sits happily until death, but throw a frog into boiling water and it will jump straight out…the difference between becoming conditioned and normalised to our organisation and seeing it through fresh eyes and from a new, wider perspective.

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What if we understood that when we move organisations we have our sharpest understanding and insight during the first 6 weeks and after that we gradually become part of the system (Dr Patrick Dixon). What if we worked harder to find ways of re-creating this opportunity; to more often see through fresh eyes?

What if we realised that our institutional blindness is our greatest risk? As the future becomes increasingly uncertain and the educational landscape shifts often, an organisation that is sleepy and fog ridden with organisational blindness is very vulnerable to “wildcard” events as well as to normal rates of change. There are a number of island Academies who have required reinvention; a significant contributing factor being organisational blindness and a poor perspective on what matters now.

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What if we recognise that decisions, strategies and approaches are often only appropriate and right for a point in time? Great organisations are able to be agile and evolve practices so that they stay on the leading edge. Our vulnerability increases where organisational blindness is deep and widely shared such that we are unable to see what is right for now.

What if we realised a key strength of being part of a collaborative network or Multi Academy Trust (MAT) is the ability to connect, compare, contrast and have the wider view that improves our organisational blindness, enabling a greater identification of the brutal truths. What if we accelerated our connectivity, because together Academies in firm and soft collaborations can raise standards and overcome the blindness and vulnerability caused through isolation?

What if the most dangerous institutional blindness is when it occurs at the top. If the Head/Principal is the most significant leader then blindness at this level can cripple an organisation. More than ever we need all leaders to be system leaders…

“All leaders, South West leaders.” (Sir David Carter, RSC)

What if the fragmented nature and isolation of some academies increases organisational blindness? Where island organisations exist and/or there is significant blindness there is significant danger that the organisation becomes less attuned to reality and less successful.

“We still have an education system that is fragmented and unstandardised (adapted from Lord Nash); one where there are too many island schools/academies whose viewpoint is unavoidably organisationally blind.”

What if we recognised that much of what we see and think is hugely vulnerable to selective perception: seeing only the things that fit with our own preconceptions or prior beliefs? Whilst we rely on internal scrutiny these perceptions will limit our notion of performance and this worsens over time.

“Selective perception is the tendency to not notice and more quickly forget stimuli that causes emotional discomfort and contradicts our prior beliefs.”

What if we accept that the people within organisations are least likely to be able to evaluate its quality? What if we fully exploited, embraced and sought external scrutiny, because as leaders we understand that this perspective will be truer, more balanced and less open to bias than our own?

What if we grew more system leaders to horizon scan and have a wide perspective that can correct blindness… to find coherence, to light the way, to reduce blindness so that the system as a whole saw more of the light; lifting our young people and communities up?

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What if system leaders connected the dots and collaborated; being strategically altruistic. Recognising that where we strategically give and collaborate we reduce our institutional blindness and contribute to correcting institutional blindness in others. By connecting the dots and by being a deliberately altruistic system leaders we reduce blindness in ourselves and others.

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What if we spent more time out of our organisation? What if we actively supported leaders and teachers to spend time in other Academies? So that we eased and removed organisational blindness, provided perspective and shifted the frame of reference such that we were better able to see the brutal truths and plot improvement. Fresh eyes provide a new perspective; in the land of the blind the one-eyed person is king…

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“Complacency in leadership limits our ability to notice the unacceptable and maintain high expectations. Leaders need to welcome and proactively seek challenge and peer review.”
(adapted from Steve Munby)
What if we recognise inhibiting hubris. Jim Collins in “How the Mighty Fall” identifies the dangers of hubris, the excessive pride that brings down a hero – following success, leaders often become arrogant about their success and almost view it as an entitlement.  As a result, they become complacent and lose sight of (become blind to) what caused/s their success.  Organisations that were perceived to be successful can be vulnerable to disruptive changes (occasionally dramatically)…

There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers.” -Phillip Franklin, White Star Line Vice-President

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What if by recognising the problems caused by organisational blindness that we are better able to avoid catastrophes and to find an appropriately risk-aware approach based on the true realities of our performance and provision?

What if we protected ourselves from this false sense of security, the false notion of being able to control situations or understand present performance. It is this that compromises our ability to cope and evolve to meet the demands of the present and the future. Perhaps this is about remaining students of our work and seeking external opinion and thoughts; taking every opportunity to vacuum the brains of others for insight and perspective…

“Like inquisitive scientists, the best leaders remain students of their work, relentlessly asking questions–why, why, why?–and have an incurable compulsion to vacuum the brains of people they meet.” Jim Collins.
What if we sought peer review and scrutiny as the best way to avoid both complacency and organisational blindness? Even if this makes us feel uncomfortable and exposed to the truth… perhaps a humbling truth, but with this comes new understanding, insight and perspective to enable improvement.
 “What makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful.” (Brene Brown)
“What do we see when leaders are at their best. – a balance between confidence and humility.” (Steve Munby)
What if Ofsted valued system leadership more? Valued the system contributions made to other organisations and the wider community? After all Ofsted wields significant power to nudge the education system in the direction it chooses.
What if we also recognised that unless leaders, teachers and staff go beyond the organisation there is significant danger of Cabin Fever; becoming conditioned (negatively) to everyday experience, with little ability to measure quality or what is normal? It is healthy and desirable to offer and ensure that all staff gain wide perspectives – as organisational blindness can be damaging and provide a warped sense of performance or quality…(often selectively perceiving the organisation based on low amounts of evidence or restricted perspectives).
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Maybe then we would recognise the prevalence and harm of organisational blindness…understanding that our ability to see with fresh eyes lasts around six weeks, after which, without corrective approaches, we become increasingly blind to the brutal truths of our reality, less able to identify improvement and actions that are right for now.

Maybe then we would have far less complacency within the system; the sort of complacency born out of hubris and organisational blindness.

Maybe then we would see the brutal truths in ourselves and our organisations. Enabling our organisation to avoid dangers and to be agile enough to cope and thrive despite the present pace of change.

Maybe then we would see the huge opportunity that presently exists for shifting our fragmented island system of Academies into local hubs and multi Academy Trusts to reduce blindness, create coherence and shift the quality of education for whole communities.

Maybe then we would connect and collaborate not just to see again, but so that we could treat blindness in others and be system leaders.

Maybe then we would welcome scrutiny and peer review as a way to reduce blindness, bring better perspective and focus and to therefore accelerate improvement.

Maybe then we would seek opportunities for staff and ourselves to “get out more often” to improve our blindness and that of others? … as well as reduce cabin fever and the dangers of selective perception.

Maybe then we would connect more and be strategically altruistic to improve the wider system; playing our part in removing organisational blindness. After all great organisations don’t settle and achieve greatness through conscious choice…

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.” (Collins)  (A choice that needs to be seen through the fog of organisational blindness)

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April 2015

A culture of continuous improvement…

“Seek marginal gains to outperform – small steps that create a contagious environment, where a philosophy of continuous improvement engages everyone.” (adapted from Sir David Brailsford, 2015)

Sir David Brailsford eloquently and concisely outlines the key characteristics of high performing teams in this great 2 minute video…click the photo belowIt is probably true that there are some key principles that are at the heart of high performing teams that enable outperformance .. all of which are highly applicable and relevant to education.

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Sir David Brailsford identifies a number of key principles that allow teams and organisations to over-perform or out-perform others. These are explored below…

1. “Recruit the best people that you can find”. What if we are really fussy over recruitment; ensuring that we recruit the very best to the team? What if we were also focused on this being a good behavioural fit … given that attitude is the key aspect in creating an over-performing culture?  There are a number of organisation who largely recruit based on attitude – often gaps in core skills can be closed. What if we started with First Who Then What?…

g2g-first-who“Good to great companies first got the right people on the bus (and in the right seats) –and the wrong people off the bus –and then figured out where to drive it.”

(Jim Collins)

What if these were the superheroes, linchpins, mavericks or Freds whose connectivity and altruistic collaboration enabled the organisation to fly?


2. Seek out the “Podium people – ask, who is the best in the world?” What if organisations identified the best in the world? What if we then understood where they were, how and what they achieve? What if we then work out precisely where we are and then plot to close the gap? By setting direction for the “Podium People” in our field we set the expectation high. What if we habitually faced the brutal truths of our own performance?…

“have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (Collins)

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By aspiring to reach and exceed Podium People we commit to do “whatever it takes” and embark on a journey, an accumulation of steps…

“What we can do and what the best schools do already – is ask where they would like to be in five years time (aiming for the podium) and what steps they will take to get there” … ” the best schools accumulate these small steps and describe themselves as being on a journey.” (Tim Brighouse)

What if we time limit the drive for improvement?…

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough-time.” (Leonard Bernstein)


3. Seek Marginal Gains, because small improvements in a number of aspects that we do can have a huge impact to the overall performance of the team.

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What if we realised that impact, stickability and the effectiveness of any change is in the detail and that where change is planned, simple and purposeful big change and impact can follow? … often with unexpected benefits…

“We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow from small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly!” (Malcolm Gladwell)

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What if we understood greatness was about the choices we make and the discipline to see them through?…

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” (Jim Collins)


“Leaders are only truly in charge when they inspire others to take charge.” (Simon Sinek, 2012)

4. Give Ownership, because with ownership comes motivation. What if we trusted that because we have set the destination … on exceeding our podium people/organisations and  that we have the right people on the bus … then these people are best placed to lead and make decisions? That by giving ownership we increase autonomy and this drives-up motivation and performance that is widely owned and more likely to be sustained. – “pushing decision making to the action” (David Marquett)

What if this ownership was allied to responsibility and accountability – a measuring stick and evaluation that rewards and supports motivation? … so that individuals know they are doing a remarkable job.

What if we connected individuals to collaborate? … Seth Godin reminds that groups/teams need a clarity of destination and an ability to connect and communicate … collaboration and improvement follows…

“…groups of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group only needs two things to become a tribe: a shared interest (vision) and a way to connect and communicate.” (Seth Godin)

What if, as John Kotter identifies, we create and facilitate connection and collaboration (right hand side) alongside hierarchy that challenges, supports and delivers accountability (the left hand side)? It is balancing these that create a successful, agile team/organisation.

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5. Absolute clarity of role – People need to own and absolutely accept the role they have, but importantly they need to believe it is the right thing to do. What if we understood that Individuals perform well when there is absolute clarity on what is expected of them? Too often leaders complain of poor performance only to realises that they have never been clear in the first place as to what was expected.

What if we also identify the standards and insisted on the highest of expectations – in all that you do? What if we create a positive, risk-embracing environment and culture so that we face the brutal truths and seek feedback and understanding to maintain continuous improvement?


Maybe then we would build teams in education from middle to senior to executive leadership that understand outperformance, borrow from other professions, sports and organisations to realise the leadership potential that exists.

Maybe then by asking…

  • …do we have the right people on the bus and in the right seats?
  • …do we know who the podium organisations are? – and how we close the gap?
  • …do we find marginal gains for continuous improvement?
  • …do we give and facilitate ownership for improvement and balance with accountability?
  • …do we have absolute clarity on roles and responsibilities and ensure that the standards and expectations are set high … within a feedback and risk-taking culture?

we would would better understand our organisation and how we create the conditions for great teams to grow, succeed and out-perform. After all, in academies/schools leadership and the extent that leadership creates high performing teams directly relates to the success or otherwise of the organisation.

“Delivery never sleeps.” (Barber)

March 2015

If not now, when? Raising Achievement

‘Garry was brilliant,’ …. ‘He told us exactly where the Italians were and he really motivated us with things like: ‘If not now, when? If not you, who? How much do you want this?’ We knew then that we wanted it more than them.’ (Greg Searle, Gold, Barcelona Olympics)

In the Barcelona Olympics the Searle brothers trailed the Italians by two lengths at 1250m…with 15 stokes remaining it was still more than a length…rising to the if not now, when? and the if not you, who? challenge…the brothers showed extraordinary courage and determination to overhaul the Italians in the last stroke to win Gold. (Click picture to view the race)

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It is probably true that when it comes to raising achievement (RA) a whatever it takes” mindset and culture is key and Term 4/5 is the engine room of opportunity to ensure that students perform. Where there is a focus on quality first teaching and a balance of being deliberate, precise and rigorous on strategies and approaches that matter… there are no limits to what can be achieved.


This begs the question: How do Academies/schools raise achievement most effectively ahead of summer exams? After all, “If not now, when?” … “If not you, who?”

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” (Malcolm Gladwell)


What if we always kept central that it is quality first teaching that matters? – what students receive every lesson, every day is what raises achievement and this is best achieved through strong, precise and deliberate teaching over time. – This is the “flywheel” (Collins), the “One Thing” (Keller). Keep the main thing, the main thing…

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What if we also understood that RA approaches have much to inform us about everyday teaching, assessment and practices? So that RA is not about a sticking plaster or a bolt-on (panic) approach, but is built into effective progress-focussed teaching across all Year groups.


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What if we realised that urgency is important when raising achievement and that it is crucial that this is communicated to encourage and insist on a move to action for both students and staff? We need to “amplify a need” to secure action that makes the difference.

What if it was the superheroes in our midst that led RA – each teacher, tutor, mentor, leader taking responsibility for RA and believing that anything is possible and being the change and impetus to move students to action? …the deliberate action that enables students to achieve. Blog: Connected Collaboration and Deliberate Altruism

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What if we are very clear about who is responsible for student performance? Class-level responsibility is key to RA – teachers being accountable for students – where there is quality conversation (support and challenge) around what can be achieved with a group of students – teaching becomes more focused on RA.


What if we reward teaching that is outcome-orientated? We value and reward teachers who achieve progress over time; placing more weight on outcomes and progress achieved than performance in observations. And what if we support and reward teaching that is more deliberate and grounded in formative assessment, so that it enables planning to close gaps and secure greater progress. (blog: progress over time)

What if we show a boldness of leadership that reshuffles students, alters groupings and changes staffing to ensure students get the best opportunity to perform? (they only get one shot) And What if where behaviour limits progress teachers and leaders are tenacious and quick to remove this barrier?

What if we fully recognised that Raising Achievement is not about doing more and stacking strategy on strategy … in the push to raise achievement… “not everything matters equally?” (Keller) see Strategic leadership | fanatical discipline and deliberate delivery. We should deliberately seek “marginal gains” (David Brailsford) but resist the temptation just to add strategy on top of strategy – such approaches are high energy, spread impact thinly and are often counter productive.


What if we embedded deliberate practice within teaching and RA? Deliberate Practice occurs when students…

1. …are be motivated and exert effort to improve their performance.

2. …engage in tasks that take into account their pre-existing knowledge.

3. …receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of the results of their performance.

4. …repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.

What if based on sound formative and summative assessment that allowed a deep understanding of what students are able to do and not do we used DTT and DDI to close gaps in understanding?…

  • DTT – Diagnosis, Therapy, Test, Diagnosis, Therapy, Test….
  • DDI – Data Driven Instruction.

What if using DDI allows for greater professional conversation around how to secure concepts with students? Why are there gaps shared by students in their understanding? If we focus on understanding how effective our instruction is then teaching will more quickly RA of students.


What if, like the Oakland As, RA is consistently Data Driven? If we ask the right questions and measure the most important performance indicators (the gaps) we get a sense of impact/performance and we direct teaching, planning and intervention to efficiently and effectively close gaps. See blog: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown. Coyle What if we borrow and use more of Dan Coyle’s ideas on learning and performance? He identifies three important conditions that support learning:

  • Maximise reachfulness in the presence of an expert
  • Embrace the struggle – “You will become clever through your mistakes.”
  • Encourage theft – use feedback and copy others.

Dan Coyle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq0pHpNy6bs (17 mins)

What if RA is based on the assumption that anyone can learn anything? That the physical development of myelin to secure pathways in the brain enables learning – it is practice that counts and that Dweck’s Growth Mindset ideas are central to highlighting what is possible?

“We all have the ability to profoundly change our levels of talent, our level of skill. Where clusters of great talent emerge there has been a culture created where individuals are constantly reaching and repeating, making mistakes, receiving feedback, building better brains, faster more fluent brains…inside the brain myelin acts like insulation on the pathways and connections in the brain – each time we reach and repeat we earn another layer – signal speeds in the brain start to increase from 2 mph to 200 mph – neuro broadband – (or the difference between normal and great).” (Dan Coyle)


What if Mock exams were regular and deliberately delivered, perhaps in this sequence? Quality teaching…Walking Talking Mock…Visualisation/deliberate instruction/preparation…Mock Exam…question-level feedback…moderation…diagnosis…DDI/DDT…deliberate results day…quality first teaching/intervention that precisely closes gaps.

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What if these Mocks are externally marked or moderated? such that a accurate “Actual Performance” is measured? …completed in exam halls, under full exam conditions, with full exam papers? …including all access arrangements?

What if Mock performance precisely informed what is taught and better still how it is taught (DDI)? What if Covey tables or similar identified specifically the gaps and opportunities for marks and that this is owned in subjects and at class-level? (remembering that some marks are easier than others)

What if fine grading was used across all subjects and that the criteria for each fine grade is consistently applied? And what if feedback from each exam provided question-level analysis and specifically directed students to when and how they can close gaps in understanding?

What if parents evenings were also results evenings where students receive results and specific question/area-level feedback on what is known and where the gaps…and how, where and when the gaps can/will be closed?


What if we meticulously had a plan for the seconds, minutes, hours and days prior to am and pm exams – that this tapered preparations, supported students and was consistent, dependable and reassuringly routine?

What if the period before and during the exams was precisely timetabled to make the very best use of the time available, such that quality teaching input existed up to each exam and that lessons and teachers whose courses had completed made an Academy contribution to support the preparation for other exams?

What if we also focused on student well-being, praise and reward? Cohort performance is often linked to cohort ethos and approach, such that there is a collective and wide-held value placed on performing and achieving? This can often be tangible and obvious – where cohorts tip outcomes improve. What approaches can be used to create a sense of belonging, a Year group sense of we are in this together and “your success is also my success?”

What if RA is a whole Academy drive such that a 100 day plan (to… 50 day plans) leading up to and through the summer exams is owned by all? And even better if this is translated into subject plans…that are very specific, deliberate and precise. What if there is a clear focus on the key students that make the difference the “key 34” the “critical 25” the “golden 28”?


Maybe then we would exploit a “whatever it takes” and “if not now, when” mindset that assumes everything is possible and ensures students perform and achieve. That we never let up on improving the quality of teaching as this is the most effective way of raising student achievement of students – what happens in every lesson really matters.

Maybe also we would be precise and deliberate about Raising Achievement, squeezing out the most from the strategies and approaches that matter the most.

…enabling students to perform unusually well.

March 2015

Connected collaboration and deliberate altruism… growing great organisations and systems

Connected collaboration and deliberate altruism… how great organisations grow and coherent education systems improve…

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slide-5-638It is probably true that…for organisations to excel and become great the internal climate needs to support individuals to connect, collaborate and be deliberately altruistic. These indispensable individuals (mavericks, superheroes, connectors, change agents, linchpins, Freds etc.) draw maps, bring Art to work and accelerate organisations toward greatness.

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It is also probably true that this scales to a system leadership level such that great systems grow where deliberate altruism within collaborative networks/multi academy trusts enable clusters of schools to be remarkable; to bring Art to education – lifting-up communities.


Which begs the question: How do we enable change leaders and linchpins across the system (within academies and across clusters of Academies) to connect, collaborate and be deliberately altruistic to deliver world class education?

Perhaps Seth Godin expresses it best: “What happens when you build an organisation (or system) that is flat and open? what happens when you expect a lot and trust the people you work with?” …and what if we create the climate/platform for connection, collaboration and deliberate altruism? … maybe then system leadership has a chance to raise the bar and make education remarkable.

“(when) Schools pull together and share their best ideas, while simultaneously employing peer pressure to achieve more for the sake of all students (and the whole community).” (Hargreaves et al. 2014)


What if there are superheroes in our midsts?… What if we set them free to bring Art to work, to be remarkable, to be heroes who seek connection, who collaborate, who are deliberate, innovative and who altruistically spread ideas that work, because they are close to the action and they are infectious with enthusiasm. Tumblr_mnh27a7WA31rir6lho1_1280 Who are the superheroes?… What if we had more Freds in organisations and across systems? The story goes that Fred was the postman of Mark Sanborn. Fred cared; he cared a lot about providing a service – he did not have to, but he did – he went beyond the call of duty to add real value. Not because he had to, because he wanted to…he was extraordinary and he made Mark Sanborn consider the Fred factor; for which he identifies four principles…

  1. Everyone makes a differencedo we exploit opportunities to make a difference?
  2. Everything is built on relationshipsdo we always invest in relationship building?
  3. You must continually create value for othersdo we lift others up & create value?
  4. You can reinvent yourself regularlydo we take a fresh look and reinvent ourselves?

How many Freds do you know? Organisations that have Freds, add value and are likely to thrive. It is for leaders to create an oasis of Freds within their organisation – and even better if they inspire others to take charge…

“Leaders are only truly in charge when they inspire others to take charge.” (Simon Sinek, 2012)

What if we had more linchpins in organisations and across the system? Those that say…Linchpin_TTb What if we actively recognised, grew and recruited linchpins, These are positive deviants, who engage in “positive deviant practices.” (Heaths) Seth Godin in his Tribes and Linchpin books identifies that these individuals bring Art to work, are creative and are linchpins that link and connect widely. Gladwell would describe them as Connectors. (Tipping Point). 499b343267ee2a7181a9913c4f593c48 What if we allow linchpins to bring Art to work and drive improvement from within? What if we also devolve and push decision making and innovation closer to the action (David Marquet), so that Linchpins and connectors influence others, lead change and release potential to secure improvement? Maybe then change and improvement will have greater stickability, be more effective and more consistently delivered. It is exactly these individuals who “Don’t settle” (Steve Jobs) and consistently reflect and innovate deliberately around the few things that matter. See: Strategic Leadership | fanatical discipline and deliberate delivery. Jobs


What if we enabled and created a platform for these change agents, innovators, linchpins and Freds to do their work…to be given the time and space to energise and accelerate improvement where it matters … near to the action.

“The role of the leader is to enable, facilitate, and cause peers to interact in a focused manner…but still only a minority of systems employ the power of collective capacity.” (Fullan, 2010)

What if leadership within an organisation and across the system created a climate for individuals to thrive, to lead…what if it offered discretion to be creative and innovative? And what if it was less about the leaders at the top and more about enabling and freeing linchpins and Freds to go about making remarkable things happen?

“There are conditions under which people thrive and conditions under which people do not. The culture of an (Academy) is essential…it is organic. If the conditions are right – you give people a different sense of possibilities, a new set of expectations and offer discretion to be creative and innovative…things spring to life…real leaders know that.” Ken Robinson 

And What if leaders sought not to command and control, but to create a climate of possibility that enabled people to rise up, influence and do remarkable things?

“The real role of leadership in education…is not and should not be command and control the real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility…people will rise to it and do things that you did not anticipate and could not have expected.” (Ken Robinson) 

Quotation-Seth-Godin-giving-leadership-work-ideas-people-Meetville-Quotes-228804 What if we developed tribes…

“…groups of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group only needs two things to become a tribe: a shared interest (vision) and a way to connect and communicate.” (Seth Godin)

After all, given freedom we should trust that… f163eaa3b112c76e1f850c9a4ba57189


What if the mode of operation was deliberate altruism. As Adam Grant considers, there are givers, matchers and takers. The takers hold what they have, steal ideas and focus on self-interest. The matchers only give if they receive something of equal value. The givers who give strategically/deliberately, make things happen, they gain far more and they contribute to improvement. We all know takers, matchers and givers. It is interesting that whilst this works on an individual level it is also true at an Academy level. Where Academies give they make a contribution to the system…everyone benefits…in fact more comes back… a-few-quotes-from-its-not-how-good-you-areits-how-good-you-want-to-be-3-728

“There is a crucial difference between the wisdom of openness and the folly of unguarded innocence. (Givers can be the most and the least successful)” (Hargreaves and (Grant))

What if every organisation created the space and supported connected collaboration for individuals to bring art and what if system leaders understood the power of networks…John Kotter provides an excellent diagram of how a great organisation maintains a hierarchical structure with all the necessary line management and accountability whilst enabling connected networks to exploit the linchpins and Freds in the organisation to connect and enabling the organisation to be agile and innovative. If we place a number of hierarchies (academies) around a central network, a network that connected linchpins and Freds across the system, we have the model that connects. If this connection and collaboration is built on deliberate altruism we have the basis for enhancing system leadership and a chance to reshape education. Slide1

Uplifting leadership entails engaging a talented team that values risk and creativity, acknowledges and tolerates honest mistakes, and has members that participate and “play” in interchangeable roles. They inspire each other as leadership emerges throughout the group.” (Hargreaves, 2014)


What if organisations/academies deeply connected and collaborated across networks/clusters of schools and altruistically shared everything such that there was a wide responsibility for system improvement? What if all Principals/Headteachers were system leaders or change agents?

“If as a principal you go it alone, you can only go so far…although it is possible to become a great school despite the system you are in, it is not possible to stay effective if the system is not cultivating greatness in all of its schools…the system matters a great deal.’ (Fullan, 2014)

The best system leaders look out to improve within whilst contributing to the wider system. What if we did not see local schools as competitors? what if there was a greater recognition that the success of other schools increases system success and this is better for everyone? Hargreaves et al.(2014) identifies three powerful combinations of collaboration and competition:

  • Co-opetition: the alliance of opponents achieve greater value together than they can achieve alone.
  • Uplifting federations: that include competitors increase social value for the wider community as well as for each individual organisation.
  • Being on the collaborative edge: enhances motivational value; pushing up performance in the comradely quest to keep innovating and outdo others – in a way that moves everyone up to a higher level.

“There are many strategic benefits…from aligning joint effort, and for combining collective investment for competitive gain. Uplifting leaders know that these (collaboration and competition) are the yin and yang of enduring success.” (Hargreaves, 2014)


Maybe then…Academies will develop greater opportunities and platforms to support individuals to be linchpins, connectors, Freds and change agents. Maybe where the connection and collaboration of these individuals is deep and deliberate altruism dominates, great ideas and approaches will grow from within the organisation.

and Maybe this will…push decision making, innovation, research, development and delivery to the people closest to the action. Perhaps this greater ownership and drive increases consistency and take-up and importantly is better attuned to the needs of students and the Academy. Perhaps this will also allow Academies to be agile enough to stay on the cutting edge … ever closer to creating remarkable approaches that deliver unusual outcomes for students and families.

…and Maybe if we take these ideas and apply them at an Academy level and to Principals as system (uplifting) leaders across networks of schools and multi academy trusts we could transform education. Creating deep connections and collaboration based on deliberate altruism would better allow clusters, trusts and networks to lift up communities and regions….making education remarkable.

Perhaps it is at this level that we require our system leaders (our uplifting leaders) to be superheroes, Freds, connectors and linchpins to take on the responsibility for taking a deliberately altruistic approach to collaboration, creating a remarkable education system…that has a wide and deep impact on communities/regions.

and perhaps there should be greater focus and measure of these qualities and approaches …such approaches are poorly incentivised at present…and yet it offers a remarkable opportunity to grasp and shape education.

Maybe then we will have a coherent system and shift into the top right quadrant where connected collaboration and deliberate altruism dominates… del alt 3 February 2015 | @DrDanNicholls https://twitter.com/DrDanNicholls

Strategic leadership | fanatical discipline and deliberate delivery

bring light

It is probably true that:  When we describe and aim for a preferred future, understand what matters (what has impact) and when we are fanatically disciplined and deliberate in delivering the few (one) things that really matter…we bring new light to what life might be. and achieve unusually well.


So, what if we were better at balancing three things?

  • Our ability, based on the WHY, to describe the future, the destination, the dream? – to set sights on an extraordinary end point?
  • Our understanding of what matters, what makes the difference, what achieves impact?
  • Our fanatical discipline to deliberately focus upon and deliver the One Thing(s) that align with our dream and matter most.

It is at the intersection of these three things that we have the chance to accelerate improvement by:

  • Aligning strategy toward our dream, ambition, destination or preferred future.
  • Focusing on the few areas that have impact (our positive deviant practices)
  • AND maintain the fanatic discipline to deliberately deliver our preferred future.

Slide4

Or we might consider that when we have a focused strategy that aligns to our dream and when we are fanatically disciplined and deliberate in the delivery of the few (one) things that make a difference (have impact) we achieve unusual improvement over time

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What if: We start by finding our organisation’s WHY? and seek to describe a preferred future … maybe then we can point to the destination and follow strategies that align and accelerate towards that dream.

“Inspired leaders, organisations and teams find their deepest purpose – their ‘why?’ – and attract followers through shared values, vision and belief.” “this has the ability to transform the fortunes of a group or enterprise – activating individuals, providing a cultural glue, guiding behaviours and creating an overall sense of purpose and personal connection.” (James Kerr, Legacy, 2013)

the-golden-circle


“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” “All organisations Start with why, but only the great ones keep their why clear year after year.”  (Simon Sinek)

Simon Sinek has been very influential in ensuring that the basis of strategic planning and the focus of work is located around the moral purpose – the why. His golden circle has framed an approach, language and strategic focus. Sinek identifies that human motivation is emotionally linked, meaning that when people start with why (the moral purpose) this secures early emotional buy in. Just as Martin Luther King composed the “I have a dream” speech and described the future and not the “I have a plan…first we…” speech (taken from Sinek), school leaders have a responsibility to describe the desired future or destination.

Emotional connection is also crucial:

“People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking, than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.” (Kotter)

Question: How far have you/your organisation identified the WHY – how well is the moral purpose communicated/shared? How often is it articulated? is it taken for granted? is it a comfort blanket or even an excuse when improvement is slow?


What if: we then used the WHY to describe a preferred future (a dream) and ensure that urgency is in the system to drive toward the end?

John West-Burnham highlights the importance of describing a preferred future.

“Successful and credible leaders are able to tell compelling and credible stories about the future – they are leaders to the extent that people accept and value the future they describe. – In the 1970s Shell developed an approach that required identification of preferred scenarios…that are essentially descriptions of a preferred future.” (John West-Burnham, 2012)

If leaders create compelling stories of the future (a dream), attach meaning to them and embed the why, they have the chance of connecting peers with purpose (Fullan). Such ownership allows change and strategic improvement to be owned at a greater depth within the organisation. Tim Brighouse describes how schools are on journeys and that the best schools ask where they want to be and take small steps on a journey toward that goal.

“What we can do and what the best schools do already – is ask where they would like to be in five years time and what steps they will take to get there” … ” the best schools accumulate these small steps and describe themselves as being on a journey.” (Tim Brighouse)


What if: we ensured that there is an appropriate level of urgency in the system.

There is little point in having a compelling dream unless there is in-built urgency (often beyond that provided by the WHY). John Kotter uses the word urgency to emphasize the need for a heightened sense of focus, readiness to act and determination.

Kotter’s urgency describes the force that is released when people feel a quest, a purpose, that their work is meaningful and has a greater purpose than themselves. It is not to be confused with panic or knee-jerk leadership that is reactionary. This is the type of urgency that inspires and moves people to action.

Great leaders understand that generating and highlighting urgency is important as it creates forward motion.

(Jim Collins)

Great organisation often need to generate urgency. For Academies, a poor set of results or pending Ofsted, for example, should not be the driver for the required urgency…neither should it be knee-jerk, reactionary responses to temporal problems or transient political directives. Great organisations are naturally urgent – the moral purpose is deep, the preferred future is compelling, the strategic focus aligns to the need to improve – there is a deliberate and discipline pursuit of what matters. It is this that generates and embeds the urgency in the system.

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough-time.” (Leonard Bernstein)

Ken Segall, in Insanely Simple (2012): “Though it may defy logic, the easiest way to screw up a project is to give it too much time – enough time for people to rethink, revise, have second thoughts, invite others into the project, get more opinions, conduct tests, etc…you invite overthinking…only when people are kept in constant motion do they stay focused with the right kind of intensity…keeping the team in motion is what gets you there.” (describing project management at Apple)


What if: Based on the why, the described future and the built in urgency…we are able to focus down to the one Thing(s)? based on what matters and what makes a difference – those positively deviant, hedgehog ideas and core practices that have impact?

“What is the ONE THING that you need to do, such that by doing it, everything else is either easier or not required.” (Gary Keller, The One Thing)

…because not everything matters equally.

How often do we ask this question? based on where we need to get to what do we need to do in a years time, a months time, next week, tomorrow….what is the one thing that needs to happen now, such that everything else is easier or not required? Keller describes that if we are to tip our preferred future (dream) domino then we need to set a series of dominoes back to the present…the job then is to realise the one thing that now has to happen to tip the very first domino that is uniquely aligned to the dream future.

The One Thing needs to also have further qualities:

  1. It needs to have impact (more than any other strategy/focus) – be a positive deviant – and this requires measurement of impact and deep questioning.
    • In all that we do there are things that have real impact, things that appear to have impact (but are proxies) and things that have limited impact. Finding the one thing that really makes a difference requires evaluation and measurement. The aim is to identify the positively deviant practices, often referred to as bright spots (Heaths). Beware fads, trends, promising innovation or popular approaches – it is impact that counts – things do not matter equally.
    • Our perception of what is possible is obstructed by historic assumptions about what is possible – they stop us considering game-changing innovations. Clever questioning has the ability to unlock possibilities and the true impact of approaches (Barber).
  2. It needs to be what you have to be the best in the world at (hedgehog concept).
    • The hedgehog concept represents the intersect of three circles: what you can be (need to be) the best in the world at, what you are deeply passionate about and what best drives your improvement/outcomes (Collins). Just like a hedgehog is excellent at One Thing (rolling into a ball for protection) – the key to success often lies in the ability to be the best in the world at one thing – it is amazing how this makes you better at other stuff and how wide the influence of this one thing travels.
  3. It is absolutely at the core of what you/your organisation is about. – aligned to the dream and reflects the brutal truth of your present performance.
    • “have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (Collins)
  4. It needs to be sticky and timeless. This is Collin’s Fly-wheel.
    • Success and improvement resembles relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond. This is not temporal innovation or reaction this is a systemic focus on the thing that matters most.

Of course the key is to simplify to those strategies that matter most … it is unlikely to be one thing…but it might be three things that matter (not 20) and these need to be sticky, and aligned to the dream. Great organisations KISS (keep it simple stupid).

“Simplicity is power, whether it’s used by individuals or organisations. The question is, do you have the insight and skills to turn this power into your own advantage?” Ken Segall (2012)


What if:  we are fanatically focused on deliberately delivering the thing(s) that matters.

Delivery never sleeps.” (Barber)

Collins writes, “discipline, in essence, is consistency of action – consistency with values (why), consistency of method, consistency over time. True discipline requires the independence of mind to reject pressures to conform in ways incompatible with values, performance standards and long term aspirations (dream). …having the inner strength to do what ever it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult.” (Collins)

Great organisations balance this unswerving fanatical focus on delivery with an agility that enables innovation around what counts. This is not about jumping, adopting new ideas, this is about being the best in the world at what matters most. Kotter identifies the need to balance the hierarchy required in great organisations to turn the flywheel with the agility to to free individuals to connect and innovate around what counts (below). Firing bullets before cannonballs (Collins). And there in lies the contradiction – to be great you focus on the things that really matter, that are sticky, that are timeless – whilst maintaining the innovative agility necessary to stay ahead, to be leading edge, to path find.

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Maybe then: more organisations would be strategically led through:

  • A strong WHY and moral purpose – communicated and compelling.
  • A clear DREAM of the future described at 1 month, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years …2040?
  • An URGENCY that is embedded in the organisation from a deep moral purpose, the compelling preferred future and the aligned deliberate strategic focus.
  • A clarity down to the ONE THING(S) that matter, that have impact – the positive deviant practices, the hedgehog, that address the brutal truth and are sticky and timeless.
  • A FANATIC DISCIPLINE to deliberately deliver the few things that matter. Such that change is sticky.
  • An AGILITY that allows the organisation to innovate in these core things that matter. Firing bullets before cannonballs.

And Finally: none of the above sustains improvement or change unless…

“our actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.” (J.Q. Adams)

and 

“Leaders inspire others to take charge … they guide us through the journey.” (adapted, Simon Sinek)

and

“leaders create the choice architecture in an organisation to free individuals, to lead the way to the preferred future (dream). Building on a foundation of strong values and principles,  a compelling purpose, great capacity is released to do something great.” (adapted, Seth Godin)

Creating the conditions for over-performance

cowell

“The truth is that only a tiny fraction of people get lucky.” (Gove, 2013)

Simon Cowell said: “I didn’t work hard when I was at school. I left at 16 and I didn’t have any qualifications. I was useless. The secret is to be useless at school and then get lucky.” Gove responded: “This is an irresponsible and stupid thing to say. Teachers strive every day to ensure children understand the importance of learning, hard work and discipline. Simon Cowell’s comments undermine their efforts. The truth is that only a tiny fraction of people get lucky.”

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ he describes the importance of opportunity and circumstance in becoming successful, “Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” (Gladwell)  – the contrast with Cowell is that opportunity is one part of the success equation. Opportunity is nothing without Grit or the “persistence, doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.” (Gadwell)

A short insight into outliers, 10,000 hours and what makes people successful is provided in this interview of Gladwell: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz4hPbHIZ6Y – it ends with Gladwell urging, “society to build institutions that provide opportunities to work hard.” …it is opportunity that is seized that creates success not chance or luck or talent alone.

David Beckham provides an excellent example. Whilst at Man Utd Under 15 Academy, he spent every school holiday in Manchester. Like many other successful individuals Beckham had four things, opportunity, competition from like-minded individuals, GRIT and deliberate practice…he writes:

The incredible thing about that generation of lads, who came into the youth team (1. opportunity) with me in 1991, is that they were committed to hard training, as I ever was. We couldn’t get enough of it. Gary and Phil Neville had a Dad whose basic motto was ‘give everything and you will reap the rewards.’ At the end of practice, while most of the older lads were sitting in the canteen with their feet up, Gary was still pounding the ball against the wall… I already had a strong work ethic because of my family background (rise review – background counts four times more than school attended)Practice was like second nature. But with these guys (the Nevilles, Giggsy, Nicky Butt, Scholsey) (2. competition from like-minded individuals) I knew I had to take it to another level, to put in the extra shifts, to leave nothing to chance. We had to show commitment like never before…and that is exactly what we did. (3. GRIT)”…The more we practiced the better we became. Soon we were overtaking the older boys who were realising, a little to late, that they had taken things to easy…It wasn’t just the quantity of practice, it was the incredible focus on quality. (4. deliberative practice)” (David Beckham, 2013)

Even with opportunity, only effort and commitment over time (GRIT) combined with practice that is …”intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious.”  (Malcolm Gladwell) … will allow individuals to succeed, to become over-performers based on their context and background and to be outliers.

Creating these conditions will allow individuals (and groups) to over-perform and become Outliers;

  1. Opportunity (getting teaching and learning right – teaching that is… intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious?
  2. Competition from like-minded individuals (Peer groups, ethos, language, aspiration, pastoral support, House system?) – growing an epidemic of strong work ethic.
  3. GRIT (an ethos of possibility for all through effort) Outliers focus on long term goals, ignoring short-term distractions. – they are unswervingly future-focused.
  4. Deliberative practise approach… learn-revise-test-feedback-learn…marginal gains increasingly creating outliers compared to starting points.

bell curve

Whilst in the world of celebrity the role of luck maybe high; we live in a world that requires a series of conditions to exist and an attitude and approach that enables individuals to succeed. Education and schools are increasingly providing, supporting and developing these enabling conditions and opportunity … indeed we cannot afford not to secure over-performance, to buck-the-trend and to create the conditions that increase the occurrence  of OUTLIERS.

“To build a better education system we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks, context and arbitrary advantages that determine success…with a system that provides opportunities and the conditions for all to feel success.” (Malcolm Gladwell, adapted)