This piece by Nilofer Merchant is more about business, but I think the translation to education is pretty obvious and relevant.
We must recognize that we are always a product of what we’ve done and who we aspire to be. It is not enough to lead our current businesses; we must also lead our future businesses. Over the past dozen or so years, I’ve learned that to do this, the best leaders do five key things well:
- Master unlearning. One of the most difficult tasks for corporate innovators is to learn how to unlearn the legacy business models they have perfected. Often, maybe even always, companies take the standards they have for their current business and use that to measure the new model. Start unlearning by explicitly recognizing that these metrics or assumptions are from the past and not necessarily useful for the future.
- Augment expertise. The knowledge you need for future growth may not exist inside your firm’s walls. You can augment — but not skip — the internal learning process. If you’re investing in a new project and the options look like this: (a) 10 months by doing it alone, or (b) six months with an additional $200K in outside expertise, or © outsource it entirely, choose (b). Knowledge can be conveyed, but wisdom is only earned by the experience of trying.
- Pilot, invest, experiment. Obviously you won’t get “the new thing” right the first time. Peter Sims talks of this as “little bets.” It’s okay to invest in something you know is going to fail. It’s the equivalent of letting kids explore. This is part of unlearning, saying, “Our goal is X, we tried Q, we learned K so our next pilot should be T.” The iterations take time, but it is a “go slow to go fast” play.
- Reward learning and cooperation. Peg people’s bonuses to the new projects. Here’s how one compensation model I worked on said it: “Base pay covers the core business; of course we need to do that right to keep the core engine working, but bonuses cover the new ideas and unlearning, which will require us to stretch our minds/hearts/abilities.” And regardless of anyone’s focus area, everyone gets bonuses on the shared new area of growth. This doesn’t eliminate but greatly reduces potential checkmate behavior within the company that can block change.
- Know your aspiration. You cannot find a second market without having a vision of who you serve and why. This doesn’t mean you can see into the future; it means you’ve committed to a process of discerning which unique abilities you have now, and which you’ll need to win a decade from now. Apple ended up not defining itself by its hardware or software expertise but by its design point of view.