Professional Learning

Think (and Meet People) Outside Your Box: Taking Education Beyond Your Comfort Zone

May 9, 2006

I'm a firm believer that new ideas and innovations result from networking with people outside of your normal social and professional circles. I've found they offer new ways of envisioning the possibilities. Educators too often overlook the power of networking. We tend to frequent the same conferences (technology advocates go to NECC, principals go to NAESP or NASSP, staff developers go to NSDC, and so on). We network and hang out with people who think like us, year in and year out.

Once you start networking, you will be exposed to new ideas that will push you outside the box. However, taking an idea and shaping it into something that will work in a classroom or a school, and will be sustainable over time -- with changes in funding, leadership, policies, and so on -- is the challenge for many of the innovative school programs that spring up, and later wither because of change in leadership, direction, or whatever.

To reinvent schools for the twenty-first century, we need to take an entrepreneurial approach. I recently read "To Build Up Innovation, Break Down Your Networks" in Fast Company magazine. It offers some food for thought about change, opportunity, leadership, and strategies for school change. The author, Chris Trimble, is on the faculty of the Business School at Dartmouth College, with expertise in strategic innovation.

Here are some snippets from the article, which I found intriguing. Read the article and let me know what you think:

"Creating new networks is the only way for an organization to push innovation past the idea stage."

"Entrepreneurs believe in the power of networking. Many are very good at it. They become good because they recognize that most people with interesting notions usually only have one piece of a puzzle. Often unexpected combinations of ideas, or chance meetings of people with complimentary perspectives, ignite genuine breakthroughs."

"Too many innovation initiatives run amok because we celebrate ideas too much and understand execution too little."

"While enriching existing networks accelerates idea generation, breaking existing networks is often required to convert vision to reality... Breaking networks is the only way to prepare an organization to take innovation efforts beyond mere ideas."

"Managers are trained to operate through formal organizational structures, policies, and processes. This is effective for making a proven business ever more efficient, but not for driving innovation."

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