Advice to Learning Oranizations: Be Yourself and More of that Self

What does a school, University or learning organization need do to grow and thrive in the future of education? Follow my blog enough and you will read a dozen answers to that, but here is one that you haven’t heard from me before. We need learning organizations that are “all in” on being themselves, but the best and most distinct version of that self. This is not advice to ignore all promising trends and emerging practices. There are times to embrace and assimilate new practices, but there are also times to kindly pass on a trend because it is not you.

I realize that some people will misread that first paragraph, thinking that this is an invitation for the Sweet Briar Colleges of the world to refuse any changes that might give them a fighting chance to survive and even thrive, but it isn’t that. In my consulting, visiting and learning from different organizations; it has become clearer to me when an organization really knows itself. This is because a person who really knows himself or herself tends to have this interesting blend of rigidity and a willingness to explore the possibilities. It allows one to explore the other with this delightful dispassionate curiosity. You can even experiment and explore with new options while staying grounded in who you are, your core values and identity. It might baffle some and frustrate others, but it makes sense to you and you stay the course.

Those organizations that do not have a strong sense of their collective identity are the ones that either blow in the wind or stand firm, fists clenched, like a stubborn child standing between a tornado and his beloved sandbox. The wind blowers float from one trend to another, hoping they can stay in the air longer or maybe soar above all the others. The stubborn children clings to traditions, practices and policies with religious fervor, ready to close their doors for good instead of making the slightest adjustments. Or, they remain unchanging, striving to convince themselves and others about how all the changes around them are over-stated, over-rated, and unworthy of our serious attention or consideration. “Ahh. That isn’t a tornado! That is just a strong wind.” Often enough, they throw some strong moral language, righteous anger or intellectual disgust into their statements, just enough to add some extra resolve and derogate the other. To add some humility to what I’m writing, allow me to confess that I’ve been the wind blower and the stubborn child, but I still hold up this ideal of the organization that knows itself and holds to that even as it moves into the future.

Maybe this is why I’m drawn to organizations with a distinct flavor. There is no guarantee that people will always favor their flavor, but scanning the contemporary educational landscape, it is a pretty good bet that building on your distinctions is a solid strategy. This is not about resisting change. It is about being who you are and even more of that self. It is about knowing the innovations that amplify, clarify and extend your core identity and values. What this means and looks like with vary by organization, but distinct organizations that know themselves have a way of drawing a following of people who value that identity and share the same values.