Elevate and Float: Roger Brown on Dealing with Disruption

This week, we had the privilege of leading a deep dive workshop with approximately 75 heads of school at AISNE’s Heads Retreat. The setting (Cape Cod) was restful and AISNE staged a wonderful two day retreat that offered real time for reflection, structured work, and organic conversations.

We loved every minute of our work with Heads, and we also loved listening to AISNE’s other guest speaker. He was funny, warm, and he captured beautifully our belief that great leadership and strategy is all about making clear choices about what to do and what not to do.

Roger Brown is President of the wonderful Berklee College of Music. He offered a great framework for thinking about how to deal with disruption. As a school, Berklee has a very clear lane: it prepares students to perform, create, produce, and work in an industry that has been radically disrupted: music. One word? Spotify.  Brown shared the data and it was clear: in the last decade, Berklee has had no choice other than to get in front of the change.

He framed the challenge beautifully:

Roger Brown’s Insights

Roger Brown’s Insights

First - getting to the mountaintop - or in other words: be the best. Berklee made four key choices:

  1. Build contemporary curriculum and majors - so students can focus on real world, relevant learning that translates to professional opportunities.

  2. Launch institutes for elite performers - so a small population can be served powerfully in an area of core capability (Jazz) - and Berklee leverages their brand.

  3. Form partnerships of excellence - in which students from Brown, Harvard, and MIT (not a bad peer group) take classes at Berklee with a focus on music as a pathway to leadership and entrepreneurship

  4. Construct facilities that matter - Roger was clear - no arms race, no extra bells and whistles, just a facility that offers what student need most for powerful learning in both NYC and Boston.

Second - building the ark - or in other words: doing what no one else does.  Brown highlighted three key choices:

  1. Build a serious online learning platform - the impact is stunning: between 2002 and 2018 more than 22 million students took a Berklee MOOC - and more than 30% have converted to a fee based certification or degree program. WOW!

  2. Go global - where the field is open! Berklee has satellite presences all around the world where students have access to a Berklee education locally and at a lower cost -- if they thrive in the first two years, they can complete their degree in Boston - with an overall less expensive tuition structure.

  3. YOUTUBE - that’s right - Berklee has leveraged the power of social media and digital content to showcase their talented students and draw in prospective students (cultivating aspiring artists as early as twelve years old).

It might be tempting to dismiss some of this as not relevant to a k-12 model of learning, but I’m not so sure.  The big, overarching lesson here is that whatever you do (and are particularly good at) you must then think creatively and courageously about how to leverage those capacities to truly meet students where they are - inside your school and outside your school. Elevate and float.