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.

Return to Preikestolen (Musings on Vision and Strategy)

Stephanie Rogen -- August 13, 2018

If you’ve read Creating Schools That Thrive (and if not, please do!) you may recall my story of hiking Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen), Norway in March, 2009.  The story of the hike became my metaphor for strategic design -- for distilling the language of strategy and helping clients make sense of the process to design and execute strategy.

We hiked it again last week - I’m nine years older (and 15 lbs heavier) and as I began the climb I wondered what would be different.  As it turned out -- everything! It was sunny and hot rather than cold and rainy. The crowds were overwhelming thanks to Tom Cruise, whose 6th Mission Impossible installment brought new attention to this spectacular cliff high above the fjord. And trail conditions had improved (perhaps to aid the film crews?).  But it was still a steep, rocky climb 2.5 miles up and 2.5 miles down.

As I hiked, I couldn’t help but recall my strategy metaphor. There is something about a hike like this -- the focused, steady process of choosing each foothold, the serene beauty of sky and rock, the wildflowers and willowy birches,  and the jaw dropping surprises of each new vista --- that stimulate deep reflection. Our family’s vision and values held -- to reach the glorious summit safely and together -- but our mission had changed a bit. This hike was grounded in a new challenge and question -- how would the experience be different this time? How could we introduce our newest family members -- all under age 10 -- to the joy?

In response, I offer here a few new insights -- consider this an addendum to Creating Schools that Thrive!

Vision may be more enduring than mission: Does this surprise you? It was a bit of an a-ha for me! I think schools take for granted that mission never changes but the truth is, in real strategy work mission can change more often than vision. Think of it this way - your vision may be to eradicate world hunger. That’s a big, audacious vision -- one that puts you out of business if you achieve it.  Your mission is likely to change more frequently -- you may start with a mission to provide food to a local population via a food pantry. You may evolve to a mission of building community gardens with your pantry as distribution, and you may then evolve to a mission that scales your pantry and garden model -- your core purpose and the strategy to deliver adapts -- but your vision holds.

Schools might benefit by thinking this way. Most schools should have a vision that endures and sustains -- and might, for example, foresee a world where your brand of education has transformed lives and produced lifelong learners who thrive and contribute.  But purpose changes --- as the conditions and needs of the world change and as you, as an organization, change - and your mission will clarify the what and how of your brand.  So recall my advice to “back into your mission” --- as you move through the design and execution of strategy your new purpose will come into sight!

If it isn’t daunting  or scary it’s probably not much of a vision: I was out of my comfort zone hiking this time. Last time I was too, but this time I actually knew how hard it would be and I wondered about my stamina (and my weak ankles). The truth is, a worthwhile vision pushes you to do what you may not be so sure you know how to do -- and it calls upon you to find capacity, to learn, and to adapt as you engage in the process. I had to test myself continuously, push through the mental and physical discomfort, and try things in order to see what worked. Nowhere was this more clear than in my attempts to scramble up and down the rocky faces of the mountainside -- never entirely sure of how well  my feet would work!

Keep your eyes up and keep your eyes down: Sort of like the balcony-dance floor metaphor that Ron Heifetz uses, the truth is you can’t hike to Pulpit Rock unless you manage to both perspectives.  I needed to see both where I was headed -- and anticipate 2-3 steps head -- as I looked down to ensure I was placing my feet where they would be stable and allow me to proceed. My husband, a naval aviator,  calls this “situational awareness” -- the ability to operate step-by-step as you take into account all the factors that surround you. It takes focus, attention, and agility -- expect to be tired! But also expect great rewards as you celebrate the success and beautiful vistas along the way.

When you can build momentum, go for it: There were moments on the hike when I could move quickly and with confidence because the conditions were just right. We were on a time push as we headed down to catch the last ferry -- so when the landscape was right, I took a chance and really moved.  I didn’t want to be the old lady who slowed us down -- and these moments allowed me flexibility when I really needed to take care. They also filled me with confidence and kept my energy up. When we execute on strategy, as a leader or a team, momentum can buoy spirits, capture much needed time, and accelerate learning. Don’t squander these moments.

If you get stuck, don’t stop longer than you need to get help: Getting stuck is often where strategy goes awry -- you hit an obstacle and quit altogether -- or maybe you revert to the old way of working.  Resist this. On a hike chances are you have to overcome or you won’t get home -- but in the day to day life of organizations people quit or regress all the time. This disruption to momentum is one of the biggest threats to success -- so push yourself to find solutions, engage others, and get the help you need to move forward on your path.  More than once on my hike, I received a helping hand in spots where I could not see the way alone.

Let children lead the way:  This last insight may be the most important. Chances are, children are a lot more agile, open, and courageous as you move forward on your journey. I watched our young cousins, ages 3, 6, and 9 literally jump like rabbits from rock to rock, often barefoot.  My fear for them was less about their capabilities and more about my own discomfort. As I saw what they could do I relaxed. And I realized they had much to teach me about how to scale Preikestolen. Our students can do the same if we let them lead.

Taking Our Own Advice!

You know the joke about the carpenter's house never being finished or the doctor who doesn't follow her own advice? Last month, in a flurry of work and new engagements, I realized we had the same issue at GLP as the carpenter has with his partially built home. So - in the midst of the heaviest work schedule this year - I called for a one day retreat with the team and planned it much in the same way we would with our clients.  

To be clear, I was feeling simultaneously excited and anxious about all the possibilities before us. I wanted to ensure the best work in current projects and maybe dive into some new opportunities -- but realized that to make good decisions we first needed to be more strategic about what we would do, why we do it, and how we would execute well.  I knew I needed to get out of my own head and into a dialogue with the team -- that the best answers laid beyond me. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what many leaders express when they call us for the first time. There may be a particular issue that sparks the need, but in every case our clients want to slow down, think strategically, and immerse themselves in productive dialogue with their colleagues, their boards and their communities.

What did we do? We went back to basics and created our own one page strategy draft.  Our values had never been precisely articulated so we started there.  A brainstorm on the whiteboard was the most satisfying moment of the day for me -- we converged quickly and without dissent on our five values  -- in all of ten minutes!

Here’s what we came up with:

  • People First

  • Joy Matters

  • Learn Always

  • Flexibility

  • Beautiful Work

We moved from there to our mission and vision -- and recognized that success goes something like this:  

GLP will be nationally known as the trusted partner, expert, and coach for educational and mission based organizations who want to build capacity, learn, and thrive in the face of change.

And we covered a lot more. We talked about the challenges our clients are facing and where we feel we added the greatest value. We talked about our own learning and growth, and how that happens in our work with our clients.  We pushed ourselves to make four targeted and specific choices about where we would focus our energies in the upcoming year: by 2pm we felt like we had just gotten a fresh (or refreshed) start.

Best of all, we scheduled quarterly retreats -- because we know this work never stops.  It was time to take our own advice