Adaptability Project, Day 11

As we begin Week Three of the Adaptability Project’s summer seminar, we are moving into the “process” phase. The “process” that we usually talk about at George School is Quaker process. But this innovation lab that we call the Adaptability Project is also an experiment is moving with agility. Can we find a way to get our proposals approved that doesn’t take two years?

To learn more about how this works at other schools, we Skyped today with the senior leadership team from the Kiski School. They have a successful “task force” system for creating proposals to solve challenges that they face, and, compared to us, they move fairly quickly. As I sat and listened to their stories, it occurred to me that they embody several qualities that Rita Gunther McGrath names in The End of Competitive Advantage. For them, “innovation is an ongoing, systematic process,” not “episodic.” And for them, it is enough to be “fast and roughly right” because they know that decisions that they make will be evaluated and then improved via an iterative process. They aren’t afraid to try something for a couple of years and then declare it a failure, either.

The question that is eating at me is whether our innovation process, which is clearly what McGrath would call “episodic,” can be approved quickly through a “fast and roughly right” mindset if that is not what we are used to. We are going to ask our faculty to embrace “fast and roughly right” instead of our usual “precise but slow” process. Will they go for it? Can we let go a little bit and embrace the uncertainty that comes from acting with deftness? I’ve been making the case to my fellow members of the Adaptability Project group that in order to find success with some aspects of an innovative culture, we need to try to exhibit all of them. Some other qualities from McGrath’s playbook that I think we could use would be: “Intelligent failures encouraged [. . .] Experimental orientation [. . .] Broader constituencies involved in strategy process, with diverse inputs.” That last one, by the way, is one of the reasons that I keep on blogging about the project.

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