Frans Johansson held a rapt audience during his keynote on Thursday, rolling through a visual, levity-laden autobiography which ended with him being right here at #NAISAC with us. Drawing from his writing in The Medici Effect (Harvard Business School Press, 2004) and The Click Moment (Penguin Portfolio, 2012), Johansson began with an emphasis on diversity as a birthplace for innovation. He asserted that we have the best chance of breaking new ground when we embrace and bring together divergent teams, yet “we tend to think that deep expertise is the key to success.” The #medicieffect centers on the history of a sponsored, highly-creative group of individuals living in Florence who were brought together from everywhere and from every walk of expertise, education, and training; this ignited the Renaissance. (N.B. At this point, I am hooked! This speaker has managed to bring together history, art, collaboration, innovation, and it only gets better from here!)
Johansson highlighted five key actions to “unleash [our own/our school’s] creativity around diversity,” stemming from this idea:
- Always look for opportunities to change the rules of the game
- Draw inspiration from fields and people/teams that are different from your own
- Create diverse teams
- Place more bets; try more ideas
- Try small; then, double down on work
Unpacking each one of these, Johansson made it clear that we need to think outside of the box, perhaps even further than that -- outside of the house and beyond our trusted, like-minded colleagues. Bringing diverse perspectives to the table or the conversation often leads to an outstanding outcome, one you (perhaps) never would have generated on your own. I love this idea! When I returned from NAIS School Leadership Institute in 2017, we’d done an exercise that aligned beautifully with Johansson’s thesis here. #NAISSLI faculty @thomas_e_taylor, Upper School Division Director at Breck School and @philrg1970 Head of School at Mid-Peninsula High School, asked us to consider a challenge or problem to be solved within our school community. We shared in exercises around problem solving with diverse teams and adding others' perspectives to enhance your own understanding and generate solutions. One of these tied directly into all five of Johansson's action items - we literally wrote one solution per one Post-It. I remember Thomas Taylor boldly encouraging us to ignore budget, structure, tradition, bias, worry, etc.! The room was full of school leaders literally flipping madly through piles of Post-Its and generating ideas. Had Johansson been there, I bet he would have said -- if we each made 40 bold ideas, there was certain to be at least 1 good one in bunch.
Extending this further -- What if we took a problem, dilemma, or challenge facing the school -- student discipline issues, traffic flow, a concerning enrollment trend, lack of playground space for kindergarten, AP testing, etc. -- consider each challenge and who you’d be naturally inclined to bring to the table for a discussion. That might be an indicator of your own implicit bias or perhaps just a habit. What if, instead of that team, you brought divergent minds and different perspectives to solve the problem. Imagine your CFO, an 11th grade English Teacher, the Director of EdTech, an Elementary Art Teacher, and the School Psychologist coming together to tackle campus traffic flow. The ideas you’d generate would likely be fascinating and would certainly be outside the box. Who knows - those minds might have the solution you’ve been searching for as a team of senior administrators.
Johansson reminded the audience that “all new ideas are combinations of other ideas.” If we bring the same teams together consistently, many of whom have similar vantages and dispositions to our own, we will sit in an echo chamber of school governance and operations. I have tried the exercise above a few times around professional development in my community, and I have been intrigued and inspired by the widely differing ideas that we produced - even those that were iterations of things we’d done or tried before. There’s an adrenaline produced in this type of collaboration. So, let’s go back to school next week and cultivate our own #medicieffect - bring folks together and let the diversity of ideation and community unleash your creativity! Who knows what we’ll come up with next?