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09/28/2013

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Getting better at getting better

Seeking initiative and innovation? Reward Failure! ‘Sometimes we just have to take the leap and build our wings on the way down’. If you want to increase initiative and innovation, you have to encourage and embrace failure. A culture that punishes less-thanideal risk-related outcomes will stifle both initiative and innovation. However, with every professional risk must come professional reflection and learning. Risk-taking without learning is insanity. Prevailing in the face of intense competition and external pressures requires organisations to be nimble and innovative. A school judged as being outstanding by OFSTED essentially has two simple choices:  We continue to do what we have been doing and try to get even better at doing it or  We agree, as an organisation, to continually question what we do, how we do it and why we do it. We seek to change and transform. An innovative and high-initiative culture helps an organisation respond better to its client’s needs. It can better exploit opportunities, embed new initiatives more quickly and more
Communities of Inquiry

often capture first-mover advantage. An organisation that is genuinely seeking to increase risk-capacity should be looking to ask 3 key questions: o Organisational Culture How, if at all, has the risktaking culture changed in our organisation over the last few years? o Risk Hesitancy - What is our primary source of hesitation when it comes to taking professional, workrelated risks? o Risk Catalysts - What would make us more comfortable taking thoughtful, well-considered professional, work-related risks? The implications of failure and a lack of support and perceived permission are the two main sources of hesitation when it comes to individuals taking professional, work-related risks. The great majority of staff, within many schools, would acknowledge that they were being encouraged to take more risks. However, the gap between the encouragement of risk-taking and the actual process of risk-taking and professional learning is often vast in many organisations. A professional culture will never change, especially with regard to risk-taking and innovation, simply as a result of a leader explicitly
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Getting better at getting better

stating ‘I want you to take risks’! A change in professional culture requires a change in mindset. Individuals who take thoughtful, well-considered risks have to be lauded, regardless of the outcome of the risk. If you want to increase initiative and innovation, you have to encourage and embrace failure. A culture that punishes less-than-ideal riskrelated outcomes will stifle both initiative and innovation. Increasing the level of effective risk-taking, initiative and innovation in an organisation is not a short-term process. Risk inclination and risk tolerance are core elements of an organisation's culture. It is part of what defines the organisation. But it can be gradually changed by developing thoughtful and structured processes for professional development, built around three key steps ….. Action (taking a risk), Reflection (Collaborative questioning) and Learning (identifying professional learning). It is important that an organisation is consistent in developing these professional learning processes. Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to take a calculated risk - and to act. ‘Why not go out on a limb ….. isn’t that where the best fruits are?’.
Communities of Inquiry

If you are questioning the value of a culture that encourages risktaking as a path to success, consider this statement by Scott Bedbury as reported in Newsweek. Bedbury was head of advertising at Nike for seven years in the 1990s. He says the key to Nike's success is its willingness to embrace "a culture of screw-ups. It really does learn from its mistakes." An insightful comment about Nike - one of the most successful and innovative companies of our time. ‘I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.’ The most successful organisations, globally, are those that are continually looking to get better at getting better. These organisations have five principles in common ….. five elements that they use to hold themselves accountable. Each of these principles or characteristics impact on the risk-taking capacity of an individual or the organisation as a whole: □ Synergy – An organisational agreement and understanding about the certainties of outstanding professional practice. □ Deep learning systems – engaging all staff in systems that result in deep professional learning. These systems will, inevitably, involve action
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Getting better at getting better

learning and effective professional reflection. □ Professional Mastery – Each individual being fully aware of their own professional practice and taking responsibility for further improvement. □ Professional learning communities – the creation of new understanding and professional knowledge that arise as a result of collaboration □ Emotional intelligence – the attitude of each individual within the organisation and how this attitude is demonstrated in professional behaviours.

Organisations should be continually seeking to increase the levels of professional transparency and trust. There should be a desire to increase transparency that exists between individuals, between teams, across the whole organisation and with the community beyond. Professional risk-taking (action), open dialogue around the risk and deep, structured reflection should be part of the process for transparency and openness. Risk-taking must not become a solitary action, carried out in isolation and secrecy, simply because someone has said ‘I want you to start taking risks’.

Perhaps it is a time for a change in language. We continually talk about ‘risk’ and ‘risk-taking’ which, in itself, may cause anxiety and degrees of negative stress within individuals. Surely what is needed is innovation. Every organisation, however successful, needs its people to be innovative, to try new things, to ‘have a go’. However, if an organisation values innovation, it will need more than just new ideas, freshly minted teams, and leadership pep talks. It will need to establish the kind of culture that is conducive to sustainable innovation — one that enables innovation to become part of a school's DNA, rather than being yet another "flavour of the month." Creating this kind of breakthrough-friendly culture is not accomplished overnight, but will happen more rapidly if everyone is on-board, operates with a growth mind-set and demonstrates the appropriate attitudes and professional behaviours to help them create a deeper awareness of the whole organisation and its needs. What must your organisation do to accelerate the process? ‘Progress always involves risks. You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first.’ A final thought …….. When an organisation aims at becoming more effective, individuals and teams create elaborate mental models of how things are
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Communities of Inquiry

Getting better at getting better

supposed to work, sometimes referred to as a paradigm. Leaders, managers and staff create conceptions, and then create and organise systems so that their organisation can match those preconceived notions. This is, in fact, what most people are taught in one way or the other from their earliest exposure to formal education all the way through post-secondary institutions, and beyond. But this is not necessarily effective because we rarely aim to achieve the overall desired effects within our total environment. Why is this? Simply because, what we conceive about our own classroom is not sufficient to fully understand all the effects that are actually happening in and around our school and, indeed, beyond. We are completely unable to perceive all of the dynamics of our environment because our conception limits our perception. Our intense focus on precisely what we have been trained to do controls what we believe. And what we believe controls what we are able to see. What haven’t you noticed lately? This is really an odd question, because, how can you notice that which you haven’t yet noticed? And if this is a key question for awareness in our complex interconnected environment, even if we answer it once, how can we

consistently continue to answer it? Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to achieve the requisite awareness of what we haven’t noticed while we are immersed in a comfortable, or at least accustomed, environment. We are all subject to the groundrules, that is, the rules and unperceived effects that govern our ground or context. The challenge is a tricky one: We must create an environment that allows us to ignore what we notice and notice what we ignore. And what is most hidden from our perception, that we ignore the most?

Communities of Inquiry

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