Friday, December 31, 2004
New beginnings for 2005 - time to smell the smoke!
A big ending for 04
Metaphors, linking two disparate items, can give an easily remembered messages.
So to end 2004 on a big note I could not resist using elephant analogies or metaphors.
Three ideas come to mind with regard to elephants. One is how the most powerful mammal on land can be caught in the wild and tamed to do what ever the owners want. When first caught the elephant is chained with the biggest chains available. As the elephant learns that it can’t escape the chain is changed for a thick rope and eventfully it can be tethered with a light rope.
This of course is simple conditioning and it happens to us all- except for rebels and mavericks who somehow never learn – or more to the point seem able to resist the lessons. There would be little innovation in any area without them!
Many organizations, schools included, are rather like elephants. Schools are able to perform effectively what tradition and habit have taught them to accept as normal. As such more seem happier facing the past than the future and indeed resemble large factories.
The second idea about elephants comes from a recent business book called ‘Teaching the Elephant to Dance’. This book suggests that the answer to get big traditional organizations to become innovative is to create a sense of urgency, or to 'set fire to the circus tent'. The secret is to do this they say is to do it without 'burning down the tent! Elephants just need to smell the smoke to break the conditioning.
Charles Handy, the business philosopher, has written another book called ‘The Elephant and the Flea’. This book is based on the need for big organizations to employ outside innovative people for the mutual benefit of both. Another lesson for schools to learn that have become closed to outside ideas.
The final story is of course the story of the elephant and the blind men – each one feeling a part of the elephant and presuming that individual part they are touching applies to the rest of the elephant.
The last story is an excellent metaphor for the fragmentation and specialization created by the Industrial Age. The large organizations of the twentieth century have to adapt to the dramatic changes being created by the new information media. The new capital is now intelligence, imagination and creativity. Flexibility and empowered workers is now the name of the game.
So perhaps schools ought to focus on developing a new consciousness in their students of what will be required in an unpredictable future. What attributes will future citizens need? Schools will need to reinvent themselves or be bi- passed as young people gain their information from more technology more aligned to their needs.
We need new metaphors for the future if we are to shake off the shackles of the past.