Monday, May 22, 2006

Driving into an exciting future!

  Posted by Picasa Last century most organizations, including schools, had a simple linear view of the future; they were happy driving their big luxury cars along the wide open highway. The future, it seemed, belonged to them; tomorrow will be like today but only better.

Nothing, it has turned out, could be further from the truth. Many once invincible organizations have now gone, replaced by more innovative companies who have taken advantage of new technologies. In the business world it has been adapt or die but not so it seems our big traditional secondary schools – not yet anyway, but times they are ‘achanging’ to quote Bob Dylan.

Today there is now, less certainty about the future, about where are going, and how we are going to get there. Rather than a straight motorway we now face the end of the road; the end of the traditional industrial age organization and mindsets.

What lies beyond the end of the road where there are not even tracks to follow? According to Alvin Toffler it is ‘terra incognito – the uncharted landscape of tomorrow’; a world of complexity, chaos and uncertainty - of accelerating change.

Eventually schools will catch up with the urgency to change to ensure students have the attributes to thrive in such times. It is hard to imagine our complacent big secondary schools being able to transform themselves, staffed as they are by industrial aged specialists teaching in structures designed for a past era.

In a future will demand collaborative teamwork, networking, individual initiative and creativity and to prove such qualities we need to urgently ‘re-imagine our schools. We will need a new 'educational vehicle, new driving skills' and a whole new sense of direction. The key will be for schools to see future discontinuity as opportunity and to develop new flexible educational organizations to thrive in such times.

According to futurist Rowan Gibson there are three main messages that will require us to change our ‘mindsets’ if we want to explore ‘terra incognito’.

1. The road stops here – the future will be different and, as obvious as it sounds, we behave as if it were not. Too often we prefer to repair our old cars when tomorrow will definitely be an off road experience. This is delusionary. The past has gone!

2. New times call for new organizations – we can’t drive our old cars into the future! We need a totally new kind of organizational vehicle that can handle the tough and uncertain times of this new landscape. One that reflects the information age -innovative ideas and creativity are the new capital of the future. Schools ought to be ideally placed to provide such future citizens but all too often they are facing the path back to lost certainty.

3. Where to next? With such an uncertain journey ahead organizations are going to find it hard to make confident strategic decisions. Everyone, from individuals to leaders of countries, needs to a vision, a destination, a point of view, about the future. As there are no maps of ‘terra incognito’ all that can be done is to explore and create our own maps through intuition and enlightened trial and error. The best stratgey will be for all involved to have the right 'mindset' to be able to take advantage of future opportunities.

According to Rowan Gibson every individual, organization, or country, faces a simple choice ‘rethink the future or be forced to rethink the future’. Those who choose the first option will have the best chance to spot emerging opportunities in time to take action; the others will find themselves overtaken. Gibson’s advice is for us all to rethink our basic assumptions about the future and harness the forces of discontinuous change to shape our own future before it shapes us.

Putting aside the mechanical metaphor of vehicles, Gibson believes it is better to imagine organizations( including schools) as a living organism based on networks of minds working and learning together fueled by ‘human imagination’. Such a ‘living organization’, based on a shared vision and beliefs, can only be created by radical change. An 'organic learning community' is able to continually evolve and adapt – but to create it will require a radical metamorphosis.

Schools ought to be leading the way into the future by developing in all students the attributes to thrive in what will be for them exciting times. The trouble is the large, backward looking, traditional industrial aged secondary schools, have so much to ‘unlearn’. Thankfully there are education models to gain insight from – in particular the early education classrooms where the joy of learning is still par for the course.

These young students are questioners and trail blazers, driven by their curiosity and desire to make meaning of their experiences – they ‘have the future in their bones’. If we had the wit and imagination we could learn off them!


Anonymous said...

The trouble is that Western Culture works so much on short term profit that it blinds us to thinking of the big picture ahead - and, as you point out, it is a continually moving picture.

We need to have a 'conversation' in our country about where we want to go and how to get there as our current industrial aged organisation are now too clumsy to be of use. And this includes secondary schools.

And it is no use waiting for our current leaders to sort things out - they are too infected with managerialism and intellectual timidity to be of much use.

We need leadership at all levels that can collaborate and co-create visions that the tap into those with the 'future in their bones'.

All organisations need to love change - to see change as an opportunity to cast aside creaky structures and develop new 21stC learning cultures.

We need leaders with passion, not organisation charts and strategy plans, if we are ever to unleash the power of human energy and imagination.

Out young people deserve better than our 'frozen' organistions which, like the dinosaurs before them, seem unable to change quick enough.

Anonymous said...

I doubt whether secondary schools will be able to transform themselves into future orientated learning organisations - they will remain as icons of a past age as the world changes around them

Currently such schools blame eveyone but themselves for the 20 percent of failing students.

Their lack of intelligent action just proves that Universities produce a better class of idiot - each locked in their specialists cages totally unaware that the real world outside the school gates is connected and integrated.!

Anonymous said...

School will always have trouble transforming themselves into future orientated 'learning communities' while they have to spend all their time and energy just coping with all the mandated curriculum and compliance requirements. Some one is stealing their decision making confidence.

It is strange that the 'high flying' parents prefer their cars designed in 2006 and their schools in 1850!

Anonymous said...

You are right what begins as education all too often ends up as 'schooling'!

Passion , the power of human imagination and creativity are future attributes - those with the 'future in their bones' will inherit the future.

Organisation will have to have the power of continual re-invention to adapt to a world changing exponentially.

Schooling as we know it is dead!

Bruce said...

Too many 'leaders' ( technocrats) drive using their rear vision mirror; or occupy themselves rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!

Bruce said...

The best metaphor for constant change and adaptation is one of the simplist organisms of all - the amoeba. It quickly interacts with its environment and moves accordingly.

The best oganisations are called 'living or learning communities' and act in a similar way - according to the core beliefs that determine the identity of the organistion.

It is a shame we seem to have been captured by a mechanistic model that has no ability to interact with the environment - except to destroy it.