IDEO Reimagines the Classroom

IDEO, the well-known Palo Alto design firm, in recent years has increasingly moved into service design and organizational design, branching out from their original work designing objects like the first Apple computer mouse, or the shopping cart shown on TV on a Nightline special in 1999, to design processes and systems. Now, IDEO is starting to redesign classrooms and schools, using its design thinking methodology.*

They got a huge opportunity in 2010. One of Peru’s richest men, billionaire Carlos Rodrigues-Pastor, decided to donate his money to reform education in Peru, where the education system is one of the world’s worst. He bought three private schools in Lima to get started, and he wanted to keep tuition $100 a month. But who do you call to design the school of the future? He might have called a university-based school of education; he might have called an education reform consulting firm; but Rodriguez-Perez got in touch with IDEO. It sounds like an odd choice, but IDEO has been doing so much work in schools that they have an Education Practice, led by Sandy Speicher. Speicher learned her education chops in the Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) master’s degree program at Stanford University, just down the road from IDEO.

The Peru schools are called Innova Schools, and Speicher led a team of about ten designers to develop a curriculum, design the buildings, and prepare the business model. Innova’s innovation director said:

Speicher is very principled and the sort of person who would come into a discussion, listen to what we were saying, and somehow elevate it. She’s great at connecting dots.

IDEO came up with a blending learning model, with some instruction delivered online via computers, some with students on their own engaged in projects, and some with students doing group problem solving. But not really in a traditional classroom: The walls in these buildings can be adjusted to create bigger and smaller spaces, depending on the type of group work under way. Some “classrooms” are even outdoors! IDEO also developed 18,000 lesson plans, to help teachers get started.

Innova now has 23 schools with 13,500 students, and the plans are to keep building more schools. Stay posted for more details!

If you want to learn more about how to redesign schools based on the sciences of learning, look for my article “The Future of Learning” to be published in The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Second Edition, Fall 2014. I argue that you can’t do it right if you don’t ground your innovations in the learning sciences. I’ll blog the article here when it’s published. We’re creating a new master’s degree program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that will give educational innovators the expertise to design successful innovative learning environments. We expect the first students to start Fall 2015, stay posted!

*Dimitra Kessenides, 2014, School’s Out(Side). In Bloomberg Business Week, March 24-April 6, page 99.

Failure and Innovation

You’ve read it in the business press a hundred times: Failure is necessary for innovation. You’ve read it, but you probably don’t believe it. Or at least, you don’t believe that failure is the way to get promoted or to get a big salary increase, or to get that dream job down the road. And, it’s not exactly true that failure leads to innovation; it’s how failures are handled that determines whether innovation results.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal has an article, “Better Ideas Through Failure”, that contains stories from several companies that have figured out how to manage failure.

Grey New York, an ad agency, gives out a “Heroic Failure” trophy once each quarter, to the person who takes a big, edgy risk and fails, even though the idea had clearly seemed like a good one.

At SurePayroll, a payroll services company in Illinois, they now give out a “Best New Mistake” award: If you are trying hard, make a mistake, and learn from it, you’re eligible for the $400 reward.

In my book Group Genius, I give a few more examples of how innovative companies integrate failure into their culture. I talk about how the Italian design firm Alessi has a “museum of failed designs” that they proudly display; how the California design firm IDEO has a similar room filled with failed product ideas. I also describe the research that shows that serial innovators always fail more than everyone else, simply because they have more total ideas than everyone else. It turns out that creativity is a numbers game: exceptional creators are people who have ideas all the time. As I say in Group Genius, “Fail often, fail early, fail gloriously” (p. 178).

Inventing the Future of Management

How can we maximize human potential to make the world a better place? How can we make work more fulfilling–whether in a business, a school, or a government agency?

For the past two days, I’ve been attending a high-powered conference here in Half Moon Bay, California, hosted by Gary Hamel (Wall Street Journal’s “top business guru” and author of The Future of Management). Our goal: to use the latest management research to re-design organizations to release the full potential of their employees, and to generate maximum innovation, adaptability, and engagement. Our starting point is the observation that management today–whether businesses, government agencies, or educational systems–is deeply flawed (think of Dilbert’s cartoons and you’ll know what we’re trying to fix).

C. K. Prahalad, Peter Senge, Gary Hamel (standing), Eric AbrahamsonMost of the 40 or so in attendance were thought leaders, authors of best-selling business books and/or professors (The photo shows, from left to right, C. K. Prahalad of University of Michigan, Peter Senge from MIT, Gary Hamel (standing), and Eric Abrahamson of Columbia).

But the high point, for me, were the presentations by a few CEOs, representing innovative styles of management: Gore, Google, Whole Foods, and IDEO, all companies I describe at length in my book GROUP GENIUS.

Tim Brown, IDEO

Representing Gore was CEO Terri Kelly; Whole Foods, CEO John Mackey; and IDEO, CEO Tim Brown (in the photo). If you’ve read my book GROUP GENIUS you know that all of these companies represent a new sort of management technology, one that is designed to tap into the power of collaboration.

A high point of the event was when Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, answered questions from the audience about Google’s unique organizational culture (sitting at the right of Gary Hamel in the photo). I haven’t written as much about Google, simply because that company has been so widely reported in the media already; but, like Gore, IDEO, and Whole Foods, Google is a company that maximizes the collaborative potential of its employees.

Gary Hamel and Eric Schmidt

“Inventing the Future of Management” was designed to be a beginning, so we didn’t come up with concrete advice so much as challenges, obstacles, and important issues. But I was delighted to see that the consensus emerging from this group is directly aligned with my message in GROUP GENIUS: that innovation can’t be forced in a command-and-control organizational design. Innovation always emerges from the bottom up, in teams that form spontaneously and interact improvisationally. In the future, we need organizations that enhance the power of collaboration, managers that facilitate the unpredictable creative work of everyone.

Attendees: Eric Abrahamson, Chris Argyris, Julian Birkinshaw, Tim Brown, Lowell Bryan, Bhaskar Chakravorti, Yves Does, Alex Ehrlich, Gary Hamel, Linda Hill, Jeffrey Hollander, Steve Jurvetson, Kevin Kelly, Terri Kelly, Ed Lawler, Andrew McAfee, John Mackey, Tom Malone, Marissa Mayer, Lenny Mendonca, Henry Mintzberg, Vineet Nayar, Jeff Pfeffer, C.K. Prahalad, J. Leighton Read, Keith Sawyer, Peter Senge, Rajendra Sisodia, Tom Stewart, Jim Surowiecki, Hal Varian, Steve Weber, David Wolfe, Shoshana Zuboff.