Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hierarchy is the death of creativity and innovation

One thing that Jim Collins' team found when researching how a good company can become a great company is that many small, start-up companies are high on creativity, innovation and risk-taking, whereas a more established company can often be a victim of its own success.  Collins charts the movement from an egalitarian, fun company to what he calls "an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff" which leads to a hierarchy being established with a "we" and "them" attitude, the result of which is that the most innovative people leave and the creative magic starts to wane.  Let's think how this applies to education.

Over my 30 years in schools, I've worked in large schools of over 1,000 students and small ones of under 300.  I've also worked at small schools that have become large schools and I've thought about what vital spark disintegrated as the school grew.  Certainly the small schools seemed friendlier places:  I knew every single teacher and student who worked there and they all knew me, whereas in large schools, especially those split among multiple campuses, this was not the case.  I recall one time when I went for a parent conference with my daughter's teachers and some of the teachers I spoke to were surprised to find that I was also working there!  I also recall working in small schools where everyone had to pitch in and take on multiple hats, and where there was also a feeling of having a finger on the pulse, or being involved more closely in decisions that were made.  In others it was pretty much an "old boys club" where cronyism was rife and where the culture became less and less innovative the more the school grew.

Jim Collins writes "the purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence".  His point is that basically if you have the right people onboard in the first place, who are self-directed and self-disciplined, then there is no need for a bureaucracy which is only in place to manage the "small percentage of wrong people".  His advice is to avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a culture of discipline.  Today at lunch I was sitting with our R&D Coordinator and we were talking about the fact that everyone at ASB works hard because they are so motivated and given a huge amount of freedom within certain guidelines (autonomy and purpose).  I remember saying to him "I'm working harder than ever before, but I'm also much less stressed."  Jim Collins writes about this, referring to the culture in good to great places as being one of freedom and responsibility within a framework, and that these places are filled with self-disciplined people who engage in rigorous thinking before taking action, and who are willing to go to extreme lengths to fulfill their responsibilities.

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