My friend Ted is always spreading good ideas. This 18 minute video titled “Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!” was delivered with skill and humor, bringing home some ideas that have interesting parallels within how we need to understand lean management.
One of the notable quotes spoke to the challenge of engaging people. Sir Ken said, “The reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit” or their energy or their passion. This could apply equally well to anything that we do whether it be work, play or learning (ideally there would be no difference between the three). The simplest way to engage people in kaizen is to first get them to admit that they love making their job easier or making their customer happy or being recognized for doing a good job or creating a better process or whatever the internal motivation may be. Kaizen for the sake of a dry, corporate operational excellence program rarely feeds the spirit of people. Very few lean programs are launched with sufficient consideration of connecting the learning and improvement effort with feeding the spirit.
Speaking about how to fix our broken education system, at minute 14:36 Sir Ken says:
“I think we have to change metaphors. We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people, we have to move more towards a model that is based on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do is, like a farmer, create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
These words are a paraphrasing of what I have been saying for the past decade about the “industrial model” of business. We have to change metaphors. People, operating systems, business are all the same in that they don’t flourish unless like a farmer we create the right conditions for these seeds to grow into mature, healthy things. Ideas, systems or practices transplanted without a farmer’s sense of the soil and the seasons will fail. It takes both a keen understanding of the gemba or gound-level, soil-level realities as well as the longer-term, cyclical and more complex weather-like organizational factors to make the seeds from a lean transformation grow and take root. The irony is that when we teach the Toyota Production System to non-manufacturing organizations in healthcare, retail, banking or public sector environments there is an initial resistance to TPS as an “industrial” model. In fact the TPS model is far from the traditional industrial model and much more akin to a farm that grows excellent problem solvers.
Sir Ken goes on to say that when reforming or revolutionizing the education system we can’t simply clone the best education systems we find in the world, it’s about customizing them to your circumstances and personalizing the education to the actual people being taught. This is also true when transforming a business culture into one that makes the best out of the capabilities and creativity of people, listens and builds services around the needs of the customer and improves continuously. The lean transformation requires benchmarking of best-in-class systems and companies, understanding the ecosystem and conditions which make these successful, and customizing this to the situation of the organization being transformed.
In the conclusion of the speech Sir Ken calls on the technologists, business and cultural leaders in his audience to bring about the revolution of personalized education a reality. First we need to understand why we have the failing education system we have today and what is sustaining it. Whether the metaphor is farming or industry, there is a market that is being served by and that is sustaining the current system, right or wrong. Just as industrial business struggle to progress beyond a certain point without being able to address and change the behaviors of the executives, the customers, national regulators or the wider society, revolutionizing the education system will require understanding the wider educational ecosystem for any technological leapfrogging to succeed.