Aversion to Change

Across the country, state and federal funding is being cut for education and this has left many communities scrambling to figure out what to do.  I was originally hopeful that less money would prompt a reassessment of the fundamentals of education and encourage schools to really focus on the things that will give kids the tools they need for a successful career and benefit society as a whole.

Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be what is happening.  The small town where I live voted to raise local taxes to make up some of the difference in funding to try to maintain the status quo as much as possible. I’m not opposed to paying more in taxes if the result is better educated kids but doing the same thing we’ve always done with just a bit less total funding isn’t going to result in any deep an meaningful innovation.

The problem is that we are terrified of implementing change–often for good reason. If you are on the school board, pushing for change means that some people are not going to like you. Re-evaluating the purpose of education and aligning your efforts with that purpose means there are going to be people whose pet projects and favorite programs are going to get modified or even cut entirely.

One of the biggest barriers to meaningful change is good leadership. A committee of people doing things in a way to minimize the blame is not an inspiring model. Change requires that someone stand up, takes responsibility and communicates clearly a compelling vision of the future.

Think about the difference. Which do you think it more likely to be able to make real changes in education?  A committee of people wringing their hands at the test scores and lack of funding or a person who stands up and says “Here is what we can do to make sure our kids are the smartest in the state at a lower cost than we’ve ever done it before.”

This doesn’t just apply to school systems.  Change is hard in every area.  Here are three things that you can do to get innovative ideas and then see those ideas actually put into action.

1. Have good ideas and a vision

This sounds like a very basic thing, but it is surprisingly uncommon.  If you have a goal and a plan to get there, you are going to be miles ahead of everyone else.

2. Understand and communicate your purpose

Part of the reason change is hard is because people don’t agree on what you are trying to accomplish.  Simply being able to communicate and build consensus around a focused purpose is a huge step.

3. Test, measure & be willing to undo

People are a lot more willing to try something they don’t fully like, if you are clear how it will be measured and what threshold will justify abandoning it. People have been burned too many times by ideas that aren’t ever fully implemented, never achieve their promised potential and are kept around anyway. In fact this is why many people get suspicious of your motives when you propose change.  They don’t expect you to actually measure if the change is beneficial or not, so they think you may have ulterior motives.

Change is hard, but it is very necessary. Unfortunately most people aren’t going to support change until terrible things happen–terrible things that are often the result of putting of change for too long. With the right person,  the right ideas and the right vision of the future change can happen that isn’t driven by catastrophe.  Support that person.

Better still, be that person.


  1. says

    Education is getting worse and worse everywhere. Public schooling doesn’t seem as a viable option to me anymore, plus the lifestyle of the entire planet is changing at rapid pace, what we learn today, is getting obsolete as fast as tomorrow.

    Education should resolve around learning kids what should they learn if they want to achieve any kind of success in their life.

    Fast times, fast changes.

  2. says

    These 3 steps for applying change (or really, doing anything worthwhile) are amazing. I’m a huge fan of number 3 because so much potential gets lost when people don’t apply scientific principles for improving what they do. The process of hypothesizing, testing, and measuring is so often overlooked, I’m glad to see you proposing it here.

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