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Friday, May 6, 2016

Don't Under-estimate or Over-look People or Ideas

This is one piece of a continuing series of posts on school improvement reflecting my professional experience. I had prepared this manuscript for publication but time eluded me. The blog posts advance in time and concept in book-form beginning with the Blog post on March 21.

Occupations and Inventions

Time for another test. This exercise, extracted from a study referenced in Rowan’s The Intuitive Manager, will seek to illustrate why we should expand the base of involvement among staff members. First, two quotes that address the issue, then an example of unshackled thinking and finally some instances of misguided criticism.

“Who the Hell wants to hear actors talk.” Harry Warner, head of Warner brothers Studio, 1927.

“I figure there’s a world wide market for maybe four or five computers.”  Thomas Watson Sr. CEO of IBM, 1943.

Although both of these men were highly successful leaders of their respective organizations their comments about talking movies and computers were off the mark. It only shows that we are each capable of overlooking important concepts despite a high level of expertise in our field. In fact, in Self Renewal, author John Gardner illustrates this point by referring To Sir Henry Bessemer, creator of the revolutionary Bessemer steel making process. Bessemer claims that he enjoyed a tremendous advantage over others in the field because he was not shackled by the habits, routines, and mindset of those who were immersed in long standing practices and blinded by the general belief that “whatever is, is right.”

A young man studying at Yale proposed a concept for a new business. His professor gave his project a “C” with the admonition that “the idea must be feasible.” Fred Smith, the student, followed his idea anyway and went on to start Federal Express. A woman was determined to launch a cookie business. However, the experts dismissed the idea by stating, “A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research report says America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy ones like you make.” The woman? Debbie Fields, founder of Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

Now the test: 
Instructions: Match the invention with the occupation of the inventor.

Product Invented                     

Pneumatic Tire                                
Automatic Dialing System       
Continuous Cast Steel              
Safety Razor                              
Kodak Film                               

Occupation of Inventor

Dye Maker
Cork Salesman

“An analysis of 58 major twentieth century inventions, (defined in terms of a normal person’s frequency of interaction with the product) from chemicals to computers to ball point pens, reveals that in 46 of those discoveries the inventor was an individual, a small firm, or somebody in the ‘wrong business.’

King Gillette, the inventor of the safety razor, was a cork salesman. George Eastman, when he revolutionized photography, was a bookkeeper, while a couple of musicians invented Kodachrome. John Dunlop, co-inventor of the pneumatic tire, was a veterinarian. The automatic dialing system was invented by an undertaker, and a watchmaker trying to solve a brass fitting problem came up with the process for continuous cast steel. The soap makers ignored detergents and the dye makers invented them instead.”

You never know where the next great idea is coming from, or as Collins and Porras point out, where the great idea is going. Their examination of excellent companies shows that many familiar, well performing companies have deviated from their roots. For instance, the Marriott hotel chain emerged from the original root beer stand in Washington D.C.; Motorola started out as a battery eliminator repair business; pharmaceutical giant Merck began as an importer of chemicals from Germany; and the extremely successful merchandiser, Nordstroms, grew out of a tiny outlet shoe store in Seattle.

This post explains why I believe EVERYONE in the school should be considered a valuable contributor to the mission of the school, regardless of their title. It's all about people, not positions. Titles should not define people. That also means that the school leader is not "right" or more important simply because of what it says on his/her office door. Respect must be earned, not assumed. Integrity is the glue of organizational culture and climate.

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