3 Problems With A Bias For Action

Questioning my own desire to go fast.

August 25, 2015

To say that you have a bias for “going fast” is like claiming that your biggest weakness is “caring too much and working too hard.”  

Let us stipulate for the record that almost everyone reading these words will share a desire for our organizations to “do things”, “fail fast, and “learn by doing.”  The slow pace of academic organizational change drives us all a bit crazy. We all want to “take more risks”, and “make data driven decisions”, while being “nimble” and “agile.”   

When was the last time you met someone in the edtech world who argued for preserving the status quo?  

Do we have workshops on Blocking Change, and Taking the Time for Deep Contemplation?     

When was the last time a colleague from your school, or another institution, complained to you about the overly fast pace of institutional organizational and cultural change?

I’m a particularly impatient person. I want to see us innovate by doing, not talking.  

In my job title is the word Initiatives - which I’ve come to believe means undertaking disciplined experiments. (Or maybe just doing stuff).  

But there are probably some problems with our shared edtech bias for speed.

Problem #1 - Figuring Out the Right Things to Do:

It is great to say that we want to learning by doing, fail fast, and take risks. But are we sure that we are doing the right things?

Every initiative that we start comes with it high opportunity costs. If we do one thing, we can’t do something else.

How much time should we be spending in figuring out the large strategic priorities that should drive our initiatives?  

How do we find the right balance between articulating our goals, and translating our goals into action?

Problem #2 - Downstream and Unintended Consequences:

Every new initiative we start will create a huge set of downstream consequences and dependencies. Starting something new is easy, sustaining an innovation is difficult.

We seldom have the structures in place to move initiatives from pilots to operations.  It is often unclear who will manage existing projects when the “new initiative” people move on to what is shiny and new.

How much do we need to have all the sustainability variables under control before we start something new?

Problem #3 - There Are Only So Many People to Do Everything Else That Needs Doing:

The only reason that we are able to do new initiatives is that the existing work pays the bills. It is the daily operations that enable the discipline experiments that will enable us to learn.  The challenge is that every educational technology group that I know of is pretty thin on the ground. Everyone is juggling exponentially increasing demands without commensurate increases in resources.   

What is the line where new initiatives create more energy than they consume?

How do we get the right balance between operations and experiments?

What is the best way to insure that all the work that needs to get done is done, while also creating a space for trying new things?

How would you answer all these worries about moving too fast?

Do you have specific allocations in your edtech resource portfolio (time, dollars, etc.) for risky innovations?  What should that allocation be?

Is it really true that the real danger is not in taking risks?

How fast are you moving?



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