Our compulsive obsession with the impossible sexy

I ran across an interesting article on the Fast Company website today detailing the work of Method — a wildly successful startup selling ecofriendly soaps and detergents.

In it, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry — the minds behind Method — make a point that I think schools working towards sustainable change often fail to understand:  Sometimes the most successful innovations start from thinking at the edges of the box.

To the Method guys, edge of the box thinking is called “soft innovation.” Here’s how they explain it:

“Soft innovators establish new standards for quality, experience, and sales in their categories without actually doing anything profoundly innovative. Think Ben & Jerry’s, which introduced the ice cream pint to the world as a more personal alternative to the half-gallon or gallon tub.”

In their own work in the personal and homecare marketplace, soft innovations have included tinkering with everything from the scents that they use in their products to the feel of their labels and the quirky shapes of their packages.

These kinds of evolutionary steps are essentially risk free, argue the Method guys, and risk free innovation is a good thing:

“Don’t get us wrong, we love big innovation…but many companies underestimate the power of soft innovation, which can enhance the consumer experience and drive massive differentiation within a category.

The advantage of a soft innovation is that it treads lightly on the R&D budget, requires less marketing support because consumers “get it” right away, and is predictably successful because the idea is familiar and the consumer learning curve is quicker.”

Couldn’t we revise this thinking into a beautiful statement about successful innovation efforts in schools?  It would look a little something like this if we did:

Don’t get us wrong, we love big innovation…but many schools underestimate the power of soft innovation, which can enhance the student experience and drive massive differentiation within a category.

The advantage of a soft innovation is that it treads lightly on the PD budget, requires less marketing support because teachers “get it” right away, and is predictably successful because the idea is familiar and the learning curve for everyone is quicker.

What does this all mean for schools and their leaders?  Most importantly, we need to take active steps towards implementing soft innovations in our schools.  What simple and immediate changes can you make to:

  • The ways that your teachers collaborate.
  • The ways that your teachers assess and report on student learning.
  • The ways that your students interact — with ideas and with other people.
  • The ways that your students communicate what they know.

Sure, completely reimagining schools is sexy.  But the simple truth is that sexy isn’t always doable — and our compulsive obsession with the impossible sexy means most of our change efforts are ridiculous failures.

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Related Radical Reads:

Sustainable Change in Schools is Evolutionary

Evolutionary Lessons for PLC Principals

Make Like an Obstetrician and Deliver

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