Not long ago, I picked up Rework — a book about leadership in complex, knowledge-driven workplaces written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson, the founders of the remarkably successful web-development company 37signals. It’s an incredibly approachable and incredibly quick read that is definitely worth your time.
What I love the most about Rework is Fried and Heinemeier-Hansson’s argument that planning isn’t half as important as action when it comes to driving organizational change. “Plans let the past drive the future,” they write. “They put blinders on you. ‘This is where we’re going because, well, that’s where we said we were going.’ And that’s the problem. Plans are inconsistent with improvisation” (Kindle Location 195).
Success at 37signals wasn’t the result of months of late-night, coffee-fueled strategy sessions held long before the company came to life. Success also wasn’t achieved on corporate retreats where senior managers came together in exotic locations to collectively imagine the perfect corporate future. To Fried and Heinemeier-Hansson, success CAN’T be predefined — spelled out on neatly printed pages and handed out to employees to implement with fidelity and precision.
Instead, success is the result of an organization’s commitment to responding to current realities — even if those realities are unexpected curveballs. Refusing to invest tons of time, energy and effort into long-range planning actually makes it easier to change direction, and changing direction is inevitable in poorly-defined marketplaces. Traditional companies with complex strategies developed over long periods of time find it harder to reinvent themselves when it is necessary simply because they have WAY more to lose by walking away from the ideas providing direction to the organization, no matter how bad those ideas are.
What does that mean for schools and their leaders?
Most importantly, it means that you’ve got to spend less time planning and more time doing. While detailed plans might sound REALLY good in theory, they can quickly become organizational handcuffs. “Working without a plan may seem scary,” write Fried and Heinemeier-Hansson, “But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier” (Kindle Location 195).
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