I am the type of person who pursues big ideas, big problems, and adrenaline charged activities. For many years I engaged in somewhat extreme (not according to today’s crazy riders but…) downhill mountain biking. There’s something invigorating about facing down a laddered launch about 10-12 feet high 15 feet out over a gulf to the other side. I loved the adrenaline rush caused by fear and accomplishment. The key to success is total commitment, any hesitation and things can go horribly wrong as they did numerous times for me – broken bones, torn ligaments, and for quite some time afterward, apprehension and fear. I still ride hard but have switched to all mountain / cross country – high speed and flowee but much safer (getting older and wiser).
Last week Saturday two of my sons, one of their friends, and I went skydiving for the first time to celebrate my 50th birthday. Wow! What a rush that was. I am afraid of heights so expected to be quite nervous – that didn’t happen though. We received an orientation on the ground then climbed into our jump suites, put on the harnesses, hats, and goggles. We waddled over to the Vietnam War era airplane and packed in (8 of us plus the pilot). Up we went to about 10,000 feet and the trainers said ‘okay, here we go’. First out were my boys and their buddy, one after the other. It was strange to see them swing their legs out the door and then disappear. Then it was my turn. I swing around, legs out the door and staring straight down at the earth… Then my trainer counts down 3, 2, … push… out we go. In 3 seconds we’re up to 200km/h straight down. I can not begin to explain the experience but it was awesome! For 35 seconds we fall… then he pulls the chute and gives me the handles to steer it. If you pull hard on one side, you shift into a tight significant G-force turn – amazing. To do this, took full commitment. There is no turning back once you’re out of the airplane heading down!
I approach my work in a similar fashion. I am not one to idle, cruise along, or accept the status quo. I see things through a possibility lens aimed directly into the future. I look at problems as opportunities. My optimistic orientation to life and work allows me to see where I want to go and then work backward to figure out how to get there. I recently (7 months ago) became the Director and CIO for the Vancouver School Board (VSB). I face major challenges to lead and guide the VSB to infuse technology into classrooms, schools, and District offices and transform the learning and work of our students and staff. I am but one person in an organization with 8000 employees and 52,000 students so obviously one of my biggest challenges is winning the hearts and minds of the many and together, we will shift into the future. What an exciting journey this is proving to be already.
It is difficult to shift a large organization. Over time their long standing processes and practices create a particular culture and culture is difficult to change. Historically and equally today, technology is likely the most disruptive means for changing how people work, relate, and organize. Some find this to be fraught with friction, I see change as invigorating. For change to stick, the culture needs to shift well beyond the norm. To engineer change, you need to persevere long enough to break old patterns and habits. You need to break the elastic band of the past or people will snap back to their comfort zones. For someone leading change, you need to be fully committed to the future you envision – you need to ‘go big or go home’.
At the VSB, investment in technology to support learning and teaching has not been sustainable in past years. From what I have learned, I think I can safely boil this down to a few reasons. There hasn’t been shared vision (and buy-in) for how technology is really quite integral to learning and teaching. It’s been a nice to have, optional, and not important. It also has appears to have been implemented in a disjointed fashion with little coherence. A big part of my focus is to create a shared vision and understanding for the critical role technology must play in learning, teaching, and our work. I believe there is a moral imperative to leverage technology effectively in education. Organizations like the VSB have an obligation to provide the best possible learning experience for students in every era and effectively leverage current and future tools and methods. Not to do so would be a disservice to our students’ future. We need to educate for their future, not our past. Technology is not “just a tool” any more. I heard a speaker at a conference session yesterday repeatedly refer to technology as “enhancing” learning. That is a limited view. Technology must be infused to transform learning. It is integral and essential to modern and future learning, teaching, and work. Education systems need to fully commit to this view of technology’s place in our world or it will not make the essential shift forward to remain relevant to today’s and future students. Schools must prepare kids for a very different future where they will increasingly compete with machines. I see this as an exciting opportunity for us humans to steer clear of all sorts of jobs and roles that are not very fulfilling and leverage our humanity in new and better ways. Education systems need to understand and capitalize on this as it unfolds. An old system can only survive for so long and there are increasingly alternatives to the traditional role schools have played in imparting knowledge. It is ironic that schools are the last institution or industry to be fully disrupted by technology. For me that just shows how thick and tough the elastic band is that’s holding back the final transition to the future.
It is difficult being a change agent. In my experience, Most people fear change and long for stability and sameness. I have learned to better appreciate that different people will come around to changes at different paces and through different means. There will be resisters, people who will do everything in their power to stop you, disrupt your game plan, and generally frustrate you. The key attribute of a change leader is tenacity. Go big or go home – in other words, go all in, fully commit, be strong, carry on, it will be worth it in the end. However, make sure that what you pursue as a change is in fact worth it for those you are leading and for the organization as a whole. You have to fully believe in the future you wish to embrace or you will hesitate and well, in my experience then carnage will follow. Lead on…