Collaborate to Innovate

 I read an article by the Harvard Business Review recently entitled ‘Innovation is as Much About Finding Partners as Building Products’ (link) which inspired me to go back to my love of applying Industry Strategy to Education.
The article asserts that the desire to innovate is no longer enough in any industry to guarantee success and that the task of creating innovation in today’s world requires such a range of qualifications and skills as to be unaffordable for any business other than the largest organisation with massive resources to draw upon. In Industry, you have to think of all the specialist and regulatory knowledge required in areas including strategy, technology, data analysis, production, marketing, finance, HR, health and safety, as well as understanding the efficiencies of the physical assets, before you can even begin to innovate.

It’s the same in Education in the UK. How can all our schools, working mostly (but not always) in isolation possibly hope to find any time to innovate to a degree that might go towards enabling the service as a whole to take a leap forward?

Harvard and I, we are convinced that collaboration is the answer.

And I’m not talking that well-meaning ‘come-and-share-our-training-provider-for half-a-day’ sort of collaboration. I’m talking about identifying your core skill, finding a partner to work with on improving it further and then sharing it far and wide.

So, what are you really good at?

As an employee of an Outstanding School, Teaching School and newly formed MAT you would think that we have a lot to offer. We have got some amazingly talented teaching staff and exceptional data analysts, we have an extremely effective technical team, and a clear strategy of where we want to head, but I have been dismayed at the barriers that are put up around us by other schools.

Contrary to what you might think, I believe this school, as a unit, is the right size. I don’t want a merger, I don’t want to force you into a MAT (although I believe the benefits we would both gain are considerable), I don’t want to make anyone redundant and I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. I do want to share our skills and work with you to improve the teaching, learning, assessment and business functions of both our schools. After that, I want to make what we’ve learned available to other schools because you can bet that the school down the road has got an idea to improve it even further!

As Harvard points out, for collaboration to work effectively the old and the new have to work together. Your experience has a lot to teach me, of course, but what if bringing your experience to tweak my new idea blows Education out of the ball park for the next generation of students?  I don’t believe I am being over optimistic when I say that the opportunities we currently have for both formal and informal collaboration could lead to a reinvention of Education in the UK, giving us the solutions, productivity and advances in delivery that we would wish for. However, it is going to take a real exchange of ideas and we are going to need to get over this anxious concern about competition and loss of identity. Yes, like anything, it is risky, but so is standing still and I know I’d rather keep moving forward.

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