Chance favours the connected mind.
How do we create a coral reef in our organizations? Where do good ideas happen? Can we create an environment where innovation thrives? Is there a space where good ideas can collide? Do we encourage opportunities for personal reflection too? And how do we allow that collaborative collision space, those innovative ideas, to generate action?
I keep thinking about the tweet from Neil Stephenson:
I want a coral reef too. I hunt down Steven Johnson. I remember I have the book (Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation). It sat on my night table for a little while. True confessions: I only read the first few chapters, as the book didn’t quite hold me. I head back to the digital highway and find some reviews that give me the basics on what I need to know. I tweet a librarian who connects me to some more good related resources.
I watch the video:
Johnson has many entertaining ideas but I am particularly struck by the notion of connection. “Chance favours the connected mind” keeps reverberating in my head. I see it lived in our district, through our innovative projects, our Engaging the Digital Learner series and through our district’s professional learning network (see our twitter hashtag #sd36learn). I follow the hashtag and I see teacher after teacher making a connection with someone across the system. This connection often goes beyond the virtual. Sometimes I see they visit each other’s schools, make arrangements to meet for real coffee and/or discuss their practice. I see people connecting across grades and from high school to elementary school in unusual ways, creating productive alliances around teaching and learning. This is a curious thing.
Johnson talks about the ‘liquid network’ as “an environment where ideas come into contact with each other.” He provides the historical context of coffee houses in 17th and 18th century–these were places people gathered to share ideas over coffee. We do that virtually via twitter. We do it in real-time, face-to-face in many schools. It often happens organically. But can we be strategic about ensuring it happens? Is there a liquid network in all our schools? Throughout our districts? Where are we taking time to incubate our hunches? Where are we connecting our good ideas beyond the virtual realm? Does it happen in our staff rooms? In the hallways? At the Board Office? In the meetings we hold? At pro-d days or in between sessions at conferences? And do we create this same type of space for students in the classroom? In the library? The learning commons? Can we structure this architecturally into our system rather than leaving it to organic and spontaneous hit and miss activity? Can we be intentional and strategic in our diffusion strategies?
And when do we take the time for our own personal reflection so that we can come to the table rich with ideas and thoughts? Nigel Barlow asked us, “Where are you when you have great ideas?” Think about it. Where are you? Some of my best ideas come during or after a run. For me, these ideas come when there is an opportunity for both silence and alone time, often on the heels of a complex problem, significant question, or conundrum where someone at work has challenged me. Some of the best work we do is when we are asked curious questions, not yes or no questions, but those kind of questions that create that puzzled look on our faces. These are thought-provoking and disturbing questions that can create some uncomfortable dissonance. This is a good thing. I need the personal time to process, to reflect and to see things from different angles. Then I can come back to the coral reef to let the ideas collide, grow bigger and come to life.
…and come to life. Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems that flourish with life. The liquid network–whether it is over virtual coffee or the life-giving waters of the coral reef– is a potent metaphor; ideas connect, expand and are adopted. Can we design our organizations to do the same? I grapple with the notion of creating a coral reef for ideas and collaboration but I keep thinking about action. Does it come alive? Does it change our schools? Does it change our practice? Does it change learning? Does it change me? How can I work better and differently in my position so that all of us can pause to think deeply, to connect richly with others (both virtually and in person), and then to allow those innovative ideas to become a lived reality across a large system.
I am looking for an organizational coral reef where ideas collide in some form of liquid network. I want whole scale change that permeates the system and where ideas are so attractive others are pulled to them from across schools and the organization. This is not about a one-classroom silo of significant change dependent on one teacher, or one team of teachers with a supportive administration. This is about creating capacity across a monolithic system. This is about generative conversations that lead us to learn and grow in such ways that we are compelled to change our practice. Call it what you may–the coral reef, the liquid network—but this becomes the inspiration for transformation. The contagion of good ideas spreads, is explored, and is action-ed. The organization grows and reinvents itself. We reinvent ourselves. And as we do that, our own sense of purpose, our own passion for our work, grows and comes alive as well. And professionally, this is how we come to life, too.