Yesterday I had two conversations that really made me think. First of all, Adrian, a consultant working in the tech sector who’s ahead of the game with technology for learning and work. I was keen to know what’s next in tech, we spoke about the future trends in digital innovation. When I asked about what we need to teach our kids and enhance their capacity, his immediate answer was ‘collaboration’.
Collaboration has been a buzz-word for so long, but I do wonder if we actually get it? Collaboration is purposeful, robust and honest, within a context of trust, and, as Adrian reiterated, it can be just as successfully achieved in a virtual environment, all the players no longer need to be in the same physical proximity.
The next conversation was with Derek another colleague in the education space. We were discussing a school he had visited recently, immersed in inquiry learning, with a strong design-thinking approach to pedagogy from the early years, right through. What was clear from the conversation, was that the students spent significant time developing empathy, deeply considering, who are we designing for?
Collaboration and empathy, imagine what could be achieved if these became the drivers of skill development. Taking it a level further, what if empathy and collaboration were underpinned by humility and curiosity?
The 20th century industry grew through mass marketing, mass communication and mass production. Large commercial ‘boulders’ provided what we needed for commodities, media and services, and we dutifully complied. In recent years, we’ve seen a seismic shift toward a culture of pebbles – opening opportunities for all, providing voice, agency, innovation and influence of the people.
In most industries, the customer experience culture is drilling down to identify the particular needs/desires of the individual user, shifting from mass production to the artisan, from one-size-fits-all to bespoke. This is the essence of empathy. Yet, in education we still seem to be driven by the big data of national assessment and benchmarking standards, when we need to be more curious about small data at the human level.
In the ‘boulder’ culture, we trusted the person paid the most, because they apparently knew best. But now, we are tapping-into the wisdom of the people, listening to the ‘pebbles’. This involves genuinely seeking the best solution, drawing on the wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise of the collective. This is collaboration.
Empathy and collaboration are learnt and practised skills in a context of authentic opportunities for application. Our students and team-members need to grow their capacity, and teachers and team leaders also need to acquire, model and apply these skills. Then empathy and collaboration become a culture, from the top, all the way through.
It is easy to allow one or two people to make executive decisions and then we (grudgingly?) comply. It is much harder and can be exhausting to tackle a problem through a collaborative and often iterative process.
But it is rewarding and durable to achieve success as a team.
It is easy to assume I know best and can meet need through applying a blanket solution. It is time-consuming and can be personally challenging to deep dive into an empathy mapping exercise.
But when that one outlier or that hard to engage student achieves a sense of success, there is no feeling like it.
Where would you rather be?