A Blue Ocean School Strategy. 

In October of 2005 W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, two professors at INSEAD (The Business School for the World) wrote a seminal book called The Blue Ocean Strategy. It has transformed the way many businesses and organizations look at themselves and the marketplaces (red oceans or blue oceans) in which they operate. 

I am suggesting that this same view should be taken of our Public School System. So, a good place to begin is with an explanation of each kind of ocean within which all organizations, public and private, operate. 

Red Oceans represent known and well-understood spaces where boundaries are accepted, rules understood, and both have been around for a long time. Their products have long since turned into commodities, and their institutional legacy has stifled innovative thinking. New problems are responded to with old thinking.

Blue Oceans represent opportunities. They are unknowns. They are knowledge-based and complex. They rely on the effective and nimble acquisition and deployment of knowledge. They are the product of leveraging change. Above all they rely on teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and a willingness to look at the big picture – the context – and communicate visions clearly. In Blue Oceans, leadership constantly challenges itself to adopt new ways of thinking and managing and adapting to changing circumstances. Crucially, ambiguity is seen as an asset.

The authors underscore that the ultimate peril for those operating in a red ocean is the tranquil, self-satisfied, and powerless feeling of floating, unaware that in reality they are in troubled, nutrient-poor, and stagnant waters. Consequentially, Red Ocean management resorts to tinkering and making incremental changes and modifications, instead of looking for transformative opportunities. The Red Ocean world view is one where boundaries and conditions are a given, unquestioned, and accepted. Consequently, their stakeholders, even the leadership, have no power to change the accepted rules. 

Contrary to what one might think, in the world of business Red Oceans are constantly turning into Blue Oceans. Professors Chan Kim and Mauborgne prove that over the past century the vast majority of Blue Ocean businesses were spawned out of existing Red Ocean enterprises; not as we assume by the proverbial two people in a garage. That may change. 

Of course, brand new Blue Oceans do arise seemingly from nowhere, such as Microsoft, Apple, eBay, Google, Starbucks, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, or Tesla. However, the vast majority are created out of Red Oceans by incumbents. But this only happens when boundaries and rules are breached by management with altered thinking, resulting in strategic shifts in direction. 

As Chan Kim and Mauborgne write, “Blue oceans are right next to you……the key is not large budgets, the key is making the right strategic moves, a product of managerial action.” This begins, as they point out, with all stakeholders collaboratively accepting and redefining the problem, followed by planning and bold decision-making. As educators operating in the ultimate Red Ocean – a monopoly designed during and for the Industrial Revolution – this should give us hope. 

Clearly the Public School system is too big to fail. It is necessary but insufficient. And consequently, heading towards irrelevance. In the absence of a new approach, it will continue inching along observing its strict rules and accepted boundaries. If nothing changes, it will stay a nutrient-depleted Red Ocean, maladapted, stagnant, and propped-up by an entrenched civil service which continues tinkering. Without change, it will continue to solve the wrong problems, and shamble along, unmoored from reality, believing all is tranquil because on the surface of this Red Ocean it is. 

Chan and Mauborgne prove that Blue Oceans are regularly created from Red Oceans. And that should give us hope. So, how can America turn our children’s Red Ocean, school-centric, learning experience into a child-centric, relevant, knowledge-based, Blue Ocean experience, which capitalizes on children’s innate ability to decipher knowledge from raw data? The answer is leadership. More specifically Servant Leadership. 

The four main characteristics of Servant Leaders are that they constantly challenge themselves to adopt new ways of thinking and managing, ambiguity is seen as an asset, they all see their job as leveraging change, and they revere teamwork. That sounds a lot like parents and teachers to me. Especially teachers. Especially women teachers.

Just like the commercial world, schools are a marketplace, a community of providers and consumers. And that will not change. It is just that they are Red Oceans. And if they are not moving forwards they are going backwards or sinking. 

A complicating factor is that the Public School System has many more stakeholders than the mere five any business deals with. Parents, children, teachers, administrators, support workers, Congress, state legislators, voters, taxpayers, education foundations, unions, service workers, local and state government, and suppliers. And of course, the employers – for profit and non-profit – who depend on the schools as much as the schools depend on them. Of these stakeholders, the children have the least say and the most to lose and sadly teachers are a close second.  

Many, perhaps even most stakeholders in our public schools, might believe change is necessary and want a Blue Ocean version of their children’s school now. But that is difficult. Change can only come either from the top via legislation, or from the bottom via Servant Leaders – parents and teachers – and perhaps voter sentiment. There is no sign that the top-tier stakeholders – managers and suppliers – in the US Public School System want change; all is well, On the other hand, two thirds of Americans want either a total overhaul or big changes. Certainly not the status quo. So. 

  • The Matter of School Reform is Urgent. 
  • Schools are a Black Swan in a Red Ocean.
  • The Metaverse is upon us 
  • But What to do? 
  • Turn Schools into a Blue Ocean.
  • How?
    • A Children’s Civil Rights Movement.
  • Led by Servant Leaders. 

It is certain that there is a large constituency for change amongst all voters. However, given the complexity and magnitude of the problem posed by our Public Schools and the sheer weight of their history, it is equally certain that change is not going to come about via a top-down mandate. As usual in societies throughout history, those who benefit from the status quo have the power and wish nothing more than to let inertia rule and let them finish their shift hunkered down. And those who would benefit from change have no power. That is history’s history, for women especially.

That means the only avenue for change is a bottom-up, activist grassroots campaign. They have worked well in the past, like the Civil Rights Movement in the US in the 1950s and 60s or the ongoing – mostly successful – fights for Gay rights, Voter’s rights, Women’s rights, the Human or the right not to be exploited, trafficked, or sexually abused.

What is needed is a unifying message. “Blue Ocean Schools Now.”

Join others at Facebook.com/Blue Ocean Schools

To me at least, it is clear, that teachers and parents and those organizations that support them are the only ones with the best interests of children at the very center of their being. Of all the stakeholders in our school system, parents and teachers are the only ones who sacrifice daily for children. They are the ones with a mission to give children the best start possible. And this makes them the only possible core group to lead a Children’s Civil Rights Movement, to right the wrongs.

And they are very well positioned. One of the defining assets of the mid-twentieth century Civil Rights Movement, and all other historic human rights movements, alongside their righteous and compelling case, is the servant leadership qualities of their founders. Those who come to my mind are Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Greta Thunberg, the Dalai Lama, Jane Goodall, Harvey Milk, Sir David Attenborough, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Pope Francis, and Martin Luther King Jr. As I write this, another exemplar of servant leadership just died, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Look at the legacies of these people and then look at the legacy of those leaders whose main asset is their power, so clinging on to it at any cost comes first. 

Servant leadership is necessary to start and grow a mass movement based on any idea of equal rights. The 1% who are financially able to prepare their children for what is coming are already doing so. It is the rights of the 99% I am addressing. An appropriate education is a human right.

 

It is my belief teachers and parents could become such Servant Leaders just by deciding to do so. They have the argument and evidence for change, and they already have the individual and collective moral authority on their side if they make demands. Over 80% of voters admire the job teachers do. Their overlords in Congress rarely scores more than 20%. Teachers are also in short supply and high demand making their bargaining position stronger than they might think. 

And it is even part of teachers’ job description to ensure appropriate education. This is an excerpt from the Teachers Oath. “I will teach to the best of my abilities to those who seek to learn from me. I will not use my position as a teacher to influence a student toward any purpose other than learning.” 

It is worth noting that parents have an even better chance at helping children simply because they spend more time with their children, and they do not have to live within the strait jacket of the curriculum of Public Schools; as far as I am concerned a high school diploma should come with a hazard warning and a disclaimer: “Not suitable preparation for life!”

Teachers and parents have the innate skills, the mission, and practical experience to be quite capable of guiding children. I hope my Free Terego Training Method™ Workbook will equip you with the tools to help your children polish their dazzling hybrid skills.

 

The only things enough parents and teachers will need is the Will and the Organization. Mostly will. Critical mass is a smaller number than you think. And ironically, Facebook has already set up the architecture for teachers to organize a grassroots organization. Facebook.com/Blue Ocean Schools I hope this book has provided the “Why” this state of affairs came about, and a beginning on “How” we can begin anew with the generation in schools right now. 

Servant leaders exist to serve and nurture their community. They lead from the bottom of the pyramid. They place the good of consumers/clients and the lowest-level stakeholders at the top of the inverted pyramid. The typical qualities associated with servant leaders are listening skills, empathy, an ability to conceptualize, to heal, to be self-aware, persuasive, good at building a community, committed to the growth of those they serve, gifted with foresight, and finally good stewards of the well-being of those they lead through being their servant.

 

What kind of person does that remind you of? To me, those characteristics describe almost all the teachers/trainers/instructors/coaches/mentors I have ever known, and a vast majority of parents, and grandparents! Listening, healing, nurturing, collegial self-awareness, wanting the best for others, self-sacrificing, protective, good stewards; that sounds like most ethical people too. And ethical behavior is not well represented at the very top of most human hierarchies.      

There are over 49,000,000 households in the US with one or more children in K12 classrooms, or homeschooled. They are being taught by 3,700,000 teachers. That is well over a hundred million adults with servant leader qualities in daily contact with children and with direct responsibility for preparing them for life after eighteen. And Pew Research tells us that over 66 million want change. That is enough for a grassroots movement. 

However, if a Children’s Civil Rights Movement is to be launched, these Servant Leaders will also need the courage to speak truth to power, the will to disrupt and disobey, and the evidence to make the argument for change, which I hope they will find in this book. This will lead them to a Justified Belief in not just the truth and righteousness of such a movement, but its economic necessity.

Proof of the economic necessity for a change in our curriculum can be found in a simple geopolitical thought experiment, which just might appeal to business leaders and politicians. Imagine if you will what would happen to the USA’s lead in intellectual property if China’s autocratic leader reads this book and decides that I am right. He could issue a decree disguised of course as a Civil Rights Movement on Monday, and by Friday all 250,000,000 Chinese school children would unleash their Hybrid Skills and begin Ideating and compete even harder on the world stage. In the US that same process would take petitions, commissions, task forces, hearings, reviews, constitutional amendments in fifty states, voter resolutions, high voter turnout, appropriations, brand new legislation, lobbyists, and congressional votes, the executive branch and of course justice department. 

Or a grassroots Children’s Civil Rights Movement led by Servant Leaders. Facebook.com/Blue Ocean Schools

School reform not only makes sense in terms of international competitiveness, but local and national economies do better when school performance improves. Those counties that depend on taxes should want their schools to change from Red Oceans to Blue.

Getting students and teachers to become more psychologically engaged has a direct bottom line impact on the local tax-based economy. And giving students and teachers more say in decisions about classroom best practice and more and power over their role in the classroom would re-engage teachers and children quicker than anything.

The fiscal return by getting the public schools to be more productive is staggering and benefits everybody. Eric Hanushek a senior fellow of education policy at Stanford University and the Hoover Foundation reports that his research reveals, “If all fifty states had improved their educational outcomes to match eighth place Minnesota, the American economy would be four times the size it is right now.” That means our $18 trillion economy would be $76 trillion! With the same number of people sharing the pie. Hanushek also conducted peer-reviewed research proving that, “The economic growth of a state is directly related to the skills of its workforce. And the skills of the workforce are heavily dependent on the state’s schools. The level of cognitive skills of a nation’s students has a large effect on its subsequent economic growth rate. Increasing the average number of years of schooling attained by the labor force boosts the economy only when increased levels of school attainment also boost cognitive skills.” In other words, it is not enough simply to spend more time in school; something has to be learned: Thinking. Cognitive functions in American students have barely moved since the sixties.  

Almost 80% of all American high school graduates stay in the community in which they were raised. They will need good jobs to do that. Businesses gravitate to well-educated population centers.

US taxpayers fund public education. And schools – the recipients of those tax dollars – have turned around and outsourced public school education, minus the costs of services and infrastructure which taxpayers still bear of course, to large companies who lobby to keep the costs of educational services and material artificially high. We have in effect privatized the profitable parts of public schools, all in name of fighting the current educational battle with weapons from the last war. This leaves the schools as blissfully unaware Black Swans paddling in a Red Ocean. 

So, here is the message to those who cling to the status quo, and those who are coerced into clinging on with them. Re-think please. It is in your naked self-interest to disrupt the current way we deliver education in K12. So, at the very least do not resist the Servant Leaders who lead a Children’s Civil Rights Movement for change. 

The Children’s Civil Rights Movement, a grassroots movement of parents and teachers needs a brief manifesto and a policy or story to rally round of course. 

 

The Blue Ocean Schools Now Manifesto:

 

There are Three Dangerous Paradoxes Threatening our Children’s Future: 

 

  1. There is a mismatch between how children actually and naturally learn (using 11 Hybrid Skills focused on divergent thinking) and how they are currently taught (using 2 Hybrid Skills focused on convergent thinking).

 

  1. There is a mismatch between the 21st century skills that children demand to help with their lives and careers, and the test-taking skills which schools supply.

 

  1. There is a mismatch between the federal, state, and local civil servants’ support of the school-centric status quo, and those parents and teachers who want to disrupt the status quo and change to a child-centric model of education. 

 

Join at Facebook.com/Blue Ocean Schools.

The holistic view of society shows us the circular, self-reinforcing, feedback loops that are the nature of democracy making it in All American’s self-interest to resolve these paradoxes. 

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 #Ideation #Hybridskills #Justifiedbelief #Futureproof #Infoliteracy

Facebook.com/Blue Ocean Schools

Excerpted from my book Hybrid Learning.

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