All In: What the Future Holds
He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery. ~ Harold Wilson, UK Prime Minister, 1964-70, 1974-1976
Recently, I had the pleasure of gathering with Montgomery County Public Schools’ colleagues to talk broadly about the topic of change. While change is inevitable, how it is received depends on the eye of the beholder. When I polled the folks at the gathering about their feelings about change, responses were mixed. Some found it exciting; others less so.
Anxiety around change is not new. Take the historical evolution from spoken to written word. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when some thought that writing would “ruin our memories” (370 BC, Socrates); books would render us ‘confused and barbarous’ (16th-17th century); and that public education would ruin children’s health (1883, New York medical journal The Sanitarian).
But, regardless of whether we embrace it or not, change is happening around us. For example:
- While unimaginable just a generation or so ago, fully electric vehicles are projected to reach 35 percent of global new car sales by 2040. By the time those who entered kindergarten in 2018 grow up to purchase their own vehicles, many will never have known the experience of pumping gas at a service station. I am excited that current MCPS students are already blazing trails and winning competitions with this exciting new technology: student members of the Society of Women Engineers at Wheaton High School built an award-winning electric car that is scheduled to be showcased as part of this year’s Maryland STEM Festival on November 10.
- The news industry has experienced a seismic shift. In the United States, weekday print circulation shrank from a high of nearly 60 million in 1994 to 35 million for combined print and digital circulation today. That is 24 years of decline. Today, many of us get our news from a mobile device. In an era where almost anyone with a keyboard can be an online publisher, adults and students alike have had to learn fresh ways to apply critical thinking and analysis in order to vet information and sources in this new digital landscape.
- So much of how the world has changed affects our daily work in educating children. At the turn of the last century, a rising school-age population, plus stricter child labor laws, ushered in the need to erect massive school structures all around the country. Population growth and enrollment patterns have not stopped shifting since. Today, we face new challenges just as many of our school facilities are beginning to show their age. Schools of the future will, by default, reflect new norms and realities: environmentally friendly buildings that are digitally equipped, with a growing focus on online learning, with all of it preparing students for college AND career. The aim will be to provide optimal learning experiences for all kids.
There are endless examples, but I want to note that while change can create a great deal of anxiety, it is also a marker for progress. At MCPS, we have an obligation to our students to adapt our work to a changing world, using the latest brain research, so all of our students thrive in their futures.
We do so understanding that all real change involves loss, anxiety and struggle, and that resistance is a normal first reaction. People often deny or resist change because they fear the unknown, want to preserve continuity, or have concerns about personal loss.
At the gathering, we discussed the several types of loss employees normally experience when a major shift or change occurs within an organization:
- Loss of security;
- Loss of competency;
- Loss of relationships;
- Loss of direction;
- Loss of territory.
Change is not always easy. But, alongside loss is opportunity. Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, offers these tips on how employees can thrive during times of rapid change and acceleration:
Tip 1: Always think like a new immigrant.
When immigrants first come to this country, they adopt a thought process that goes something like this: I just arrived here. There are no legacy spots waiting for me. I better figure out what’s going on here, what the opportunities are, and pursue them with more energy, vigor and more Passion Quotient (PQ) and Curiosity Quotient (CQ) than anybody else. I talk more about PQ and CQ below, but imagine all that could be achieved if each and every one of us started our day with this mindset.
Tip 2: Always think like an artisan.
Before mass manufacturing, work was artisanal. Artisans brought so much personal value-add and uniqueness to their work that they carved their initials into their work at the end of the day. Always do your job in a way that brings so much empathy and uniqueness that it cannot be automated, digitized or outsourced … and in a way that makes you want to carve your initials into it at the end of the day.
Tip 3: Always be in beta.
You may have noticed that software developers never release a product, pack up shop and go home. They often first release a beta version—one that is tested by the users and then is improved based on their experiences. New versions of the software are released routinely so the product can keep up with the changing needs of the users. We should always think of ourselves as a beta version—one that needs to be re-engineered and retaught constantly to keep up with our students’ changing needs.
Tip 4: Always remember that PQ + CQ is greater than IQ.
This is not to take anything away from natural intelligence, but we should bear in mind that individuals can obtain knowledge when they have the passion and curiosity to pursue it. Thomas Friedman writes, “The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.”
Tip 5: Always think entrepreneurially.
Whatever you do, whether you’re in the public or private sector, whether you’re a manager or on the front lines, always think about where you can branch out to add value in the areas of work that you control.
In closing, I’d like to share with you a thought-provoking video that I hope you will take time to view. It is less than three minutes long, but what it covers reminds us all to do what author Daniel Pink has advocated: We must never lose sight that “We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.”
Change is happening all around us and stops for no one. It is our job to help each other and the students in our charge navigate these changes successfully. If we do this, we will all thrive in our futures.