Malcolm Gladwell Suggests Appreciative Inquiry Into Inner-City Schools

From a Time Magazine December 2009 interview with Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that in inner-city schools, the thing they do best is sports. They do really, really well in sports. It’s not correct to say these schools are dysfunctional; they’re highly functional in certain areas. So I’ve always wondered about using the principles of sports in the classroom. Go same sex; do everything in teams; have teams compete with each other. I’d like to try that. I don’t know whether it will work, but it’s certainly worth a shot, and we could learn something really useful.

I have written about Appreciative Inquiry and Amplify Positive Deviance as useful models for entrepreneurs  in analyzing both their own experiences and expertise and their customers’ needs and capabilities. I really like that Gladwell suggests starting with the demonstrated strengths of an inner-city school to foster improvements.

Seth Godin offers a critique of most schools in “Back to (the wrong) School

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

Do you see the disconnect here? Every year, we churn out millions of of workers who are trained to do 1925 labor.

As we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable and mediocre factory-workers?

The post-industrial revolution is here. Do you care enough to teach your kids to take advantage of it?

What’s interesting to me is that Gladwell’s prescription would also address Godin’s concerns. Athletic teams are coached for individual and collective improvisation. Winning teams are creative and collaborative.

Several take-aways for entrepreneurs:

  • Your prospects want to understand how your product will help them outperform their competition.  This requires more than explaining to them it works.
  • If you wait for customers to tell you what to implement you will lose to other firms that ask questions that enable them to appreciate not only current weaknesses but also the strengths that they can build on.
  • It’s also important to fully appreciate why your customers call your baby ugly when you ask for feedback on your new product.

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