Learning Organizations Must Operate Simultaneously in CREATION, MAINTENANCE, and INNOVATION

When I was in college, I did an internship at Microsoft. Amongst several life-altering experiences, I had the pleasure of hearing Bill Gates speak on a few occasions. I even met him at his house once and, intentionally, made a fool out myself. But that story is for another day.

During the annual company meeting held at Safeco Park in Seattle (yes, Microsoft rented the entire stadium for a meeting) Bill talked to us about the history and future of Microsoft from a strategic perspective. One of the biggest takeaways I got from his talk was around nimbleness of a successful tech company.

Bill said (or at least I remember him saying), “For a tech company to be successful, it must simultaneously in the areas of Creation, Maintenance, and Innovation.”

I have taken this idea and repurposed it for EdTech leadership in the schools and organizations in which I have worked. I call it the CMI Model of Education Technology Management.

Creation, Maintanence, and InnovationCREATION – At all times, an EdTech team must be creating technology programs to enhance teaching and learning or school operations. Whether this is introduction of an iPad program, a new data system, professional development curriculum, or introduction of assessment tools. At no point, can the team move away from direct improvement through introduction of created materials, systems, and programs. Without focus on this area, the school becomes stagnant, falls behind, and will have to invest far more resources to make up ground later than would be spent now.

MAINTENANCE – The team must ensure their existing systems, resources, and offering are operational. The servers must be running, the technology integration must be providing results, the data systems must be operational. However, beyond this the team must be constantly evaluating system to ensure they are still valuable to the school and sunsetting those that are not. Without focus in this area, school will lose trust amongst their community as systems won’t be seen as reliable or useful.

INNOVATION – In conjunction with creation and maintenance, both of which look at the now or the near future, teams must look downstream and plan strategically. They need to figure out the longer term directions the tech offering at the school will go. Will we create an integrated data system? Can we remove all location-tethered devices, such as desktop computers? Are we able to move all operations to the cloud? These conversations feed the creation of new systems and the value of existing systems. Without focus on this area, schools will not meet the mission of long-term improvement, operational efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and the ever-increasing expectations of educational impact.

Educational InnovationThis begs the question of how much time and resources do you spend in each of these areas? I don’t think there is a one sized fits all answer to this.

What I have found is that distribution changes by organization, context, needs, and time of year.

Some schools are in need of focusing resources on maintenance to ensure continued operations. They will spend much less time (5-10% each) on creation or innovation. Others find they are blessed with a rich internal and external community that helps them look at new ideas and evaluate old ones where they are able to evenly spread their time. And often, schools will spend more time in the innovation stages during budgeting, creation during non-teaching time, and maintenance when students are on campus.

What I suggest is that leadership in schools make it a priority to identify the need to operate in all three frames and make a conscious effort to allocate time and resources for all of them. Don’t trust the next improvement will come just by going to a conference. Don’t think that hiring another technician will fix your system problems. Don’t believe a governance level strategy session will set you up for the next 5 years. All of these areas require care and feeding, both formative and summative. They need attention and focus.

I will say that when I visit schools, the most “successful” one in terms of EdTech can articulate their efforts in Creation, Maintenance, and Innovation. Whereas the more immature or less successful organizations tend to allocate most of their time, energy, and resources towards Maintenance.

Where I have found the most success here is to make CMI a part of goal setting, staff evaluation, and reporting. And, I literally put a copy of graphic shown above on the wall of my office and at various locations within the school.

I work as an Educational Technology consultant at International EdTech committed to helping schools use technology successfully. I frequently present at conferences on Educational Leadership, Learning Technology, IT, and Data Systems. I am also a a published author focusing on Educational Technology, International Education, and Leadership.

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