Seven Traits of an Intrapreneurial Educator
I recently had the honour of delivering a keynote to over two thousand school principals and educators at EduTECH – Australia’s premier conference for innovation in education. Whilst I have worked with numerous global corporate brands on fostering ‘intrapreneurship’ within their organisations, this was my first major attempt at sharing this with some of the most influential minds in our society – those educators who are future-proofing our kids in an era of rapid change.
My approach to innovation is twofold – foster the traits of an intrapreneur and recognise the blockages that may be holding your school back. Through my work I have identified there are “Seven Deadly Sins” that inhibit innovation. The key to addressing these ‘sins’ is to instead foster the traits of an intrapreneur (an innovator within an organisation). Below are the seven traits I spoke of at EduTECH to help educators build a culture of intrapreneurship within their schools.
- Deadly Sin: PRIDE | Counter Trait: VISIONARY
The first of the Seven Deadly Sins of Innovation to stamp out is pride. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking your school has arrived and become complacent. Don’t underestimate how fast we will all need to adapt to change over the coming decade. As Will Rogers’ said, “Just because you are on the right track doesn’t mean you can’t get run over.”
The counter to pride is the first intrapreneurial trait to embrace – be VISIONARY. Essentially, this is to look into the future and re-imagine what education will look like for your school. Create a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and make every decision, every hire, every reward and every change align with this vision.
- Deadly Sin: GLUTTONY | Counter Trait: LEAN
The second sin of innovation is clinging to the mass that can hold us back – the red tape, layers of hierarchy, rules and regulations, systems and processes. The big one for both business and schools is having too many products – in a school’s case it’s the plethora of subjects, sports and co-curricular programs on offer. There comes a point where there can be too many to be effective. Education will not evolve if there is too much inertia to change.
Instead, school principals need to treat their school more like a LEAN start-up, asking how they can maximise impact with minimal resources. Intrapreneurs who ‘think lean’ are flexible to change by thinking big but remaining as small as possible. A speed boat can turn and pivot much faster than a super tanker.
- Deadly Sin: GREED | Counter Trait: RESOURCEFULNESS
Next, schools need to remove greed from their mindset. A fixation with the need for extra funding for new initiatives or even to maintain current activities isn’t a helpful approach. Although adequate funding of our schools is clearly a necessary investment, we equally have to cease calling out the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ where funding is viewed as the ‘be all and end all’ of school success.
Instead, the most successful schools are not the most highly funded, but the most RESOURCEFUL – one of the most important traits of an intrapreneur. It sounds counter-intuitive but often the less you have, the more innovative you can be. There are few individuals more resourceful in our society than that inspirational school teacher, who fosters incredible student outcomes by throwing out boring textbooks and creating innovative ways to keep our kids inspired in ways that may not cost money.
- Deadly Sin: LUST | Counter Trait: COMMERCIALITY
The fourth deadly sin is the lust for technology, bred by the misconception that all innovation must be technological in nature. Innovation is as much about methodology, pedagogy and a plethora of other initiatives which will leap-frog any change that comes about from merely reading an electronic version of the same old textbook.
The biggest changes will start to come when we embrace COMMERCIALITY. The very skills that our kids need to succeed in life, are the very skills the intrapreneurs in our education system need to run a school. Whether revenue comes from government funding or school fees, the reality is: a school is a business and commerciality is key to thriving. To counter lust, it’s key to assess every spend in the school against that Big Hairy Audacious Goal and how effective it will be in achieving it, instead of getting carried away by the latest fad – technological or otherwise.
- Deadly Sin: ENVY | Counter Trait: COLLABORATION
The theory of happiness economics finds that social comparison leads to reduced satisfaction with one’s own position. It’s easy to jealously eye other less constrained organisations and become discouraged about your own school’s ability to make innovation happen. But focusing on what you don’t have can lead to missing the opportunities found right where you are.
The obvious trait to overcome enviously resenting others’ success is to COLLABORATE with them. Think about partnering with another school that has been implementing an innovative approach. Siloed thinking stifles innovation, but building relationships with other schools, industry and your local community will turbocharge your growth.
- Deadly Sin: SLOTH | Counter Trait: PASSION
Inertia creeps into to any large organisation that has been established for a long time. A sense of urgency is lost and there seems to be no compelling reason to introduce change. It is slothful habits like clock watching, groupthink, doing the bare minimum and resistance to change which leaves any organisation, including schools, at risk of being left behind.
Though I acknowledge that our crowded curriculum and the multitude of systemic requirements placed upon teachers can be a challenge, the intrapreneurial trait of PASSION can help keep a school thriving. Passion gives energy to any pursuit and drives motivation and growth. Whilst a vast generalisation, often times the most passionate teachers are new educators. With their rose-coloured glasses still firmly worn and the latest science of teaching fresh in their brains, it is crucial to harness this passion to prevent sloth creeping in. Fresh eyes are often the best for identifying new and innovative solutions that haven’t been tried before. Give these young (or young at heart) intrapreneurs the support, recognition and latitude they need to try new initiatives.
- Deadly Sin: WRATH | Counter Trait: RESILIENCE
The last of the Seven Deadly Sins of Innovation is WRATH, or anger, over failure. For every ten new initiatives you might experiment with it’s likely only one will succeed. It’s important to stamp out the tendency to crucify failed efforts and instead to embrace the opportunity for learning that these setbacks represent so you can try again with more knowledge.
The intrapreneurial trait to foster here is RESILIENCE. This is the ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and start again when your initiative doesn’t work as planned. If Edison had given up with the first of hundreds of failed experiments in his quest to invent the electric light bulb we may still be in the dark. There’s a lot of talk about fostering this in our kids at the moment, but this can’t happen without positive role modelling from their teachers and school leaders.
It is one of the most exciting times to be in education – a once in a century opportunity to embrace incredible change and innovation. The seven traits of an intrapreneur will equip our principals and teachers with the skills they need to forge this change.
Contact John Assunto for all of your Education Recruiting needs! Johna@worldbridgepartners.com or 860-387-0503