Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

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  • David Willows

Welcome to Advancement 2.0!

Looking back in time, the history of humanity will often be written as a series of “ages”, each one significantly different from its predecessors. Likewise, we speak of a series of industrial revolutions that led the world from Industry 1.0 to 4.0, where it is today.

The catalyst for these seismic shifts in the world’s story will often come down to global events, social revolutions, or significant technological advances that disrupt the world order almost overnight.

Of course, almost no revolution literally happens overnight. Many of the most significant paradigm shifts in human history have taken years or even centuries to occur. Looking back with the distance of time, however, it can sometimes appear that it did in fact happen in the blink of an eye.

Reflecting on seventeen years of leading an Advancement team, with this same hindsight and the benefit of perspective that it brings, I find myself now convinced that we have experienced a revolution of our own. To be sure, the pillars of our craft are the same - it’s still all about Story, People, and Process - but the manner in which we tell the story, help people find their place in that story, to say nothing of the processes that we manage in support of these goals, is unrecognizable from what it once was.

In short: welcome to Advancement 2.0!

There is far more to say here than a single blog post will allow. So let me summarize it with a thought-provoking chart and three basic propositions.

Firstly, I believe that our role as storytellers for our schools has shifted significantly. Whereas once we were content with simply giving the right information by means of over-generalized statements and accompanying clichéd images, we now find ourselves charged with an altogether different task.

The stories that we tell today are differentiated and intentionally designed with the reader in mind. They are complex, layered, experiences that must be agile enough to transfer meaning across multiple channels and engaging enough to stand out in the crowd. Likewise, we look for words, not just to say who we are as an institution, but to discover who we want to become.

Second, we have broken the silos in which we once worked - forever. I have written on this previously, but there is no longer any doubt in my mind that a more integrated approach to the work of Advancement can lead to a more efficient, more collaborative, and more agile team.

Advancement 2.0, I predict, will be an era in which we think far more about our team in terms of superpowers than roles. As we break down the silos, we will find ways of distributing leadership, rather than depending upon traditional hierarchies. And, ultimately, we will create the kind of flexible and adaptable capacities that will suit what is likely to be an era of continued disruption for the schools in which we work.

Third and finally, the processes that are supporting us in this new age of Advancement have shifted and will continue to shift in the direction of integrated, coherent systems and workflows.

Today, we know that we can no longer afford to buy websites that sit, unchanged for 5 five years or more. In just the same way, we cannot assume that the way things work today will be sufficient for tomorrow. Our role is to hold on to them, but lightly - to shift, adapt, and iterate, guided not by fixed rules, but by principles that ensure we remain true to who we are and what we value.

And so a new era of Advancement has begun. Looking back I cannot precisely say when the revolution occurred. Perhaps it was certain decisions that we made, coupled with external forces that were beyond our control. What I can say, though, is that it now seems almost inconceivable that we would ever go back.