I have made a New Year’s resolution to try to read a book a week and blog about the books on Wednesdays. This is my first post to the Wednesday book club.
I read Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption by Shane Cragun and Kate Sweetman in light of the September 14th “America” article (“Don’t Give Up on Our Catholic Schools”).
When reading the “America” magazine article which argues that Catholic schools are on an upward trajectory, I thought of Cragun & Sweetman’s analogy about icebergs. The authors compare the large food companies who are being disrupted by fresh, organic, and niche choices. Substitute many other disruptions (Uber, travel websites, Amazon) for the food companies and this quote applies, “I would think of these big food companies like melting icebergs. Every year they become a little less relevant.” (12) The authors then posit four questions for organizations to confront the brutal facts:
1. Melt-Rate: Is your professional or organizational iceberg melting? If so, at what rate? Why?
2. Relevance Trend: Are you and the organization you lead increasing in relevance in the eyes of customers and shareholders or decreasing in relevance? Why, or why not?
3. Adding Value: Do you continually push yourself and your organization to add greater value to customers and stakeholders? Why, or why not?
4. Internal vs. External Change: Is your current and projected rate of internal change greater than the current and projected speed of external change? Why, or why not? (14)
If you extend the iceberg metaphor to Catholic schools, it’s telling. This is an age of disruption in education. By and large, the brand of Catholic schools doesn’t hold the same meaning. Public schools have begun rolling out new brands (IB, dual language, Montessori, STEM, etc) while charter schools have also altered the landscape. Coupled with the sexual abuse damage, the loss of women religious, and the demographic shifts away from where many schools were located, the environment has been disrupted.
This “iceberg is melting” approach formed the basis of the original “America” article to which the authors were reacting. In that article (ironically titled “Reinventing Catholic Schools“) Dr. Charles Zech argues that Catholic schools have become irrelevant and it’s time for the Church to move on a la the Catholic hospital system and reinvent how education is delivered. He argues that there are supply and demand problems and the parochial school model is broken. He offers solutions including a network of Catholic charter schools.
The authors of the most recent “America” article argue that there are bright spots and there is a moral imperative to continue to serve the poor and to support our current schools. Who is right? Well, both as long as both sides study the “blindfolds” that Cragun and Sweetman provide. These blindfolds are barriers to innovation and reinvention. I believe that if all Catholic schools took off these blindfolds, a new era of Catholic education would dawn that would satisfy both sides of this argument. The blindfolds (31-35):
1. Arrogance. The belief that we have all the answers and don’t need to adapt to changing times
2. Negative Feedback Not Acknowledged. What are our haters saying? Why?
3. Dismissing Competitor’s Success. What can we learn from what’s working in other areas? Many successful charters lifted their game plans directly from the Catholic model (e.g. discipline, academic stress, parent participation)
4. We Know What’s Best for the Customer. Build it and they don’t always come!
5. Believing Problems Don’t Exist. Ignoring the issues and systematic problems.
6. Avoiding the Unavoidable. What is the writing on the wall?
Catholic schools are changing. The question is whether we are changing ourselves and staying ahead of the curve or are simply reacting to market forces that are changing us.