Another dot in the blogosphere?

The optimists, pessimists, and realists of change

Posted on: July 22, 2017

I shared the photo montage below previously without the quote. I made another one with the text after reading an article about oBike’s shared bicycle service extending to London.

A system that relies on people to be thoughtful, courteous and responsible is doomed to fail.

One person commented on the article: A system that relies on people to be thoughtful, courteous and responsible is doomed to fail.

I agree. From a systems perspective, you cannot expect a group of individuals to behave formulaically by assuming good behaviour will override bad behaviour for a net positive.

Groups of people become meta-organisms like a hive of bees or a colony of ants. They become a different creature, not a collection of animals.

So this got me thinking about how leaders and administrators think about implementing change in school systems.

The tongue-in-cheek and in-your-face collection above bares some truths. But reality is more nuanced than assuming all leaders are dimwits.

Some do not know they are uninformed, some do not want to know, and some acknowledge the gaps. They are the optimists, pessimists, and realists of systemic change.

The optimists have good intentions, theories, and ideals. Policies are shaped in their mould, but they fail to translate on the ground because of practical and cruel realities.

The pessimists plan and implement incremental or piecemeal change because they view their efforts as fighting the tide. Whatever they do, they go with the flow because that is what wins in the short term.

The realists rely on praxis — the combination of theories and practices, or theory-informed practices. They know that people understand the need for change, but do not necessarily want to be change agents.

Comic on change.

Realists do not just plan and act on theories. They also collect meaningful and timely data to inform policy. They do not simply work on a hunch, they work on something with punch.

Realists know they must address mindsets before they can change attitudes and behaviours. They include incentives and disincentives to shape mindsets.

Realists do not simply charge ahead and say “Follow me!” without monitoring the followers. They pull from the front, push from the back, and mess with the middle.

Realists know that they cannot lead alone. They must mentor or identify change agents and informal leaders. These are individuals that are not appointed from above, but emerge from the ground instead. They lead not because of position, but because of reputation.

A system designed for people to not have buy-in, ownership, and direction is doomed to fail.

Leaders of change do not neatly fit into the categories. They form a continuum instead. The best ones are centred in reality and learn from the successes and failures of other systems.

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