I’ve been interested in how the conditions for innovation can be created in organizations for a long time, especially in those that are not very innovative.
So, I’ve been intrigued by the writing of John Hagel and John Seely Brown and their thoughts on the importance of “edges” and how edges can transform what they call the “core.” Their ideas are written in the context of the business world, but I believe their ideas translate well into and education and provide an interesting model for creating a culture of innovation in schools.
Hagel and Brown suggest that edges “exist on the periphery of a given domain or place.” (Hagel and Brown, 2010) Also, edges “are the places where the potential for innovation and growth is the highest. They are where unmet needs intersect with unexploited capabilities.” (Hagel and Brown, 2009)
Do we have those in education? Unmet needs? Unexploited capabilities. You bet.
For me, an edge is the space beyond the everyday, the normal, the current condition that is created by the emergence or introduction of something new, something disruptive. It’s not a boundary, but an area of tension where the conditions for innovation are favorable, and where new insights, ideas and practices can emerge.
Here’s an example from Hagel and Brown: “technology edges take shape as technological innovations begin offering new capabilities.” Think of a 1:1 or BYOD program…does the introduction of devices create an edge of opportunity where innovation can occur, where it was not possible before?
Interestingly, the authors also suggest that individual edges are created by the informal social interactions we engage in online that provide access to resources and ideas that would not have been encountered otherwise. So, does your use of social media create your own personal edge, an area for interactions that push you, that promote your growth as an educator, and the likelihood that you could engage in more innovative practice?
On the other hand, Hagel and Brown suggest that the core “symbolizes the inside of the enterprise, its principal capabilities and primary revenue streams.”
I would argue that the “educational core” represents the traditional and legacy beliefs and practices of schools. I’m not making a value judgement here; I’m simply stating that there are identifiable beliefs and practices that characterize “school.”
Hagel and Brown argue that the practices found on the edge, created by people comfortable working on the edge (you all know them), can transform the core. They contend that core practice can change as a result of edge activity and that smart leaders do this by introducing the core to the edge in a strategic and meaningful way.
Would your school climate benefit from the creation of more disruptive edges? Would that promote a change in climate where the conditions for innovation became more favorable? What if educators were intentional and strategic about creating edges? How would this contribute to a climate, and ultimately, a culture of innovation? And, how would the practices found on the edge ultimately inform the core?
Here are some examples of potential edge in schools:
1. Establishing digital and physical learning spaces in a school creates an edge. How would practice in either domain inform practice in the other? What’s now possible as the result of two domains for learning?
2. Promoting interactions beyond the traditional school with the global learning community creates edge. How would connecting learners to learners worldwide change the value and importance of learning in school? How would the learning experience in school change as new expertise and capacity were brought into the school as a result? What would happen as the same flowed out of the school?
3. Adding informal passion/interest based learning experiences to the standard curriculum creates edge. How would this honor the interests of students and connect them to new ways to school?
4. Creating new spaces for learning, from spaces not normally associated with traditional learning, creates edge. What types of new learning interactions could occur as the result of new spaces?
5. Allowing student ownership of space, curriculum, and traditional components of school normally under the control of adults creates edge. What could happen if you gave students choice and ownership, and would this increase investment, participation and engagement in school?
I wonder if the key to promoting innovation is to make stagnant, homogenous school environments more heterogenous by the intentional creation of edges. I wonder if the ability to change mainstream core practice is dependent upon the innovation at the edge…
It is my belief that the number of edges you have in your organization are a direct reflection of your capacity for innovation. More importantly, the number of edges you intentionally create represents your interest in innovation.
For more on edges, the core, and innovation see Hagel and Brown’s work at the Deloitte Center for the Edge.