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How Adaptive Are Our Schools

Sometime back, I read a very interesting paper on the process of creating adaptive organizations in a knowledge-based society. The paper comes from Toffler Associates – this is Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s company. They wrote Future Shock about 40 years ago. The book noted ideas that are being promoted today by trend-watchers, and the Tofflers identified these trends long back. I read the book a couple of decades back and was blown away by their predictions; most of them seemed unreal and didn’t make any sense at that time. Of course today it’s all becoming reality or close to real. The paper I read is titled The Adaptive Organization: Fostering Change in Five Areas. It is a fascinating read and has implications for organizations and institutions engaged in strategic planning. It discusses how to create organizations that are able to sense the need for and undertake change. It outlines five areas in which an organization must adapt simultaneously to remain relevant and effective and to ensure that it is “aligned internally and with the present and future external environments- people, process, strategy, technology and structure. . . . Highly specific to the organization undertaking it, alignment may require significant reform or investment of resources. The organization that does not align, however, can’t adapt effectively to the opportunities and challenges they face and will not survive the Information Age.” While reflecting on the paper, I read several related reports, papers, and articles that are worth a read for institutions or organizations planning for the future. 40 for the Next 40 (A Sampling of the Drivers of Change that will Shape our World Between Now and 2050) This report gives a 30K ft overview of global drivers of change in several key areas. Future Shock Forum This is a summary report of the discussions at the 2007 Future Shock Forum. It focuses on three areas: Encouraging and Developing Human Talent, Innovating across the ‘Non-Money’ and ‘Money’ Economies, and ‘Desynchronization’ of Innovation in the Public and Private Sectors. One of the interesting pieces have implications for recruitment – they identify the attributes of people that are key to fostering innovation in an organization: “to innovate, they agreed, we need in our workforce individuals who are self-confident; who are not afraid to take risks; peoplewho are “horizontal integrators” (adept at connecting the knowledge and resources from different parts of the organization and from outside); people who are collaborative by nature, and who are generalists rather than narrow specialists (since generalists “do not know any better, they tend to innovate more”); people who have a history of creative problem-solving in their personal lives and can apply that creativity in diverse work-related contexts; people who are intellectually curious and critical thinkers and able communicators.” The report states that innovation is a learned attribute, is becoming increasingly difficult to inculcate, and highlights the role of educational institutions and leadership in empowering employee innovation. It has implications for strategic planning for the future as well as for school leadership teams in their role as leaders who are developing talent (‘development-focused leadership’). Connecting the Dots: Becoming a Knowledge Age Innovator This article has suggestions on how organizations can become ‘innovative’. It highlights the structural shifts that are needed for this to happen. Technology and Innovation 2025 If you like reading about future trends and forces of change in society, this is one of the must-read reports. One of the concluding statements in the report: “The convergences of bio, nano, cyber, sensors and wild card technologies are causing even greater acceleration of change. But at the same time, knowledge is being created at such a rate that much of what we know about these technologies and their application rapidly becomes obsolete as it is overtaken by newer discoveries. Our institutions will be challenged to respond to the combination of these technological changes and the many other drivers of change simultaneously. We expect many systems and institutions to be desynchronised by these changes and efforts to resynchronise them will add to the sense of disruption that many people feel.” What are the implications for education and its institutions? Societal changes are accelerating and our structures need urgent attention to remain “synchronised”.


author credits


Educator, Consultant, Presenter DR. SHABBI LUTHRA is empowering educators, students, & parents, & building powerful 21st century learning environments. She is currently the Director of Research & Development, at the American School of Bombay.

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