Collective Wisdom & a Culture of Innovation

“Unlocking the power of the ‘collective genius‘ is the common denominator of all great leaders.”      — Alan J. Fuerstman, founder and CEO, Montage Hotels & Resorts in praise of Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation 

I’m not sure where I first heard that phrase “the power of the collective genius,” but putting it into practice has become one of the greatest influences on my professional growth as an educator.   The book, mentioned above, was published in 2014 by the Harvard Business Review Press, and it was written by a group of four experts who came from Harvard, MIT, the business world, and Pixar.  When this kind of collaborative work is done,  experience and wisdom are shared and synthesized. By talking and creating solutions or a product together, teams achieve perspective, insights, and a depth of understanding that is impossible to achieve alone.

In education, this same principle can be applied.  Connecting and sharing with others creates coherence through a collaborative culture, clarity of focus, accountability, and deeper learning (Fullan)  By putting this powerful practice to work, here’s a quick summary of the ways I benefited from the collective wisdom of others this week:

  • Classroom observations:  Not only do I learn from watching teachers and students, but I get smarter by questioning, reflecting upon, and discussing what was seen.  Since we try to observe in pairs, that debrief provides a way to solidify best practices and understand what makes these teachers so effective in getting high growth and proficiency scores from their students.  Two consistent themes were the clarity of expectations for students and the teachers’ use of reflection to constantly improve their instruction.
  • A visit to NUVI, a local business:  This fairly new social media marketing company brought their president and CTO, a vice-president, and a manager to talk for over an hour with 0ur state-wide group of ed tech specialists. During that question/answer session, we learned about what our students will need in order to succeed in a business like theirs.  The answer?  Students must be thinkers, have self-awareness, be able to work independently, be able to build relationships and maintain a sense of curiosity.  The CTO also recommended a book that had influenced his leadership called The Art of Learning:  An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.  A key idea he shared was “investing in loss.”  He said that when kids always “win,” they don’t learn.  They need to recognize the importance of going back, reworking solutions and sticking with something until it’s done well.
  • C-Forum:  This monthly meeting brings together ed tech directors, coaches, and specialists to learn together.  Part of this meeting was devoted to an EdCamp style discussion about issues that were chosen by the group.  In an hour, I was able to learn much more than I could have on my own.  Through that rich sharing of ideas, I learned about the changing face of professional learning, how to use technology like Voxer, a school YouTube channel, and Sway to build a stronger culture, and some new tech tools that people were using in their classrooms like Qball, PocketLab, and Bloxels.

I’m grateful to my PLN and to Kathy, Karen, Brenda, NUVI executives, and my C-Forum colleagues for pushing my thinking this week.  As you reflect on your own role, how have you benefited from the “collective genius” of others.  What have you learned that could help others?

P.S.  As I was reviewing and doing some additional research for this post, I realized that as we participate in making meaning by harnessing the “collective genius” of our peers,  what we’re really doing is building leadership capacity.  This shift to “collaboration, decision-based learning, and integrative decision-making”(Slocum) is crucial to innovative leadership, and the authors of Collective Genius reference companies like Google and Pixar to make their point.  “What is consistent in Collective Genius is that traditional formal authority gives way to nimble orchestration, informal facilitation, and contributions to community-building”  (Slocum).  There’s much to ponder, but that will be the catalyst for a future post.

Additional Reading:

Hill, Linda A., Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback. “Collective Genius.” Harvard Business Review, 1 June 2014. Web 15 Jan. 2017.

 Slocum, David. “Review Of ‘Collective Genius: The Art And Practice Of Leading Innovation’.”Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 31 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2017. <>.

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