Constantly Fighting the Good Idea Fairy [SLIDE]

One of the books I just finished working my way through was No Easy Day, the firsthand account of the killing of Osama Bin Laden written by Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette under the pseudonym Mark Owen.

As a bit of a military buff, my main goal for reading No Easy Day was just to learn a bit more about the work that Seals do to defend our nation.  Their service goes largely unrecognized simply because of the secretive nature of their missions.

While reading, however, I learned that Seals and full-time classroom teachers actually have something in common.

We both spend half our professional lives pushing back against Good Idea Fairies, who Bissonnette decribes as well-intentioned people working in the “head shed” beyond the mission who dream up ridiculous solutions to nonexistent concerns and slow teams down (Kindle Location 665).

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

In the case of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, the Good Idea Fairies — in an an attempt to convince Osama’s Pakistani neighbors that the middle-of-the-night attack was nothing more than a local police action — decided that a group of Seals would be tasked with attaching a police light to the roof of one of Osama’s Land Rovers in the early moments of the attack.

Then, the same group of Seals would work together to push the car — complete with flashing police light — into the street in front of Bin Laden’s house before returning to the battle.

Stew in THAT for a minute, would you?

Why would a group of Seals on a covert mission inside the borders of a country that didn’t know we were coming ever WILLINGLY draw extra attention to themselves by firing up a flashing blue light that they just happened to carry along?

And are we REALLY convinced that neighbors woken in the middle of the night by the sounds of war — helicopters, machine guns, explosions — next door would believe that a local police action was taking place simply because ONE car with a flashing blue light happened to be blocking the street?

But most importantly, do we REALLY want soldiers who are finally in position to capture and/or kill one of the world’s most notorious and elusive terrorists afer YEARS of searching — and who are literally risking their lives on our behalf– to spend ANY time pushing a car out into the street?

Ridiculous, right?

And discarded immediately by the guys who knew better because they’d been carrying out raids in Iraq and Afghanistan — rather than calling the shots from Washington DC — for the better part of the last decade.

The leadership lessons learned from Bissonnette’s police light experience is a simple one:

Sometimes the best laid plans — especially in complex, constantly shifting, unpredictable situations — are simple and flexible.

And sometimes the best choice that leaders can make in complex, constantly shifting, unpredictable situations is to trust their talent to execute under fire.

Heavily scripting the shots does nothing but pigeonhole your team into an overly-complicated plan based on nothing more than your predictions about what MIGHT happen.

So what’s the #flashinglight in YOUR school and/or district? 

What crazy plan dreamed up by a Good Idea Fairy is distracting you from work that REALLY matters?

_________________________

Original
Image
Credit
: If You Believe in Fairies by JD Hancock

Licensed
Creative Commons Attribution on December 4, 2012

 

8 thoughts on “Constantly Fighting the Good Idea Fairy [SLIDE]

  1. Gabe Spradlin

    I have 2 engineering degrees and used to participate in forum of other engineers discussing a variety of issues. (We tend to think we know everything about everything.)
    One issue that came up over and over again was how to improve education. We all, myself very much included, thought we had the right answers.
    A few years back I got laid off and made the decision to work less and for myself. This allowed me the time to volunteer at my boys’ elementary school.
    It didn’t take me more than a handful of days working with the most advanced 1st grade math students to realize all my wonderful ideas were at best hilariously impractical as I had envisioned them.
    I continue to help in the classroom a couple of days a week. And continue to believe that certain things like Algebra are hard for most kids largely because we teach math entirely wrong. But I don’t pretend to know how to teach Algebra to 1st graders anymore.
    Every parent should spend some time in the classroom. Some will have great ideas after their experience. Most will find that the teacher does a great job given the constraints they work within.
    Another “Good Idea”…
    Maybe the solution to the Good Idea Fairy is to claim lack of resources and suggest the Good Idea Fairy come into the class several times so they flesh out their idea better. Once they’ve fleshed it out and have a plan you are happy to listen to said plan. Hopefully they will realize on their own just how ridiculous a lot of their ideas are and either continue to volunteer or at least leave you alone.

  2. John Wink

    I love the idea of simple ideas on the fly. The Seals are top notch because of their ability to brainstorm on the fly in challenging & stressful conditions using only the resources at their immediate disposal.
    Teachers and leaders can be quick to dismiss good ideas because they don’t find the immediate resources or they seem too simple to be plausible. The paradigm of traditional education has caused this to be the case.
    Great job.
    John

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Parry wrote:
    And I would argue that, the more school leaders show that they trust and
    respect good people to make good decisions, the more likely they are to
    attract good people.
    – – – – – – – – –
    This resonated with me, Parry, simply because its (1). the characteristic that I look for the most in the principals that I work for and (2). its the characteristic that I think current #edpolicy decisions are slowly stripping away.
    I dont feel like the powers that be trust me anymore — and I see that reflected in the ridiculous scripting of my work and the increasingly coercive accountability practices that are becoming common practice in our profession.
    If I were to be honest, Im closer to leaving the classroom than ever before because Im tired of working in that kind of environment. Im tired of being held accountable, but having little control over the choices that impact my work. Im tired of working in screwed up settings — think police lights in the middle of an all out attack — but not having the authority to make any changes.
    Whats really frightening is that Im not even sure that great principals can protect me from the lunacy anymore. In almost every conversation that I have with a principal, they seem to get that what were being asked to do on a day in and day out basis is impossible, but they dont even have the authority to ignore the head shed or to push back against the Good Idea Fairy.
    Can you tell that Im more than a little discouraged?
    Bill

  4. Parry Graham

    Bill,
    I think the answer is, “it depends”. I have been fortunate to work in multiple schools with very talented, dedicated, and qualified staff members (teachers and otherwise). To a certain extent, staff talent appears to have a snowball effect: the more talented people you have, the easier it is to attract more talented people. And I would argue that, the more school leaders show that they trust and respect good people to make good decisions, the more likely they are to attract good people.
    But I think it’s really more complicated than that. Salary levels matter, the presence of nearby universities and colleges with strong teacher prep programs matters, the perceived desirability of a school and town (which could reflect geography, demographics, reputation, etc.) matters.
    So do I think that there are plenty of people out there with the talent and inclination to be great teachers whom building leaders CAN trust with big decisions? Absolutely. But building (or maintaining) a strong staff depends on all kinds of complex factors. For that reason, I think that building leaders have to make strategic decisions, based on the strengths of a school staff, around how much decision-making to push out.
    And all of this still depends, of course, on the strengths and talents of the building leaders.
    So I guess I kind of dodged that question, huh?
    Parry

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Parry wrote:
    Beautifully said. Only edit I might consider would be to change sometimes to usually.
    – – – – – – –
    Thanks, Parry.
    So heres a follow-up question for you: Do you think theres enough talent out there for principals to really trust their teachers when the going gets tough?
    Can a principal really fill their buildings with people that WILL make the right choices in difficult circumstances, or are you constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel for talent — making the kinds of trust that I talk about impossible?
    I can see why Seals earn the trust of the military — they really are the best of the best. But do principals have access to enough Seals in order to make the lessons apply for schools, too?
    Bill

  6. Bill Ferriter

    Scott wrote:
    We also must recognize that some educators think that ANY and ALL new
    ideas come from the Good Idea Fairy and thus resist any and all
    changes to existing/past practice.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    Good point, Scott. There are definitely people who push back against ANY forward movement and who believe that ANY new idea is a bad idea. Those people are just as dangerous as those who cook up new plans that are impossible to pull off.
    This points to the importance of hiring people committed to innovation again, doesnt it?
    I wonder how doable that really is. I wonder how many really GOOD applicants schools get each year. Is it truly possible to fill an entire building with competent professionals, or do principals really have their hands tied by the quality of applicants coming their way?
    Bill

  7. Scott McLeod

    I am in agreement. Almost.
    We also must recognize that some educators think that ANY and ALL new ideas come from the ‘Good Idea Fairy’ and thus resist any and all changes to existing/past practice. Knowing how to tell the difference between necessary new ideas and troublesome new ideas isn’t as easy as it sounds…

  8. Parry Graham

    “[S]ometimes the best choice that leaders can make in complex, constantly shifting, unpredictable situations is to trust their talent to execute under fire.”
    Beautifully said. Only edit I might consider would be to change “sometimes” to “usually”.
    Great post.
    Parry

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