Good evening, I hope this finds you well.

First, when we first announced that The Fearless Organization was our latest Reading for Leading book selection, we asked you to hold May 29 for a soirée. We shifted that date to June 4, because that evening the author, Amy Edmondson, can join us by video chat. This is great news! I’m very excited. You should have received an email invitation earlier today; I hope you’re planning on coming—register here. And Tweet your thoughts about the book and join the conversation on Twitter using #CCSCFearless. Second, the online version of my Kappan article on strategy was originally published without the table, but now that’s been corrected, so please check it out!

The rest of this Coaching Letter is about strategy, because we have been working to develop the plan for the Strategy Workshop in late June at Connecticut College. I am super-excited about this because it feels like the climax of a lot of thinking, planning and experimenting over the last several years. One of my recent tasks has been to give some thought to which articles and chapters to ask participants to read in advance, since we are attempting to pack a lot into two days and there won’t be time for reading during the workshop itself. The hard part is deciding what to leave out, since there is so much excellent writing out there. So here’s what I’ve done so far. Some of these articles I’ve linked to before—if not, I’ve put them in small caps.

On the “can’t justify making everyone read this but it’s really good stuff” list: This article about Chinese strategy for becoming an economic superpower from the New York Times didn’t get much traffic when I first linked to it, but I think it is really useful in illustrating how big, expensive, and long-term some organizations are willing to think about strategy. This article from a recent New Yorker about mining in space is even more mind-blowing. I know that education (almost always) doesn’t have billions of dollars to invest in a strategy that may not come to fruition for decades, if ever. But at the same time, we have got to stop thinking in terms of what we can get done in a school year, because we’re going to move on to something else next year. Strategy is not a small thing.

I really love this article about changing the way heart attacks are treated. I have used it in the past to teach about systems; you can chart the relationships among the system components, and how the intervention to improve outcomes for patients involved several of those components. Having knowledge of how systems work, and understanding how changing one component to improve outcomes necessitates also changing other components, is essential in charting a successful strategy. Another feature of this article that I really appreciate is that not all the hospitals that were leading the pack in patient outcomes were big, research hospitals. Smaller, poorer hospitals have learned to do more with less—they are positive deviants. This concept is explored in depth in the Heath Brothers’ book Switch, but they use the terminology “find the bright spots” instead of positive deviance. You might also read The power of positive deviance, by Pascale, Pascale and Sternin. I think there is a big lesson here: we usually focus on what’s not going well when it comes to implementation, and maybe instead we should focus on who’s getting it done.

There are some great articles on execution that I’d like to include, but the strategy workshop isn’t really about execution—that should be the next workshop, right? I really like “Is Execution Where Good Strategies Go to Die?” (and I wrote about it in CL #64) because it speaks to the gap that often opens up between the people in charge, who are usually the ones doing the planning, and the people who are supposed to implement the plan. There’s another reason why I’m not including it: I don’t love the solid distinction between strategists and implementers, I think it’s too stark, and would much rather see a breadth of roles involved in designing strategy.

Finally, there’s this article by Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization that reconceptualizes execution away from efficiency and towards learning. Another Edmondson article, “Your Strategy Should Be a Hypothesis You Constantly Adjust” is definitely going to be on the “required reading for the workshop” list.

This is the first newsletter being sent out via TinyLetter, which should make it easier to manage the subscription list. Notice any difference? Got any other feedback? Can you think of anyone else who would benefit from receiving this newsletter? Hope to see you on the 4th… Best, Isobel

Stevenson logo