Why Great Ideas Fail: The Importance of Building Consensus and Infrastructure


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As an aspiring administrator, it will be vitally important for me to develop a process for managing the system I will be leading. Too often, leaders of educational systems rush to implement the shiny new initiative or next great thing, believing it will lead to dramatic improvements to their system. However, the actual results are frequently underwhelming

Why do so many of our well-intentioned ideas go awry? Why have too many of our veteran teachers adopted a “wait and see” approach in regard to anything new? Surely, they didn’t always hold this opinion. I would like to believe that when they began their careers, they were eager and willing to invest a great deal in new and innovative ideas. However, something must have happened to them along the way, perhaps several times, to disappoint them and create this more pessimistic mindset. What have they learned that the rest of us haven’t?

As administrators, it would be very easy, and completely unproductive, to blame our teachers when initiatives A, B, or C fail to produce the results we intended. A more constructive approach would require us to first look inward at ourselves and critically examine how our own leadership may have caused the idea to underperform or even fail in its implementation.

When the problems emerge, leaders must seek to understand and identify the weaknesses and flaws embedded within the system. In regard to implementing innovative ideas and approaches, this often begins with careful reflection about how well the original idea was communicated our stakeholders. Did the change happen to them or with them? This is a clear line of distinction. How much time, effort, and resources did we invest in education and in taking the time to build understanding and consensus among our stakeholders?

As a future administrator, I realize I will need to be mindful of being both efficient and timely, and at the same time, inclusive of the voices of diverse stakeholders. Clearly, ideas that are steamrolled over people rarely generate anything more than mild compliance. No initiative can take root and grow under such conditions.

Therefore, true success is only possible when a critical majority of the stakeholders in a system are genuinely committed and determined to ensure that a particular idea becomes successful. This will only happen when the people believe in and trust one another. Trust comes from inclusion and mutual respect between the leader and their followers.

Even after doing the hard work to engage critical stakeholders and enable them to take ownership over an idea and make it their own, it still becomes incumbent upon the leader to carefully manage the system to ensure that good ideas can take hold and prosper. It also requires that a system that is built with the right infrastructure in place.

In a school system, this means creating a learner-focused curriculum, instruction, and assessment experience for our students that is aligned, data-informed, built on best practices, and inclusive of all learners. As administrators, building this requires us to wisely invest our resources and time to best support the needs of the teachers and staff in our buildings.

It is only after taking adequate time to build consensus and create the infrastructure to enable success, that we can than begin lead our systems and have committed followers. In doing so, we also ensure that the good ideas of those we lead, as well as our own, are implemented with greater fidelity.

In closing, if we can commit to do the hard work in the beginning, innovative ideas can truly take hold and be sustained, creating the necessary momentum for the innovation needed to best meet the needs of our learners in the 21st century.

~Brad Hurst



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