Incremental Change or Transformation?

Editor’s Note: The following blog post comes from good friend and great scholar, Michael Poutiatine. Hopefully, this is not the last time we hear from Mike.

There once was a big school district. This district, like most, was facing big budget cuts for the third year in a row and had to find ways to reduce costs, again. After years of cutting all the things that were easy, they started to look carefully at the organizational processes to see if there could be further cuts there. They found that consistently across the district every building was over budget on copies, every year.

So, they decided to centralize their copy work. Take the machines out of the buildings and put them all in one big building to serve the whole district. This created efficiency, and also an interesting byproduct; they now could see, in real time, exactly where all the copies were going. They discovered that every kid in the entire district was receiving 11.2 copies every day. That meant they were making over 165,000 copies per day! At 1.5 cents a copy that is over $2,500 a day in copies. And they learned that number was increasing every month.

“This is crazy” the Superintendent said. “We need to do something about this.” So, the Superintendent convened a special meeting of all his building Principals, Program Directors, Curriculum Supervisors, etc, to ask “what do we do about this?“

Well, the Principals were outraged. They could not believe this was true. This meant that in just a month of school the district was spending the equivalent of one teacher salary and benefits on copies. What was their response to this outrageous data?

“We have to find cheaper copies!!!” They all cried. We have to get this under control, 1.5 cents is just too much.” Much debate ensued about how much the district should pay per copy. The Superintendent shook his head.

One quite Assistant Principal finally spoke up over the fray. “Why are we making 11 copies per kid a day, again?” He innocently asked. He was immediately met with the argument, “well that is the curriculum, that is how we deliver it – you cannot do the job with fewer copies. This is how we do business.”

“Maybe we have to re-think our business then” was the Assistant Principal’s response.

Incremental change deals well with symptoms, it almost always requires real transformational change to deal with causes. And those changes always start with one simple and astute question about habitual assumptions:

What assumptions do you have that limit your ability to see?

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *