"Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?" In the book by Louis Gerstner, former chairman and CEO of IBM, he describes how he turned IBM, the largest international corporation, from a failure to a top competitor in the information age.
His major strategy was to listen to the customer: "Drive all we did from the customer back and turn IBM into a market-driven rather than an internally focused, process-driven enterprise." Utah education is old school IBM — stuck internally and in process.
When Gerstner first arrived at IBM, he asked the sales people what the customers thought about their product lines. He discovered the staff had given him "accurate statistical data" — that the customers absolutely loved them. It was all statistical, thorough and made absolutely no sense as they were losing share in almost every one of their product lines. He soon learned, however, that the sales people had surveyed only their happiest customers.
Maybe we need a Lou Gerstner to turn around our education system, which is internally focused and process driven. It's because our policymakers keep asking the same educational professionals — "the stakeholders," those in the system who benefit from keeping the system the way it is — how to fix education. Professionals quickly overwhelm lawmakers with data from their rich data warehouses to show what they do, while our kids continue to lag behind when it comes to competing in a global economy. These professionals are the ones that keep the system in a time warp and resist change.
Governors have tried to make education keep pace with the times, but those in the system do what bureaucracies do well, ignore and wait for the next election. One of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s first summits was on education, where he invited all the state's top education administrators. He gave an inspiring speech of how we needed to prepare our children to compete in the global economy and challenged them to think "out of the box." He got great applause, and when he left, the administrators, instead of responding to think out of the box, quickly turned to discussing the U-PASS and test scores.
Seems some lawmakers have not learned the lessons from the past, because they keep going back to the same self-serving people who offer the same solutions, only more of them — more money, smaller classes, private and charter schools. They don't realize the world is changing exponentially while they keep making only cosmetic changes. Utah's policymakers should do what Gerstner did to IBM, change the organization's culture from internally and process driven to customer driven — students, parents and taxpayer. Stop asking the same people who preserve the problems needed to be solved. Start surveying and asking the customers about the service and product they receive and what improvements they suggest. Just don't ask the professionals to do the survey or pick the customers.
Public education, being a monopoly, places the responsibility on our political leaders to keep our institutions responsive to changing circumstances and for citizens to support and make sure they do. Our children live and must compete in a digital world for jobs yet to be created. If we are to have a first class education for all our children, we must turn and listen to the customers that use the system, not those that maintain it.
Make education market driven, based on customer and public need. Then we can make the education elephant dance.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.