Monday, April 18, 2011
Developing a business and developing a course
Here’s a sketch of how a small business might work. An entrepreneur has an idea for a product. She makes a few. Customers love it and want more. She makes more and sells more. Pretty soon she’s selling so much she needs to hire people to help her make even more. She’s growing and on her way to success.
What is her product? It could be anything. It might be delicious fudge just like her grandmother used to make. At Disney World the product is a fun day with the family that will be remembered for years. At Massage Envy the product is a relaxing massage in a clean and comfortable environment. At Dell Computer the product is a custom-assembled computer with just the features each customer wants.
The sketch above is a common image of entrepreneurship but it isn’t how successful companies are created. The problem is that the story above treats making and selling the product as the point of the business. It’s not.
Making and selling the product is necessary to creating a business but the business is actually the processes for making and selling the product. That’s what successful entrepreneurs do. They make the processes that are the business and then run the processes. Why? Because it’s far more repeatable and efficient for everyone involved.
An entrepreneur’s business processes needn’t be complex. Imagine a binder labeled How We Do It. In that binder are the steps for each process. Most of them are very simple: just a sequence of steps. Some are simple checklists. Some are recipes. Some may be more elaborate spreadsheets or even directions for operating purpose-built automated machinery.
The great advantage of the How We Do It binder is that someone other than the entrepreneur herself can open it up to a certain process and do that job. Getting the work done no longer depends on the entrepreneur herself. When an entrepreneur buys a franchise for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, that’s most of what she’s getting: the process, the How We Do It binder. (The other part is the brand name but that need not concern us here.) So there is a lot of value in the processes.
What does all this have to do with teaching? I am suggesting that you should create a set of processes, the product of which is children who understand algebra or who can write a lucid paragraph. Does it sound impersonal and cold? It shouldn’t. Disney has processes for reliably creating memorable family experiences. Massage Envy has processes for consistently delivering relaxing massages. There is nothing cold or impersonal about these businesses and there need be nothing cold or impersonal about your class. There is no reason why you can’t create processes for instilling in students an appreciation for the works of Shakespeare and then repeat it year after year.
Does thinking in terms of process imply mass-production education? No, just the opposite. Dell Computer builds each computer to order. Their processes allow for flexibility and customized products. Your teaching processes can do exactly the same, if you so choose. But just as Dell could never support custom computers without the appropriate computer support to manage the complexity, so should you realize that the appropriate tools can help you achieve new results in your classroom.
A well organized classroom gets the job done while giving you more time for individual instruction and making personal connections, not fewer.
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