A Call For Organic Efficiency

While participating in a session on changing school at an unconference put on by EdCampSD, a participant shared out that there are certain systems in place in schools that help to make things more efficient. . .

There are at least three ways to look at efficiency: the factory model, bureaucracy, and organic. In the factory model, efficiency is a means to an end. Specifically: cost savings. Consultants are brought in to analyze the assembly line processes and to find ways to speed up the process, or to cut the time of production, or both. Systems are developed, tested, and put into place to increase efficiency. Emphasis is on the process of getting the job done quickly, meeting the minimum requirements of the consumer, in terms of product quality, and not taking into consideration either the workers, or the possibility of improving or innovating the product. This is a very cold, inhuman way of looking at the world. In practice, monetary profit is the bottom line, if not the only line. 

In a bureaucracy, the purpose of which is to prevent change and to cement power and control, efficiency is much talked about, but rarely valued. In fact, as layers of the bureaucracy develop, and systems are put in place to manage the flow of information (read: approve or disapprove), efficiency suffers, even though there are awesome flow-charts developed to show exactly how a certain task is to be completed or pursued. The larger the institution, whether it be a car manufacturer, school district, or computer company, the less efficient the process due to the additive layering process and the defense of power, no matter how little an individual may have. Also, in a bureaucracy, it is far easier to say "no," than to convince the "higher-ups" that a new idea is worth pursuing. 

Given the changes that continue to happen in the world of work, it is becoming clear that there is another form of efficiency that is developing. A great example is the maker movement. These are individuals and small groups of people who are very agile in their thinking, and in their practice. As developments come along, new resources, both human and material, are incorporated, until the product comes to fruition. Once completed, they move on to other projects and ideas. It is an organic view of efficiency. One in which capital (money, natural resources, people) naturally flows to the area of need. Visiting Google, Box, and IDEO this week has only helped to clarify this view. Each of these companies promotes the development of ideas and the movement of personnel to pursue ideas and to solve challenges as needed. This is a flat, distributed, or organic model, which enables fluidity, reduces waste, and enables creativity.

Looking at schools and school districts, we immediately recognize the bureaucracy and, since the advent of the Standards movement, the factory model of efficiency at work. Education innovators run head-long into the bureaucracies that have grown and developed over the last century. Even well meaning and bleeding edge superintendents encounter problems with the established bureaucratic cultures entrenched in the world of education. 

In other words, efficiency, as traditionally described and encountered, inhibits innovation and creativity. For real change to occur in education, it is imperative that teachers not only band together to lead the charge, but that they also fuel the fires of the evolution of the profession, changing it from the sage-on-the-stage factory model, to the far more efficient organic model where collaboration, creativity, and innovation are the most deeply held values. 


Bret Fitzpatrick
Learning Experience Designer