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Seth Godin is a popular thinker and writer about marketing.  His latest book is Tribes, which he discussed in a TED Conference presentation.  Godin also writes a blog, which consists of short posts about marketing and leadership that sometimes can be interesting.  A recent post was called Ruby Slippers and it asked the following question: “If you could make one thing come true that would change everything for your project, do you know what that one thing would be?”  For Google the one big thing was “we need to be the place people come to search.”  According to Godin, “for many sites, many companies, there isn’t a thing.  They can’t articulate it.  They have no wish.  If you have no wish, how can it possibly come true?”  It seems like a timely question for the School as we begin to make decisions about our strategic priorities.  Godin’s idea of one big wish sounds a little like the idea of an organizational vision, which we have not exactly embraced.  I think Godin is talking about something more strategic than a vision statement, however.  As you think about our strategic direction, especially in light of the budget crisis, what is the one thing that would change everything for the School?  Click your heels together and let me know what you think.

4 thoughts on “Ruby Slippers: One Big Wish?

  1. “The” one thing that would change everything?!? Well, I’ll not be *that* presumptuous, but I do think we’re already toying with an idea that could eventually mean big changes. The idea is simply that the School of Government become more of a broker (channel, intermediary, dealer) of knowledge held, shared and exchanged by community participants, than the predominant source of knowledge for the community.

    Can our faculty really teach that much more?, Can they publish and advise that much more. Assuming they do turn it up on all those fronts, and it is still not enough (for what?)? Where do we go from there?

    In a recent TLS blog post [ http://sogweb.sog.unc.edu/blogs/tls/?p=681 ], I wrote about how we’re great conveners. We bring people together for a conferences and trainings year round, but that this important role should continue beyond the 2-day conference or 4 hour workshop. In my view, the only sustainable way to grow this important service we render the state, is to pull ourselves even a little more out of the center of it all.

    I believe we do this, in large measure, by acknowledging and reifying the collective knowledge of our clients more systematically, and adding context and our own expertise to their voices. We facilitate and promote conversation and idea exchange–we build a learning community, and in so doing, change both our roles and those of our clients.

    We’re already touching on this in various ways, but ultimately building and becoming such a community of learners will take time and a desire to do things a little differently. At face value, this wouldn’t require any change to our vision, goals or mission.

    Unfortunately, there are many elements that work against this plan from how this would generate revenue, to how CLEs would work in such an arrangement…and our fear of what it might mean to be more of a “guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage”.

    Any thoughts?

    …my job here was to click my heels together and share an idea, and *not* to concern myself with the clouds gathering quickly around it.
    -Joel G.

  2. Joel, I really like what you’ve said here and how you’ve said it. I too think the convening role is a powerful one that perhaps we have not utilized enough. Today’s public problems (for the most part) are not of the kind that “experts” can come in and “solve” them. Rather, communities (local to region to state) need to engage all the relevant stakeholders in a process of first, framing the problem, and second, developing strategies to address that problem and that help the community move toward a better place (“solving” is usually not the point or not possible).

    Expert knowledge is an important component of that process, but just as important are convening, sponsoring, and facilitating the process overall. Given the school’s reputation, along with the knowledge-base and skill-set here, we can play a more prominent role (I think) in convening and facilitating.

    Yes, I think we do this already to some extent, but I think we can do more.

    So, clicking my heels together, what one change am I thinking of? It is hard to articulate well, but I think it would be a frame-shifting from thinking of what we do as imparting knowledge (one-way learning, if you will) toward one of facilitating community learning (mutual learning–collaboratively creating new knowledge) to address public problems and create public value. Note that still involves sharing what we know; but it is thinking of the learning and the purpose of that learning in a different way.

    1. Rick, thanks for responding. I’m delighted to see I’ve got a confederate in this effort. I’m still formulating how to best sell this “frame-shifting”. My latest approach has been to enumerate the benefits of an online environment that facilitates the shift. So far, I’ve come up with 12 Top Ten benefits of an online Community of Practice (CoP):
      1. Facilitate the rapid identification of individuals with specific knowledge, skills or experience (Hint: it may not always be us).
      2. Foster knowledge sharing amongst peers and across organization or local government boundaries.
      3. Promote and facilitate the capture of existing organizational knowledge and best practices. (help maintain and keep current the collective memory of a field or profession)
      4. Promote and facilitate the reuse of existing knowledge and adoption of best practices.
      5. Provide a safe environment to share problems, challenges, and test new ideas.
      6. Foster innovation (within and across organizational boundaries).
      7. Facilitate faster, better-informed decision making.
      8. Reduce learning curves for new employees and officials.
      9. Connect and foster interaction between new/more junior and experienced/more seasoned practitioners.
      10. Facilitate the building of support networks (with SOG as the key facilitator).
      11. Provide a richer platform than listservs for SOG to share information, training materials, course and publication announcements etc. to our clients.
      12. Provide SOG with increased client contact (both real and perceived).

      …Just thinking out loud on Mike’s blog.

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