It’s the change not the product

“Don’t be a little bit better than something that already exists. Don’t be a tweak. Tweaks don’t make a huge change. Tweaks don’t make history. The real measure of “innovation” is the change in human behaviour that it makes.” -David Hieatt


Yesterday we were having a conversation with our principal and he said something that really struck me. As we were discussing the Innovation Academy (IA) he asked us, “how do you make the IA a big, audacious idea?”  As I reflected on this question I happened to read a post by David Hieatt that solidified this concept for me. In the post, Hieatt mentions one key piece of advice that I feel is particularly relevant to our goal in the IA (and education in general).

“…before you sit down to design your product, work out the change that you want to make.”

All too often in education we are designing products. New standards, new textbooks, new apps and new schools.  Most of the time, the talk revolves around the product, but not the change that it will make. An iPad in the hands of a student could be a powerful tool, or it could be just another way to passively receive and process information.  New school schedules could be an excellent product, or they could simply do the same thing school already does but with a slight twist.  In all of the above examples the focus is on the product. What if we instead shifted the focus to the change we were hoping to accomplish? Rather than asking what the product can do in our classroom, we should be asking what change we want to see in the classroom and what product supports that mission.

In the Innovation Academy (IA) this is something that we do, but could certainly do more of. It is easy to get lost in the product and forget what you are trying to accomplish.  For example, we have been recently discussing Interest Based Grouping (IBG) time.  This is a time when students can form mixed grade level groups to pursue learning in common areas of interest.  While there have been some great projects coming out of IBG time, something still feels like it is not working.  As I was reflecting on our discussions, I realized that we have been been too focused on the product. Instead, we should be focusing on the change we are trying to make with IBG time. Simply reframing the problem leads to a much more powerful discussion. In this case, we need to return to our original goals in designing IBG and check to see that our product (IBG) is creating the change we had hoped for.  An added piece, after reading Hieatt’s post, is asking if the product we are producing is a change or merely a “tweak.”

This shift in focus is incredibly powerful. I am already starting to reframe some of the questions from our last discussion with this mindset. For example I have been thinking:

Instead of asking “where could we design a new space for the IA,” we could ask “what change are we hoping to create by designing a new IA space?”

Instead of asking “how could we experiment with the school day and change the schedule of the IA “, we could ask “what change are we trying to create by redesigning the schedule?”

As I go through this exercise, I notice how focusing on the change rather than the product shifts the focus completely. This paired with the concept of the big audacious idea, versus the small tweak, has the potential to push us in the IA to the next level. As well, I think this exercise has a lot of potential in many areas. So the next time you are thinking about change ask yourself:

  1. How can I make this an audacious idea versus a small tweak?
  2. What change do I want to make and what products will support this change?

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8 thoughts on “It’s the change not the product

  1. Good stuff here. If we look at how something will positively change behavior and habits, then we’re bound to see better products as well. But you’re right, the process should come first!

    • Thanks for the feedback Corey. As I was reading your reply I realize that I need to make that point more clear. My thought was that if we are looking to positively change behaviour and habits we should find the product that will best help us do that, rather than choosing the product first. I am still trying to think through how I can make that idea more clear.

  2. Great post. After reading it I just stopped and thought for five minutes and thought about Pepsi and how I have been completely focused on the product and not on the change that we can make with it. As Pepsi wasn’t my original project I wasn’t fully engaged and was just focusing on getting the product out without thinking the product. However, after reading this it has opened my eyes and made me reflect the way I approach the project.

    • I also thought of the Pepsi campaign as I was writing this post Sergio. I the idea provides a great way to think about what we are doing with our projects. Thanks for taking the time to read my post and give me feedback.

  3. Wow Mr.B, this post made me reflect a lot, on not just work that I have doing within the IA but as well as the IB classes that I am taking. This blog post made me reflect upon how work can be tweaked and can be proceeded to the next level. For example in Biology class, I’d like to say that I am just motivated because of the grade, which in my opinion is not the best motivation. The things that I learn in class should not just be only for a grade but to be used in our everyday relevant lives, thats the true tweak that I believe as a student could be changed throughout education. Great post, you blog was very appealing to me which made me want to continue reading it, and I like the way how you color coded specific words, to demonstrate to the audience key words. Great blog!

  4. This is a great re-direction to the thought process used to build an essential question for a project. I’ll use your guidance when talking with my grade 12 mentor groups as they design their senior projects. I’m enjoying and benefiting from your posts! Take care.

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