Parallel Innovation: The Ocean Liner and the Small Boat

I’m a believer in the Split Screen Strategy: Improvement and Innovation. As Education Evolving describes it, we can continue to improve traditional schools in traditional ways, while we open a new sector truly open to innovation.

What does this look like?

Imagine an ocean liner traveling from Point A to Point B. It is strong, steady, and stable. It follows the same route at the same speed, with the same staffing and same services on board. It is the premier choice, and the only choice.

Now imagine launching a small boat. It travels from Point A to Point B, but its journey is more flexible. It may travel a different route, make more stops, provide different tours and services, but it still arrives at Point B about the same time as the ocean liner.

Passengers start to notice. They like the different route and range of choices they have on the small boat.  More passengers travel on the small boat, and more small boats are launched. Some passengers from the ocean liner move to the small boat. And so it goes.

Soon the ocean liner captain takes notice. She decides to bring new services on board the ocean liner. So passengers on both boats see new services.

This is how the split screen strategy works. To bring innovation and change to the system of oceangoing, you needn’t dismantle or tear apart the ocean liner. It can continue to improve. But let’s not hold back a new sector open to innovation: the small boat. Not only do passengers on the small boat like their new services, the ocean liner captain responds as well.

You’ve probably guessed it. The ocean liner is our K-12 district public education system. Let’s continue to improve it. The small boat(s) are chartered schools. Their autonomy allows more flexibility for innovation.   In the end, both sectors benefit.

In my view, whether it be chartering, personalized learning, or teacher autonomy, this is the way to successfully lead system change. New ideas don’t mean old ideas must be torn down or destroyed.  If allowed, they can co-exist in parallel—as long as they produce results.