Book Review: The Power of Us (David Price)

The US leadership expert Warren G. Bennis once said: “There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.”
Pg. 239

David Price has written a book that synthesizes mindsets and approaches and contextualizes them in the here and now. It addresses the impact that Covid-19 is having on our businesses, markets and education, and to a large extent on ourselves. This book makes the argument that we are better working together, and I would say goes so far as arguing that we can no longer work in isolation. If we do, we lose the power of diversity, we lose the power of cooperation, and we risk alienating ourselves  and our organization in the world. The Power of Us is a great read for educational leaders because in it he consistently draws the thread of these changes back to education.

You would be interested in reading this book if:
1) You wanted a frame through which to understand how Covid-19 and the general recent sweeping forces of digital technology are impacting markets, business and education.
2) You wanted examples of the Future of Work
3) Want to  build your workforce to thrive these pressures
4) You are interested in change leadership


People Powered Innovation

Building off of his book “Open“, this book picks up the notion of a commons and takes it further with People Powered Innovation: “…a process whereby change is driven from the bottom-up, not top-down… [it is] attempting to alter the dynamic between user-innovators and producers. ” (pg. 65)

People powered innovation is a leadership approach within an organization to acknowledge, seek to understand, and implement user feedback. To this end, an organization can learn with and from their users. This approach occurs when users are welcome to:
– advocate for new products and services
– ‘Hack’, or tinker with, existing products or services in order to better suit their needs
– Create new products and services from scratch (pg. 66)

In what ways are we as educators, in these highly pressurized times, reaching out to our students? In what ways as leaders are we reaching out to our faculty and families? If we are, then be sure to bring this people powered innovation into your practices. If we are not yet doing this, how might we?

What I like about this framing is that it prompts me to think: “What ideas might we be missing out on?” And with this approach, it helps me take up criticisms, worries and complaints as ideas, as possible areas for exploring  innovation.


Mindsets vs. Skillsets

David Price uses a chart on pg. 97 that outlines the difference between a “User-innovator mindset” and “Producer mindset”.

For example:
1) A user innovator asks “What if?”, whereas a Producer Mindset asks “Where’s the Market?”
2) A user innovator is ‘driven by the desire for accelerated learning’, whereas a Producer Mindset is “Driven by the desire for predictable results.”

But, “…there is no inherent superiority in the user-innovator mindset over the producer’s way of seeing the world.” (pg. 97) There are practical and utility-based reasons for producers. But his argument is that the shifts in the world are such that we need more validation and application of a user-innovator mindset.

In this here and now, as well as in the future, mindsets are key – and I would include in this the ability to seek joy and calm for wellbeing – and we are all experiencing why. Poor mindsets can short circuit any skills, whereas “…people often find solutions to problems that fit the skills that are at hand.” (pg. 98) Put simply, you can import skills, but mindsets need to be cultivated.


New Year, New Opportunity, New Networks

The book moves effectively into how to lead in this way – how to create the fertile ground for teams to adopt the mindsets needed. Every September, every new term, every time we return from an extended break, schools have the ability to start anew. In these highly fluid times it is an opportunity!

Firstly, there is motivational diversity (people have a variety of reasons for wanting to work together)…some have a strong moral purpose, others want to learn, while other s just want to make friends with like-minded people. Secondly, effective collaborative communities have social integrity…offering a shared identity and social meaning that keeps teams as persistent learning networks with long-term direct and indirect reciprocity and mutual social recognition. (pg. 133)

This quotation reminds me of our own www.cohort21.com – which is exciting to see this validation. It also reminds me of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” and “The Infinite Game”. In these three examples, people are motivated by something deeper and stronger than financial gain, but rather a sense of belonging to a purpose larger than themselves, with like-mindedness and a sense of not only adding value but being valued.

Community is key to growth because it offers psychological safety to take risks, recover productively from failure, and get/give critical feedback. “…the future belongs to those with the best networks.” (pg. 191)

How might we as leaders, or classroom teachers support the reframing of our faculty, our students and families towards this direction? What networks can we leverage to our greater understanding? What communications can use to reinforce our why and bind people to it to build purpose and authenticity?


Change Leadership is not just Leadership

David Price does an excellent job moving into what it takes to be a leader that thrives and creates the environment for others to thrive. He cites the long-standing categories of leaders: Surgeons, Soldiers, Accountants, Philosophers and Architect. But it is the model of the Architect that he dwells on.

Architects are humble, focused on purpose. They gravitate towards education, to building community and seeking incremental improvement (pg. 209) And it is these leaders that are best suited to lead change for many reasons, but one of the key in the context of this book is “Enableability” – David thinks he has invented this word, and he very well may have! Leaders need to occasionally absent themselves from the decision-making process because it liberates user-innovation, and creates a sustainable model of decision-making. (pg. 213). I couldn’t agree more.

How might we generate more user-innovation by supporting others in decision-making? How might we support the development of this skill within our organizations and classrooms?


Summary

I’ve really only just scratched the surface of the different approaches to leadership, to the pressures we all face that are in this book. For every section of the book, there is a case study where we see the concepts, skills and mindsets in action. Checkout Sparks & Honey (cultural consultants!) and BrewDog (Brewery playing in open sourcing!) for commercial examples, as well as the Liger Leadership Academy. In each of these examples, you can see the future of work and learning.

I highly recommend this book for educational leaders that have the bandwidth to see through the management of Covid-19 to the opportunity to innovate within.

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