In his January 26, 2012 New York Times article, Steve Lohr identified “The Yin and Yang of Corporate
Innovation.” He compared Google’s Yin to Apple’s Yang. Or maybe it was the other way around.
The point was that the Google model relies of rapid experimentation, data gathering, refinement, more
data gathering, and so on. Customers express what they want and Google adapts.
Apple’s Steve Jobs was famously known for not caring about what the customer wanted. Apple’s
approach was the opposite of Google’s.
Jobs took a flying leap over the customer and made what he wanted. Apparently, a few folks liked it, too. In that same vein, I believe Henry Ford once remarked, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, I would have built a better horse.”
The lesson on corporate innovation applies equally to innovation in education as well as how we market it.
To make schools more responsive and resilient, I’ve been a fan of qualitative and quantitative data-driven research (the Google approach). How do prospective families experience the admission process? Why do some enroll and others don’t? Why do families choose to leave a school? How did the school make a difference in the lives of its alumni? Making assumptions or projecting is dangerous.
Through the use of Image (brand-identity) Audits we discover how a school or non-profit is viewed from
the outside-in. It’s one thing when a school internally claims, “This is who we are, this is who we serve,
and this is what we do,” versus who THEY think you are, what they think you do well, or what they think
you’d better pay attention to! That’s the benefit of listening to those you serve and those you seek to
That’s where great marketing plans are hatched—at the crux of where internal perception meets the external.
But the Apple approach is just as important. Parents are investing their child and their finances in
us. They expect us to be their personal educational consultants. School leaders (teachers, board, and
administrators) need to seize their bully pulpit and take a stand on clearly stating who we are, who we
are not, what we stand for, what we won’t stand for, why what we stand for matters, and where we are
headed. Then parents can decide if they want to join us. Like Apple, we need to tell the customer what
they need. They can make the choice.
It’s always important to listen; to ask, “How are we doing?” But it is equally important to step up as education professionals and declare, “This is what your child will need to succeed in the world they will inherit.”
We have a duty to listen (Yin), and we have a duty to inform (Yang).