August 2013 Hot Topics

It was an inspiring and invigorating trip back in time walking the Picquette Ford Plant (where the Model T was born) and the Motown Museum (home of the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Four Tops, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, etc., etc.) in downtown Detroit.  I was struck by the creative genius, evolution of practice, entrepreneurial spirit and technologies of the period. Even more compelling was the collaborative sense of community, problem-solving and personalization that were hallmarks of their work and products.

Bear with me. I am going somewhere with this history – relative to a 1 to 1 path – from a foundational perspective.  The basic principles by which these organizations developed, learned and grew are the ones we promote for today’s schools.  The large picture was fueled by the personalized approach so that each individual developed and used skills to their highest levels of ability while collaborating an end result for the good of the whole.

Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company) and Berry Gordy (Motown) were intimidating, driving forces.  They cared about developing their workers and drove teams who produced and found consensus in achieving results. Of course, there is much to be added on the negative ledger of leadership, prejudice and equity regarding both mens’ practices…..but I’m focusing here on how their organizations strove for and achieved brilliance using every available tool and a personalized approach to move their needles forward.

For Ford, creating a vehicle that was affordable, long term, for middle America, was of primary importance.  He surrounded himself with fashioned genius and researched the world for materials (like valedium steel) that would lower the cost of the ‘car’ and ensure its longevity through turnkey repair operations accessible to the commoner.

Ford had an uphill battle convincing the public that cars were more economical than horses.  Given a choice, the consumer much preferred their horse-driven transportation. Ford created data driven posters demonstrating the cost and ‘green’ effects of cars versus our four-legged friends for getting people from one point to another.  These were images of dead horses alongside the Model T with costs for everything from purchase, maintenance, repair (you can’t repair a dead horse you have to remove it), to longevity factors.  Amazing stuff.

Gordy started Motown (then Temla) with an $800 loan from his father (which he paid back at 6% interest).  His best friend, Smokey Robinson (yes – of the “Miracles”), helped him generate vision into practice developing an organization that would foster talent in young persons who demonstrated commitment and a modicum of talent.  In the 60s, before the Detroit riots, young people gathered in parks and on street corners making harmony, singing, dancing and generating their own entertainment.  Obviously, with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross as neighbors you can imagine the ‘sound’.

Every third Thursday, the community knew that Gordy and Robinson would open their Motown doors to auditions.  Lines of young persons circled for blocks in the hopes of a chance at stardom.  History now speaks for itself about how fertile that ground was for discovering enchanting singing and dancing luminaries.

Gordy vowed to each ‘accepted’ talent that he would ensure their development and growth in the industry.  He took in each person, understood his/her special gifts, and created individualized ‘learning’ plans for each.  These were fulfilled in another building across the street.  Gordy hired teachers and mentors who worked with each individual on specific skills.  When Stevie Wonder hit a ‘stall’ in records that ‘caught on’, a mentor signed on to personally help him with the creation of music and lyrics that would get him back in the spotlight.  And that worked.

Each organization had a passionate, focused, driven leader with eyes on results.  They knew that individuals were pivotal to success – so the human capital development was front and center.  Each had to do regular change-ups in process and technologies of the times to amplify result.  Ford moved from stationed assembly to collaborative assembly to the assembly line.  Gordy continued to grow housing and personnel to accommodate personal skill development, powerful recording techniques (without the use of technologies), a sense of community with shared goals.

Jumping forward to the 21st century….how the above history informs present day education practice-these bullet points are just a beginning. There is much to glean from the history I witnessed.

  • A focus on personalization while amplifying collaboration, cooperation with eyes on desired outcomes.
  • Vision shared by stakeholders required for strategic action plans.
  • An abundance of technology and tools to facilitate process and product.
  • Innovation matters greatly to finding solutions, moving the needle forward toward results.
  • Use of data and information, just in time, is the foundation for flexing strategies, resources for individuals and groups
  • Transformation, change is a process that must be activated and nurtured by passionate, driven leaders.
  • Teamwork, team discussion is crucial

I was reminded how important history is to our present – both in a sense of learning from things that didn’t work and learning from the things that did.

Leslie Wilson


One-to-One Institute

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