Thursday, June 23, 2016

Goldilocks

Not too soft, and not too hard...but, just right.
Not too hot, and not too cold...but, just right.
Goldilocks knew how she wanted things.

It seems like that is how everybody wants things these days.  Just right.   It is also how everybody wants to do things.   I'm not just talking about your sleep number bed or the temperature of your porridge, I'm talking about pretty much everything that gets done.  People want things to meet their expectations...exactly.  Just right.

At a restaurant, it is not unreasonable to have certain expectations for your food.  Your hot food should be hot and your cold food should be cold.  The nicer the restaurant, the higher the expectations.  At a fast food joint, I simply want my order to be pretty close to correct and the food to be close to the correct temperature.  At a 4-star steak place, I want that expensive chunk of beef to be cooked just right!

My wife and I bought a new mattress a couple of months ago.  We spent hours and hours and hours laying on mattresses in different stores.  We showed up at one store so often, one clerk thought we just needed a place to nap!  We finally narrowed it down to two beds, then drove back and forth between the two stores until we made a decision.  The bigger the purchase, the more picky we all become!

Lots of folks are becoming more and more like Goldilocks with every expectation.  We all know that is is much more common to hear negative feedback than positive.  Something rubs people the wrong way and they let you know about.  It isn't just right.  Happily, I will say that I have felt a definite upswing in the amount of positive feedback over the last several years.  There has been a recent realization that it is worth a few minutes of time to give positive feedback too.

For example, several parents have applauded our efforts to provide more communication this year.  We sent home 16-18 campus newsletters in English and Spanish this year.  Folks have told me that this school sent home three or four during the year prior to my arrival.  My goal is weekly communication and I think I am off to a good start after one year!  Nevertheless, a few folks have complained that it wasn't enough or that it wasn't good enough.  In some ways, they are right, but I am rarely satisfied and our efforts were strong!

I didn't meet my goal and I am quite sure that there were pieces of information that should have made it into the newsletters that weren't written.  We tried to provide quality information each time!  But I also know that a weekly, ten-page newsletter would be mostly ignored.  We try to Goldilocks the newsletters so that most of our families get what they need.   Not too much and not too little, but just right.  But our families have different expectations about what is just right so it is a moving target!

Generally speaking, when people plan things, they usually try to make those things happen in a manner that will be good for everyone.  More importantly, they try to plan things so that they fulfill the purpose.  Trying to please everyone rarely works but that goal seems to be quite pervasive these days.

Thinking about Goldilocks and thinking like Goldilocks has its advantages.  Please as many folks as you can.  Design a process or an experience that will touch everyone in some way.  Find the "just right" amount of professional development.  Expect a small amount of improvement from everyone.  Aim for medium success.  Whatever you do, don't overwhelm folks!  This does not sound awesome to me.  It sounds like serving only vanilla ice cream, then adding chocolate syrup and calling it awesome.  Goldilocks thinking doesn't make people wonder, "What in the world were they thinking!!!!"  It is the easy path.  Minimal improvements may occur.

The problem with thinking about Goldilocks and thinking like Goldilocks can get you in trouble too.  Trying to get it "just right" often means making sure that the feet-draggers are not completely turned off.  It oftentimes means that getting everyone to do a little bit is better than bravely clearing the path for a few to take the improvement effort as far as possible.  In other words, Goldilocks can slow improvement to a snail's pace.  When Goldilocks is on your brain, innovation and improvement move at glacial speeds.

What if we throw Goldilocks out the door?  What if we focus on our strongest folks and celebrate the progress and efforts that truly transform education?  What if we aim higher than, "just right!"  What if we shoot for awesome instead of perfect?  Whether you are an awesome failure or an awesome success, you are still awesome!

Banish Goldilocks and be awesome!