Over the weekend, I “just happened” to be driving behind a truck that belonged to a Very Large Company. Traffic was slow, and eventually I realized something: the logo on the truck was not the current logo of the Very Large Company, and it wasn’t the logo I remembered from twenty or thirty years ago, either. The link will take you to the Very Large Company’s official timeline of logos. It’s an interesting trip down memory lane, but I think there’s more to the story. At least for me this weekend, the multiple logos were a powerful sign … a sign of an organization that has lost its why, in Simon Sinek’s terms. That’s a common problem for organizations, especially Very Large ones, and especially in this strange transitional time when the hierarchical individual model of organization seems to be yielding to other forms.
A logo is a small thing, of course, but small things are important. The Very Large Company claims to be proud of its new logo, especially the new and different graphic element … but apparently the Shiny New Logo isn’t important enough for stencils, paint, and work hours from its maintenance department. They “continue to transition” from Old Logo to New, they say, though they adopted the new one six years ago. If the New Logo had been fundamentally connected with their organizational why, wouldn’t they have found time by now?
In his book Start With Why, Sinek compares a well-run hierarchical organization with a megaphone. At the center, the leader or founder articulates the organization’s why, and as the megaphone gets larger, as people’s jobs focus on what the organization does and how it carries out its mission, alignment of the why with the what and the how should amplify the why, making that why clear to everyone (especially those of us on the outside of the organization). That rarely happens, of course, Sinek says, because most organizations aren’t clear about their why. And then, even if they’re great at the how and the what, nobody really cares.
I was tempted to say that the image of the megaphone really resonated with me … and it did, if you’ll pardon the pun. It also got me thinking about the image of the sales funnel that so many organizations use. Sales funnels leak and organizational megaphones buzz with interference … but does it have to be that way? And what about the instructional funnels that factory-model schools have used for all these years?
I haven’t heard from my friend Ms. M, whose family tragedy inspired Friday’s blog post, and I haven’t been in touch with the Relevant Powers at her school, or with my other friend and long-time colleague who, like it or not, will probably be helping with “stuff” for Ms. M during the training session tomorrow. But I’m reminded of a time, almost twenty years ago, when a very different colleague needed that kind of assistance for a few weeks at the end of a school year. “Do you think you could write some lesson plans?” asked the Relevant Power in those days. Yes, I told her, I can do that … but there was so much more that needed to be done, and we pulled a learning community together, and we did it. That Former Colleague, like many of the organizations Sinek talks about, had tried to duplicate what I did with the Latin Family in those days, and she’d tried to duplicate how I did things … but at the time, she didn’t grasp the importance of the why. She thought what and how would be enough … and they weren’t, and her instructional funnel leaked. “I guess she sort of talked about that sometimes,” her students said about important concepts and skills. “We sort of did that sometimes,” they said about things my students, in those days, did daily. So how can reasonably I hope for better, or even comparable, results for Ms. M and her students?
Of course there are better tools available now, and I’m pretty sure Ms. M’s students will be using the Tres Columnae Project materials more than they ever have before. But those are really just better, more effective forms of how and what. For great results, for a funnel that doesn’t leak even if their Real Teacher isn’t around for a while, Ms. M’s students need a clear sense of why. Having met a few over the years, I know they’re generally clear about why they study Latin … but somehow, at a distance, without any direct contact and with all the interference that comes from “having a sub” in their class, we’ll need to build them up into a joyful learning community.
If we can do that, they can do anything. But I don’t know Ms. M’s school well enough to know whether it’s an aligned megaphone or a leaky funnel these days … and if it’s a leaky funnel, the work will be difficult indeed.
Difficult, but not impossible. The “magic” that the Latin Family accomplished in those last few weeks of school, all those years ago, took place in a leaky funnel school in a leaky funnel district. We clarified the why, and we found what and how along the way. That’s an important lesson to remember, and even more important to apply.
This is a busy week for me, with many priorities competing for my attention and many possible directions to go … many forms of what and how. Is there One Right Way for me to go, or are there many Possible Right Ways? I’m not entirely clear, but I know that it’s vital to be clear about the why. That will bring clarity to the buzzing megaphone, fill up holes in the leaky funnel, and possibly even create an ear trumpet that delivers clear, actionable messages when the time is right.
I wonder what new forms of clarity await today!