International schools are known for delivering a curriculum well, irrespective of type (national curriculum, Common Core, IB, etc.), but how well known are we for our ability to interact with our primary stakeholders (current students and their parents), as well as prospective families, in real-time, or at least in very short order? In a world of rising school fees, are we doing our utmost to interact with our current and potential stakeholders in a timely manner (think: retention and acquisition), given the dynamic and ever-growing educational choices available to them? How easy is it? We know that it is challenging, relative to the myriad streams and channels of information that abound. In order for us to interact more seamlessly, we need liquefaction. We need for our technological infrastructure — clunky web pages and forms that exist alongside a stream of real-time media — to liquefy. The analogy is having transactional payments move from going to a cash machine, withdrawing cash, then making a purchase, to utilising Apple Pay (or the equivalent) on one’s phone. The payment process still occurs, but it is liquefied; barriers are removed. The payment happens now, and we find the whole process to be valuable. Consider, then, processes that we follow in school, and how they might flow into what Kevin Kelly refers to as the “stream of now” in his tome, The Inevitable.
How’s that for a paradigm shift for schools? To be honest, it isn’t about schools alone. Curriculum providers, accreditation agencies, and recruitment agencies need to pay attention to the stream of now as well, as should those commercial enterprises that provide products and services to schools. The stream of now isn’t some notion from science fiction; it is already available. It is the nature of our age that everyone is already in the stream of now. Question: how are we responding to it?
In this age where so much knowledge is freely available, what is your school offering for free, and how might a cumulative effect of ‘free’ result in a stakeholder’s willingness to pay school fees? Information that is freely available and that can be copied may not have fee-producing value, but if you can use it to entice a stakeholder into your main product stream (your school’s programme), then you have the opportunity to offer something that cannot be copied, assuming (hoping) that your programme cannot be easily replicated. For instance, does your school offer the IB curriculum? That curriculum can be replicated elsewhere, even offered ‘for free’ at the local state/national/public school. What makes your school’s programme unique, as opposed to the other schools in the same city that offer the IB? You graduate ‘global citizens.’ So do they. What’s your value? Are you communicating it by engaging in the stream of now? How do you measure success in that kind of stream? And what does ‘now’ mean for your school — is it real-time, or is it a promised short period of time?
Enter brand, that lens through which current and potential stakeholders view (ponder, consider) your school. What is your brand essence? Your total brand experience? That’s what you’ll want to communicate. Why? Inherent in brand is the notion of trust. One cannot replicate trust. Trust is earned. Trust comes from a lived experience. It can’t be downloaded and stored in the cloud. People will pay a premium for the privilege to deal with an organisation that they trust. Brand is linked inextricably with trust, and trust is an intangible asset with increasing value in the world of the stream of now.
Let that sink in for a moment. Then consider how the traditional strategic planning process rarely has anything to do with brand, nor is such a process aligned to the stream of now. Planning can be (but isn’t always) generative, but the growing need in the stream of now is for your school — your product — to be generative in a number of specific, interrelated ways, which Kelly identifies as the following. Does your school offer them in such ways that current and potential stakeholders would notice them, and place value on them? Do you offer only one, or does your offering interweave them salubriously, creating a cascade of unmistakable value?
IMMEDIACY - the place of/for generative assets. The moment you want something, it’s there. People don’t pay for the item; they pay for the immediacy (think: a music artist records a new song, but rather than release it as part of an album, she releases it immediately on a streaming music service). Note that immediacy is a relative term — it could mean minutes or months. How would that look in schools? What items? How immediate? How might you be generative with school assets?
PERSONALISATION - generative personalisation. For instance, music that you hear whilst out and about might sound great, but you’d pay more for it to sound gorgeous on your specific equipment and in your specific room. That’s your context. Or consider, as Kelly does, aspiring. It is so low-cost these days, almost next to free, but what if you could buy aspirin personalised to your DNA, so that it would act more effectively? Personalisation requires an ongoing conversation between creator and consumer; it is iterative and time-consuming. I submit that schools that promote personalisation, as it is so often used in educational parlance today, are deluding themselves; instead, they should be calling it “slight tweaks to programme delivery.” There are schools who are doing fairly well with the early stages of personalisation, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. If you truly involve students and families as co-creators, resulting in a ‘sticky’ asset, they’ll have a hard time leaving because they are invested co-owners.
INTERPRETATION - the interpretation of something that is free creates value. That could be a curricular approach (e.g. US common core), but if you are offering a subscription-based, packaged curriculum (I can think of several) that others can offer, you’d do well to consider your interpretation skills. Too many schools get bogged down in this area, and miss the other seven, however.
AUTHENTICITY - people can access many things for free nowadays, but they’ll pay for quality assurance, or for the assurance of authenticity, which serves as a generative quality, for those who care. Not everyone will. A traditional area of engagement in authenticity for schools is what we call accreditation. Depending on how you interpret accreditation (do you see the interrelation with the aforementioned category?), you can create value for your community.
ACCESSIBILITY - people will pay for the convenience of access, when and where they want/need something, especially if that thing is updated constantly. If it is constantly relevant, in other words. If you make it relative content highly accessible, you’ve gone a long way in creating value for your stakeholders. How might that look in your school?
EMBODIMENT - why is it that a new, must-have book is cheap (almost free), but to bring the author in, or to secure her as a keynote speaker at a local conference, is so expensive? Or consider how gamers love to game with their friends online, but crave playing with them in the same room. How might your school move toward this notion of embodiment in its offering? It certainly requires attention to Personalisation, above, among others.
PATRONAGE - fans love to pay creators, to reward them with tokens of their appreciation. Why? It allows them to connect with people they admire. But they’ll pay under four conditions, all of which are not always met easily: 1) it must be extremely easy to do so; 2) the amount must be reasonable; 3) there’s clear benefit to them for paying; and 4) it’s clear the money will directly benefit the creators.
DISCOVERABILITY - have you considered that Amazon’s greatest asset isn’t its Prime Membership, but the millions of user reviews they make available/discoverable? Increasingly, admirers of something (could be your school’s product) are willing to pay for guidance, because it is seen as a value. Discoverability is an asset that applies to an aggregate of many works. The more information you have on how students, for instance, interact with your offerings, the more opportunities you’ll have to share with what they may want to discover next.
If we in schools can pay attention to these areas of value creation, we will become creators in the liquified era. It is a new literacy for us. Can we take what we offer, filter it, bend it, archive it, rearrange it, mix it, and mess with it, so as to create value?
Many may argue that it sounds risky. Allow me to counter with this: isn’t it risky if we don’t do it? What stands in front of us is the opportunity to harness a new frontier with so many options that are contingent on the notion of mutability, rather than myopically-perceived stability. There can be stability in an approach, one that embraces mutability, but that core principle itself is stable. However, this calls for a profound mind shift and experience set.
We are in the earliest stages of flowing. The world is flowing. When will school flow?