If I said that the worst solutions for the challenges you're facing might just be the best way out of a tight spot, would you believe me? If I suggested that one terrible idea could save a U.S. school district up to $25 million a year -- cutting an education budget and maybe even increasing teacher numbers -- would you be more interested?
As nations around the world seek to save money in their education budgets -- the U.K. seems an exception to the rule with its $8 billion increase in education, it's only budget increase at all -- we might wonder whether creative flair in decision making might be more effective at saving money than the budget holder's red pen.
When you ask a room of teachers or policymakers to come up with their "best" solutions to a problem you often tend to get great ideas, but not always the best ones. They can be contrived versions of management speak and almost always involve some self-censorship from the team: people don't offer anything up unless they feel, explicitly or subconsciously, that it will get buy-in from the rest of the committee or that favored butcher of creativity, the stakeholders. People's "best ideas" for saving money generally involve generous doses of "chop this" and "cut back on that".
At a time when education budgets have never been smaller, and are only going to get even more so, the kind of thinking that defaults to the "old ways" of doing things -- expensive committees, organizations, meetings, 'experts' -- just won't cut it any more. Stanford's Tina Seelig suggested another route to me that has already saved education departments millions this month.
Ask people for their "worst" solutions to a problem and people tend not to hold back at all -- laughs are had and the terrible ideas flow. And while the initial suggestions might feel stupid, pointless or ridiculous to the originating team members, these awful ideas can take on a spectacular new lease of life in the hands of another, unrelated group.
By insisting on a "yes and" approach, rather than a "yes but" approach, a fresh set of eyes can turn these "worst" ideas into the ones that will save money, improve service or make people happier in the workplace.
I've tried this approach on several senior education groups now from Bahrain to the Scottish Borders, each time with huge success. With one school district, seeking creative ways to maintain the quality of their services for millions of pounds less, the results were simply brilliant.
- Reduce cleaning costs by scrapping school cleaners. Yes and... we'll get the students to clean the two square meters around the area in which they are standing at 2 p.m. every day.
I'll leave you with a simple one you could get your local school to give up on right now: window cleaning alone is $50,000 a year in one English borough, which nationally would lead to a saving of at least £25 million a year.
If the U.S. did away with schools window cleaning for a year, and instead the community pulled in around it, how many millions could we save?