The “Too Many Good Ideas” Problem

  • Educators and schools are awash in too many good ideas flowing in at all times and it is hard to be in a position to know what good ideas to choose.  
  • Not every good idea will work in every classroom or school
  • Too many good ideas being implemented will fragment a school program, a faculty and fragments student participating in a course or school, “a plate too full.”
  • The primary solution to a new and truly good idea popping up over and over is to know how to discriminate between good ideas to pass on and good ideas to take with a robust framework and plan of operation. 

This summer, a few of my educator friends related stories and different sides of “The Good Idea Problem.” One friend described being the recipient of too many new ideas from too many different places. From a district office and from within her own faculty, ideas have been springing up all over and fending off and nurturing the right ideas has been difficult. She isn’t in a school system with such a clear plan or clear mission that supports her need to discriminate for the right characteristics as good ideas come along. She noted, “there is only so much time, money and resources to go around, yet somehow getting to a plate-too-full situation is still easy to do.”  

Another teacher friend described having an idea for his school and was pressing forward at full speed, admitting that he had no permission of other stakeholders, no research and no clear problem identified to solve. I personally liked his idea but I know this story all too well, and I know it won’t end well. His example is one of enthusiasm for an idea/solution and no well defined problem to solve. If he manages to get the idea into his school with limited support from his colleagues, the result could be a poor implementation from his peers, animosity towards the idea and a failed initiative. The teacher and his good idea could then get a bad reputation from those involved, despite the fact that the idea isn’t generally a bad one. Hence, it isn’t what we do but how we do it that matters. Okay, the “what” does matter, but for the sake of this article, the focus is the “how” we do what we do. 

This is where the design method (begin here) will support decision makers and a faculty to know how to discriminate between good ideas and the right idea for a particular classroom or school. It is valuable to spend whatever time it takes to develop a complete and rigorous plan along with an operational framework to carry out that plan. Knowing the exact problems your school or class is facing, an excellent self-study completed, along with a general path plotted out on a limited timeline will give school leaders and course designers the right kind of lens to view new ideas as they flow in. Check out this school’s work for an example where you can quickly tell what types of new good ideas will make the cut and which type will be rejected. 

Planning out a school or course program, it’s goals and expectations for outcomes that are measurable means one must heavily frontload the work that a school must do. It is difficult and time consuming that should happen well before the first new idea proposed and is vetted. Doing this work in advance helps put stakeholders in command of the implementation of a school or class program with a purpose and the vetting of ideas will begin at a much lower level. Once an idea arrives to decision makers (school leaders, department heads, committees with decision authority) the ideas will already be of a better, more appropriate fit for your school or course and will make the final vetting more successful because all stakeholders/participants already know the path of the course or school and will more likely do self-vetting before suggesting. The suggestions will come from participants in the plan after all!

Note that at no point did I say something along the lines of, “for a leader/principle to choose or reject.” An excellent plan and operational framework should be leadership distributive and should be tasked with vetting initiatives against plans and goals, not top leadership choosing. That is a topic in collaborative design to expand on later but note that the language was intended to demonstrate how a decision should be reached to maximize outcomes and minimize hurt feelings. 

Perhaps one of the more frustrating collegial or leadership situations is trying to sort out what good ideas that colleagues bring along you want to help pursue and which you want to take a pass on. For that matter, students and parents are equally likely to share their own wonderful ideas that are ready for action or are possibly detrimental to your school’s development.  Having a very clear course or school direction will make that conversation easier, allowing everyone to participate in the conversation about what fits and doesn’t fit at that current time. This is a major advantage of a place lacking a direction of development were the conversation is likely to be one-sided, with the leader making their own professional judgment for or against an idea, causing friction or broken relations. 

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