Historic Roots

Actually, he was probably the right guy at the right time. He lived from the 2nd part of the 19th until the early part of the 20th century. He was the impersonation of the industrial age. Frederic introduced what now is known as scientific management. In a nutshell, he observed how workers worked in factories and followed a rigid scientific approach on how to optimise what he saw. In his philosophy, he propagated certain principles in terms of how labor should be conducted for it to be efficient and scalable. Some of the principles included:

  • Extremely detailed and disassembled work tasks
  • One-way communication with fixed and narrow contents
  • Detailed targets which did not have to be understood by the individual in terms of their connection to the overall company strategy
  • External quality control

Now, I want you to reread this list and then look at the guy who created it. Looking at the list closer though, he could well have been born in the 1970s because of the way many of our organisations are structured pretty much up to the present day. Again, this made a lot of sense in the early 20th century. After all, we needed to create organisations which had to be geared towards productivity, scalability, and efficiency. We were about to enter a period of heavy industrial growth where the entire focus was mass production. In this period, we needed functioning assembly-line workers, obedient soldiers, and a protestant work ethic. So, it made sense to create schools, where we would pour knowledge into our kids and pray that most of it would stick. And it kind of did. Some people are better at learning stuff by heart than others but overall our school system gave us a pretty good comprehension of physics, math, languages, and history and most importantly taught us the current memes and value system of our society: centralised governance, strict rules, and predictable biographies.

  • Predominantly one-way communication
  • Learning content by heart
  • Lack of collaboration between students
  • Spartan and mostly uninspiring classrooms


Social Innovation lagging behind technological innovation

Itis interesting to see how a specific cultural meme at a certain time seems to resemble the architecture of how we build our society, including how we compose our schools, structure our organisations all the way to how we play football or design websites. Richard Dawkins has eluded to this idea eloquently in his first book: “the selfish gene”. Here he views culture as a spin-off from biology following similar evolutionary principles. Just like the gene is the core element of biology, a meme is the smallest unit of culture. Genes are copied across organisms and so are memes across societies. Memes, however, compete for memory and attention in order to survive and to be carried on. This would explain why we are still stuck in terribly unfulfilling job roles and schools where the way we operate them just doesn’t seem to make any sense anymore. A meme which is 150 years old still appears to be the underlying principle in terms of how we run our education system. It wants to survive. And just like genes are hardwired to survive, so do cultural artefacts linger on until something better comes along and has received enough attention to overrule the status quo.

So what to do?

Now, the first thing to say is, that our society is in transition and perhaps we need a little patience. Brexit, Trump, radicalisation in Europe, rising inequality: these are all symptoms of a society, which is trying to catch up with itself. Have you ever been in transition before? What does it feel like? Usually, it is yucky, uncomfortable and full of inconvenient truths. We don’t quite know which road to take. We feel lost, sometimes depressed and are looking for answers in the stars. Suddenly, the horoscope in the local newspaper is gaining popularity again. However, times of crisis is also the most valuable period, where (if we care to listen) start resetting, reevaluating and reprioritising. It is the most vulnerable state but let me say this loud and clear: It is a necessary state as it is typically in this frame of mind where we are broken open, willing to overthrow old dogmas and start afresh. However, when transition happens not just on an individual level but rather on a societal or even global level, then we have a problem: People feel lost and left behind at scale. So, now we are potentially dealing with the stuff that revolutions are being made of.

What the heck has this to do with education?

Glad you are asking! If we assume that our whole society is in transition, then there is a good chance that the education system is too. We can still smell the bureaucratic pillars of an old world, however, glimpses of hope are knocking on the gates of the 21st century. Agile, collaborative working models, self-organised company structures and new school models are on the rise. In a small town near Munich there is an Australian lady who was fed up with the existing school system and so she decided to open her own school. If you enter Createschools in Tutzing, you immediately feel something different. Kids are exposed to a teaching method which we refer to as project-based learning. A fancy way of saying that instead of just sitting and absorbing knowledge in classrooms, the kids are encouraged to work in groups together, co-create and deliver project-work. As a side-result, they learn emotional intelligence because they need to negotiate strategies amongst each other.

Where Robots meet Buddhas…

Apart from the usual suspects, the curriculum also offers coding and mindfulness as subjects. Mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and coding are all topics which are typically neglected at school (or at least not taught to the degree we would like to see it). In a world with increasing complexity, smartphone addictions, and the resulting ever more frequent life transitions, it is even more important to provide our kids with the tools to regulate their internal emotional states. Plus, if we agree that one of the key requirements in this day and age is collaboration, then it follows logically that emotional intelligence is a key ingredient to this. By incorporating stand-ups and retrospectives (specific meeting formats), agile methodologies already have communication built into the DNA of their system. It is one of the scrum masters core tasks to make sure that the team is working productively together. This doesn’t mean there is no conflict but rather that conflict is encouraged, brought up and managed constructively. We always jokingly refer to the Scrum Masters as the new psychotherapists of agile groups.


  • Execution Power: once upon a time we had 5-year-plans. Our business world was more predictable. If you did x then y happened with a certain degree of probability How this has changed! In an uncertain and complex world, we need tools to deal with these uncertainties. This is why design thinking, business model canvas and other prototyping and lean Startup methodologies are valuable tools: they help us to design carefully crafted experiments and move from concept design to prototypes in lightening speed in order to test our assumptions.
  • Adaptive Tribes: Social workers have understood for a very long time that teams require supervision. If you don’t resolve conflicts and do not provide a platform for self-expression, the group cohesion will be threatened. Agile methodologies have started bringing these ideas into the IT and business world. We start to bring the elephants on the table. It is the emotional stuff, which prevents us from being productive at work. Communication, online collaboration and Stand-ups all help us to let other people in our team know where we stand.
  • Digital Fitness: this one is close to my heart. So many people talk about digitisation, IoT and Artificial Intelligence but they often stay on the level of buzzword bingo: abstract and without any substance. At the same time, digital is very concrete, inspires playfulness and is highly practical. We need to emphasise these inherent qualities and bring the fun back to the digital playground.