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Lessons from the Dung Beetle About Strategic Planning

Posted by Grace Lee on Dec 19, 2012 8:43:00 AM

This is not a bunch of manure! The Dung Beetle teaches four critical lessons about strategic planning:

  • How competition shapes behavior
  • How to deal with obstacles and stay focused on the mission
  • The importance of regularly assessing direction and making adjustments
  • The importance of knowing exactly the destination and the problems

Think that's Crazy? Watch this! In his TED talk entitled, The Dance of the Dung Beetle, Marcus Byrne describes the research his team has conducted with these masters of poop and illustrates some lessons that are vital for School Boards and Administrators.

Competitive Influence 

Dung Beetles are crafty bugs, but they too have to adjust to new realities. In the midst of a rapidly changing education economy, public, charter, and private schools are competing more aggressively to retain students and grow enrollment. Marketing is now part of every administrators priorities (though marketing is not taught in any education graduate school program that I have seen), as is fund raising (another missing part of the school administrator training curriculum at universities--If you know of a school that incorporates marketing or fund raising into the masters of ed program, please post a comment here or email me). 

Adapting to a hyper-competitive environment is best accomplished by finding Blue Ocean strategies that leverage the strengths of your school: location, educational philosophy, history, reputation, instructional quality, student/family experience, curriculum features, price, graduate results, consistent faculty quality, etc. 

Mission Focused

Despite the obstacles that were placed in the way, the Dung Beetle displays relentless focus on its mission of rolling or dragging those prized balls back to the nest. They stuck to the mission even when turned in different directions and challenged with difficult barriers. The failure rate (economically and academically) of schools will increase over the next few years--the most common contributing factor will be school boards and administrators who lose track of their mission. Distracted by the latest great idea or adult issues regarding money or authority, these schools will be tossed about by the waves of change with no sense of direction (think of Captain Jack Sparrow on the Black Pearl with his compass but not knowing what he wants).

Assessment & Adjustment

If you watched the video above, you noticed that the Dung Beatle frequently climbs on top of the ball to assess direction and make adjustments. Without this consistent reality check, the bug might go off course risking wasted energy and perhaps never finding it's nest. There has never been a more important time for school leaders to check their work on a regular basis to verify the path and whether the goal can be reached. Assessing direction includes building a healthy culture that listens to faculty, students, parents, and other school leaders. It is surprising how so many school leaders fail to actively network together to learn from each other, share resources, share expenses, and scale their operations.  

Exact Data

What data sources do you use to evaluate the performance and opportunities for your school? The Dung Beatle, even with a brain the size of a grain of rice, is smart enough to know exactly where it wants to go and how well it is progressing. It can be confused by corrupting its data sources, but at least this bug has a process for collecting data and improving its process of executing on the mission. If your school is waiting until the end of the school year to make adjustments, that's too late. Edward Demings taught the Japanese back in the 1950's that producing a better product requires measuring and adjusting throughout the manufacturing process rather waiting until the end to assess quality. Schools have access to unprecendented academic technology to measure teacher effectiveness and student performance. The best schools will use this exact data to build a consistently improving program, with teacher coaching happening on a daily basis (one of our clients is so committed to teacher coaching and improvement, that each instructor is observed at least 90 times throughout the school year).

Do you have other insights from this enlightening TED video? Please share your feedback via the comments section on this page. I look forward to learning from you.

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