I was watching a talk by Simon Sinek the other day on YouTube entitled: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Much of the talk focused on the business marketing strategy of understanding and promoting ‘why’ you are in business as opposed to ‘what’ you do in your business, and much of it made sense. In business, customer loyalty largely arises from a company’s ability to express a clear and honest sense of why they exist and what they believe about the world than simply the quality of what they do or make. The clearer that belief, the more attractive the company is to those with similar beliefs. Watch commercials made by companies such as Apple and Harley Davidson- they don’t focus on specs because we don’t get inspired by facts and figures; but we do have an emotional reaction or a sense of connectedness when we are able to identify with a product or a message, and feelings and emotions can be strong and often irrational drivers of behaviour.
Why do so many people have such a strong commitment to certain leaders, political parties, religious groups, etc? It’s the feeling of connectedness and shared beliefs that drives this behaviour. I wrote a post a while back on the reasons why so many new teachers quit in their first few years, and while these reasons can be categorised under poor working conditions or avoidance of cognitive dissonance, at a basic level I believe it comes down to a lack of connectedness and a feeling that the schools and staff simply don’t believe what idealistic new teachers believe. Working for an organisation that does not share your idea of best practices, professionalism, integrity, vision or whatever it is you believe, can lead to a great deal of job dissatisfaction, and so organisational vision and culture is as important to employees as the projected image and message can be to customers.
The point here is that if an organisation is unable to articulate clear beliefs about its purpose and ‘why’ it does what it does, it is unlikely to be able to inspire workforce or customers. This has implications in education beyond whether or not teachers remain teachers. With changes in the education sector being driven by an increasingly competitive international market, innovations in technology, and greater understanding of learning theory, come great challenges, and more than ever before, in this age of information those higher education institutions which fail to add ‘why’ to their ‘how’ and ‘what’ are going to struggle.
I believe this is also linked in some way to the necessity for engagement in learning. There is a lot of focus on what is to be learned and attempts to inspire learning by talking about careers several years down the track, but we are generally not very good at being inspired by the prospect of delayed gratification. As such, in order to optimise learning outcomes the reasons for learning also need to be imbedded in the curriculum and learning activities themselves.