Leadership,  Teaching and Learning

Embrace Your Inefficiency

Total efficiency constrains us. We become super invested in maintaining the status quo because that is where we excel. Innovation is a threat. Change is terrifying. Being perfect at something is dangerous if it’s the only thing you can do.

“Getting Ahead by Being Inefficient”

I stumbled across this interesting article today called “Getting Ahead by Being Inefficient.” At first glance, I thought it was going to be the article I’ve been waiting my whole life for… the one that would say my scattered mind, my messy desk, my caffeine-fueled late night procrastinations, were going to propel me far in life.

And while it didn’t quite get me there, it did have an interesting point that probably touches home for a lot of my educator friends. Basically, getting really really good at something can hurt you in the long haul. Let me summarize the author’s example.

A bird evolves over time to become adept at eating a certain berry. The beak fits the berry perfectly. The talons grip the branch just right. The bird has it made. It’s perfect for the berry, and the berry is perfect for the bird. Efficiency is key!

A mammal comes along and says, “Hmm, that berry looks good. I want some.” But he doesn’t have a perfect beak or talons, so he has to adapt.. maybe he scoops up the ones that dropped to the ground, or sneaks around at night and steals some from the lower branches. Not the most efficient, but it gets the job done.

So what happens during the polar vortex when the berries are frozen or the tree is killed? The bird starves, and the mammal goes to his other food source and munches away. Efficiency kills the bird. Inefficiency saves the mammal.

Efficiency is great in an unchanging environment, but to expect an environment to remain static is unrealistic. Environments change all the time.

“Getting Ahead By Being Inefficient”

Are you seeing the teaching connection? A lot of us felt pretty confident in our teaching in the NCLB era. We had a scope and sequence laid out, an assessment that aligned pretty well with the high stakes accountability system, and a traditional report card. Teaching was, in many aspects, reminiscent of how we had been taught. The berries were luscious and we could reach them all.

But the world was changing… and changing fast… and it shook the core of our berry tree. It demanded change. It screamed for personalization. It hollered for relevance and engagement.

Our beaks weren’t enough. Our talons couldn’t stay gripped to the tree. We had to change. To adapt to the new world. And the scariest part is that this new world is ever changing. We can’t simply find a new tree. We have to be flexible and adaptable. We have to be open to new opportunities when our environment changes.

We have to be the mammal…

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