To back up, the idea for The Lean Lab emerged roughly a year ago, albeit from a very different concept than it has evolved to become. To quickly catch you up on how I ended up struggling with the most current challenges, let me walk you through the major events that led to today.
· I sat down at my laptop, drafted the first tenets of what was originally called The Kansas City Urban Innovation Consortium (KCUIC). The original concept was to get practitioners from all walks of life—cops, social workers, artists, educators—to create holistic reform in education.
· I took the draft to Ann Wiley, the awesome Director of Alumni Affairs at Teach for America Kansas City. Over a long cup of coffee, she encouraged me to see it through.
· I began hosting brunches with a group of 8 founding members—a crime lab case coordinator, an animator, a social worker, a cop, a data analyst, a teacher and a curator of public programs for an art gallery
· We began seeking out ways to assess the needs of the community, first targeting our own (the Westside)
· We learned from other social entrepreneurs at the Entrepreneur’s United conference at the Kauffman Foundation, and were exposed to the energy of social entrepreneurs throughout the country
· After a long and hard year for me personally and professionally, I elected to take some time off of work to reground and focus on personal health needs.
· During this time, I began landscape interviews in the KCMO area, meeting with numerous CEOs of non-profits, and beginning to piece together the existing needs of Kansas City.
· I found that a plethora of needs assessments and data resources existed, however most leaders cited the following as needs:
-KC is very guilty of creating silos amongst ourselves. Many organizations exist that benefit urban kids and aim at education reform, but few communicate or collaborate.
-There is no central data repository for easy, quick and useful data analysis in regard to the assets and needs of urban children and the schools they attend. Many, many needs assessments have been done, documented and published (or will be published soon), however little valid cross reference of data materials exists. Furthermore, accessing and analyzing all of the data that does already exist is very time consuming, and I would argue that very few people know where and how to access such data.
-Leadership. In almost every sector (even outside of education), principals, CEOs, teachers, etc. cited a need for strong leadership, more support for existing leaders, and pipelines to leadership positions as a great need in Kansas City. Currently, only Leading Educators exists to help support and sustain mid-level leaders in education.
· Around the same time that I was conducting landscape interviews, I started becoming more and more intrigued by how the entrepreneurial startup community has been gaining momentum. 1million cups, Kauffman Labs, entrepreneurship.org, start-up “meet ups” all opened my eyes to a crazy, palpable and inspiring culture and community that exists in Kansas City. Immediately inspired, I am currently grappling with how do we learn from this energy and take this into education?
· One of the things I’m most attracted to from the startup movement in KC—and in general—is this constant obsession with refining a concept. Members of the start up community here consistently give brutal feedback, ask piercing—and essential—questions that rip right to the core of any weakness in concept. I LOVE it. This work is not for the thin-skinned, and I’ve learned to toughen up, take tough hits to the ego and difficult feedback, and return to the concept with greater clarity. This has also given fuel to my running routine, as I’ve learned that sometimes in this work, you simply have to go on a run, or have some outlet, just to clear the mind and regain focus.
· Simultaneously, I have become fascinated by Lean Startup methodologies. Of experimenting with a concept, validating the need, and iterating or pivoting from there.
· Hence . . . where we are at today. It is my theory that poor performance of our city’s kids can be directly linked to ineffective, unstable leadership. I’m defining leaders as people who step up to see a successful (as measurably moving student achievement forward) initiative to fruition. Leadership can, and should, occur at any and every level (teachers, students, home owners, parents, principals, etc.), and needs not to be boxed into institutional leadership.
· Somewhere in time, in between the last four bullet points of this post, the concept emerged to replicate some of the start up success, particularly the kind of success (as defined by launched, funded and vetted ventures) being experienced at incubators/accelerators in town, such as Think Big Partners, Pipeline, etc. This idea emerged as we quickly learned that our idea to collect needs assessment data was completely off base—tons of data exists, its just not easy to find. So then here comes the pivot--how do we get people to act on the data in robust and innovative ways? We change the name to the Lean Lab.
· My current theory is that an incubator/accelerator approach to urban education reform could move leaders from early concept to a viable, launched solution that effects the life trajectory of kids in Kansas City. This would work doubly to solve multiple problems: 1. It creates an organic pipeline to leadership, as those interested in taking on endeavors “pave their own way” to leadership positions. 2. It in part solves the leadership gap, by nurturing and developing leaders in Kansas City, and providing them incentive to stay (the launch of their own venture). 3. Leaders begin to solve real problems that children in our city face in the realm of education. Students will, then, benefit from the impact.
· Where I am now: I’ve made a lot of assumptions here. I’ve assumed that we have a lot of home grown, untapped grassroots leadership in Kansas City with a willingness to step up and join a program to solve issues in Kansas City. I’ve also assumed that such an incubator will spur effective leadership, that impacts students and student achievement. Now . . . I need to test these assumptions!