innovation is often how, rather than what
So much of everything in life is the how, not the what. Particularly when it comes to the most challenging things in life: getting criticism, being told something we value is going to end. Having our hearts broken. How change is initiated matters more than the fact (the “what”) that it’s about to unfold.
exalt’s premise, innovation and value proposition are about the how. Internships are not a novel, innovative, or sexy idea. Nor is the idea of effective preparation, or that purposeful curriculum and pedagogy matter. These three ideas form much of the underpinning of our model for transforming the life trajectories of youth caught up in the justice systems. And yet internship programs are as ubiquitous in this city now as “youth development” programs began to be about fifteen years ago, and as “multicultural education” was in the 80’s. So what sets exalt apart? Really, why exalt?
Because exalt pays painstaking attention to the how. Not just to the logistical how of running a program, but to all the shape-shifting details that comprise the how of personal transformation – what we’re activating in our students. One of our funders just referenced Atul Gawande’s piecein the New Yorker about “slow ideas” in the land of innovation. The following passage resonated with me because it applies to exalt’smethodical, intentional, patient, adaptive approach to triggering our students’ engagement in learning. This elusive gem that our nation is clamoring to find (“how do we get them to care?”…), and which is essential to our ability to sustain our global competitiveness, is at the center of our model.
“In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.” (New Yorker)
Getting teenagers who’ve disengaged from school and education, who read multiple grade levels behind where they should be, to clamor for participation in a rigorously run classroom of their peers is what exalt does best. This messy, anachronistic component of our “how” is the why of exalt.
So while internships may be a dime a dozen (spreading like ether) here in the capital of innovation, the intensive classroom experience thatexalt provides for our students, which the internship is only a small extension of, is entirely unique, and not as effortless to reproduce. And it has broad implications for our approach to education generally, as well as for ending the school-to-prison pipeline epidemic.
As innovative and effective as our efforts within exalt are, they alone will not succeed - nor will those of any of us alone –without the broader public– you and your friends – participating. As Gawande notes: “Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process. People talking to people is still how the world’s standards change.”