Innovation and Outcomes

A truism of entrepreneurship: You will wear a lot of hats.

That can be slightly terrifying. Also, exceptionally exciting if you’re a learner. Nothing requires you to learn fast, hard, and more often than running a startup.

Entrepreneurship certainly is humbling. Or at least it should be humbling (if not, you probably shouldn’t be doing it).

When Chris and I started this journey, we asked ourselves:

“How many skinned knees do we want?”

It wasn’t that we doubted our ability to learn. It was a practical question of how many painful lessons we’d be okay with to achieve success. We were two educators. We knew very little about starting a company. For that reason, we’ve been quite happy to have CEOs with experience leading the Abre ship.

But we’ve put on quite a few hats in the five years of sailing.

What’s Your Title?

Titles are weird. They matter for prestige, conveying purpose in the short-hand, and providing mission to your role. They also can be pretty silly, displaying degrees of bullshit that inspire eye rolls, and reflect very little of your value.

Finding the sweet spot is hard.

So we start with the question: What do you do?

I renaissance (can I make that a verb)? For Abre, that has meant:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Technical Support
  • Training
  • Thought Leadership
  • Customer Support
  • Instructional Designer
  • Web Designer (with a bit of development)
  • Curriculum consultant
  • Strategic planning consultant
  • Songs. Dance. And corny attempts at humor.

In short, a bit of everything. Sometimes I’ve done the above poorly. Sometimes quite exceptionally (in my heart, I’m still a teacher – and parts of the gig that resonate with teaching always carry joy).

Fortunately, the skinned knees (so far) have only involved bandaids – not surgery.

Why is this Relevant Now?

Because I’m transitioning (formally) hats.

For the past two years, I’ve been the VP of Customer Success. This was not a role I necessarily intended to have when we started Abre. But there was a need, and I like to think I filled it quite well for a time. I adore our customers. Indeed, some of the relationships I’ve formed over the past few years have been quite wonderful. It’s fun to get into the grind, the muck, the joy and the sorrow of running school districts. It’s even more thrilling to provide a platform and expertise to make the learning community a better place.

That said, customer success has always felt like a temporary place for me. A role that didn’t necessarily play to my greater strengths for the company. There. Is. So. Much. To. Do. And running customer success is a job that requires 100% of a person’s bandwidth.

This is why I’m excited to have Christie join the team as our SVP of Client Experience. She and our incredible colleague Shane, will be a power duo as they build the CS team.

And I’ll put on the next hat.

Which Is?

SVP of Innovation and Outcomes.

Before jumping into what this means, finding a good title was a challenge (see above reflections). Maybe not for my wife, who had a fun field day trying out different phrases and titles (most of them respectable…with few that may have reflected foibles). Defining what this new role would do was not hard (again, so much work). Finding a short title that described all that I do was so much harder. Fortunately, our CEO, James, found a solid match.

Innovation is a term that produces mixed feelings for me. For a while, this title was all the rage in education. Chief Innovation Officer. Director of Innovation and Learning. Etc. To me, this often felt like fluff.

It’s insanely hard to innovate in K12 education. I have many posts in the works as to why that is (mainly around the lack of incentives). It takes a rare type of district with a magical arrangement of leadership and an incredibly insightful board of education (not to mention community) to truly be innovative in education.

Also, why innovate? Are you innovating because it’s a value in and of itself? Because innovators are the rage in business? Because innovation is a creed or belief system?

Or are you trying to solve a problem? If you are, is that problem really a problem that requires the effort and change management that will be involved in innovation?

This is why my hesitancy about using innovation in a title is overcome by adding outcomes. We innovate to produce an outcome and outcomes justify the innovation (with some caveats – more on that later).

Really, any title should be justified by the outcomes you provide in an organization.

And so. A New Hat.

Sort of. I’ll be doing a lot of what I already was doing (only with a fraction of the attention it deserved). I’m excited to grow our impact on education, to focus on creating content demonstrating how Abre helps the learning community, dive into product market research, expand our marketplace offerings, and stay thoroughly connected to our wonderful customers.

I’m pumped for 2023 and all it will bring.

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