Thinking Wrongly

It is necessary to train oneself to think wrongly, otherwise it’s impossible to understand the order of things.


Their goal was to save time, energy, and even a bit of money. Our focus was on the convoluted professional development process and licensure renewal. They had a process.

  1. Create a professional development plan template.
  2. Make sure the plan had at least 15 arbitrary fields requesting information (someone?) deemed important. Claim those fields are necessary. Also, claim those fields should sometimes be conditional.
  3. Route the plan to five people to approve (a colleague, then a team leader, then a principal, then the head of the licensure committee, then the head of HR).
  4. Bonus: Do all the above with triplicate copies. Actually, two triplicate copies because you need five approvals.
  5. Kick back the plan to the teacher if any of the five above have questions.
  6. Once changes and updates are made, send them back through the process.
  7. Cross the fingers. Approve the plan.
  8. Start submitting evidence of professional learning that matches the plan.
  9. Approve or reject that evidence. Rinse repeat.
  10. After five years, dig through a binder for the copies of PD approvals. Pray nothing was lost. Like in a building or classroom move (which happens more than you think).
  11. Send a stack of copies for approval. Wait for the renewal of a license.

In short, they were the walking definition of my personal aphorism: “Complexity is the enemy of productivity.”

After explaining their process, I had a simple question:


Why did they do it this way?

This question has become one of the most common questions I’ve asked since leaving public education and growing our business. Schools are perplexing organizations of overthinking (which, I suppose, makes some sense given the pedantic nature of the education).

Their answer was as expected.

“It’s always been done this way.”

Okay. But why?

“Because…it’s supposed to be that way? You must ensure these hoops are in place because it’s…the law?”

It isn’t the law. And it doesn’t need to be that way. But because they thought it was, they were trying to be very careful (educators are rule followers).

They all break into huge smiles when I show them that it is not the law. And they can get a bit of the life back.

Granted, this may not be the best example of Paasilyanna’s aphorism – but it is what came to mind. I constantly walk into districts with rather puzzling systems. Understanding peculiar (and yes, sometimes wrong) thinking is crucial to understanding the why. It’s also critical in helping customers move towards growth.

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