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Feb 10, 2012

The No-Go

Some of the most inglorious tasks that we do could be grouped as the no-go projects. We consider a new thing, or a policy change, and in the end decide not to pursue it. Those things are hard to fit into the mental schemata of successful work. First, many of us like for things to happen, not to be aborted. The biggest thrill of my job is to see what used to be just a vague idea to become reality, hopefully even benefiting some real people. This does not have to be my idea (more often it is not), but the transformation of thought into successful practice has something magical about it.

With the no-go’s; the magic ain’t happening. We may get excited about an idea, and then spend some time figuring out feasibility, even sometimes planning, only to find out that it is not going to work. The reasons are numerous; and three of them are most common. First, we may realize that what we already have is actually better than the new idea. The conversation about the new stand-alone middle level certification program seems to be going in that direction. What we have now (the endorsement program drawing from both elementary and secondary programs) is not perfect, but probably better than the new potential configuration. We still don’t know and will keep talking to the practitioners, students and faculty. Another common reason – we discover some hard policy obstacle that makes a project unfeasible (see for example, the Stone Soup program in TEIL notes). And the third most common no-go reason is the lack of resources/interest among people to do it. In other words, it does not end up high enough on the priority list. In a more narrow set of cases, with our new programs, there may not be enough student demand. Sometimes we just discover that the idea was actually pretty stupid to begin with, it is just that for some emotional reasons we did not see it right away.

You cannot really brag about the no-go projects; can’t put them on the list of our collective achievements. After the fact they look like bad ideas at best, and as failures at worst. I just looked at our project management list, and realized that subconsciously, I chose reddish color to mark them; red being an alert color. And remember at the time they seemed good enough to merit consideration, which is real work – meetings, reading, talking to people inside and outside of our group. Then it ends with a “never mind, we’re not going to do it after all.” What’s worse, in the process some people may develop attachments to the idea, and disagree with its cancellation.

But the no-go’s are not a waste of time; those are training exercises. All learning is by definition wasteful in one sense of the word. Students have no practical use for their essays, classroom drawings, or solved problems; the actual product of student work always goes to trash. The added value is in skills and experiences we create in ourselves in the no-go projects. Moreover, the conversations that begin in the no-go projects sometimes strangely carry over to other conversation, and show up in other, more successful ideas.

The world of ideas is Darwinian. Some survive, and others do not. We should acquire healthy respect for the no-go.

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