PEJE has ascended. We recently sojourned from Broad Street, in Boston’s Financial District, up to the 16th floor of CIC Boston, a building that describes itself as “much more than office space; it is an innovation ecosystem.” We’re now settled in this cutting-edge atmosphere, high in the sky, surrounded on all sides by entrepreneurial energy. We feel like we’ve moved not just a few blocks over. It’s as though we relocated to an entirely new century.
I won’t lie: This move has woken me up in the middle of numerous nights, worried about how it will ultimately affect the organization. But since arriving, PEJE has learned many lessons. I want to share them.
First, we now work in an open space environment—our furniture is on wheels, and our people are mobile. By rethinking our notion of daled amos, or personal space, we reconceive our relationship to one another, and that may lead to innovations yet unplanned.
Second, in departing our long-time home, we had to confront well over 1,000 pounds of printed PEJE material. Since we were unable to bring all or most of it with us, we purged. In the course of shedding so many whitepapers, research studies, promotional materials, and binders of program notes, we saw that it was time to transform from a paper-based organization to a cloud-based one. Right now, the staff is busy getting comfortable with Google Apps for Nonprofits and Box.com.
While we can’t bring schools with us to CIC Boston, we can use our experience to suggest a few lessons they can take away from our experience. To wit:
Seek perspective. Schools don’t need to look out at the inspiring chrome, steel, and brick landscape of downtown Boston to get a new view of their situation. As we’re now at the halfway mark of the academic year, it’s an excellent time to review just where you are in terms of your institutional advancement goals. Take out your development plan, and assess your progress. Course-correct as necessary. And if you’re not quite sure how to get yourselves back on track, perhaps place a call to the Leadership Line.
Be adaptable. Don’t have open space at your school? Haven’t zoomed into the cloud? Totally fine. You can still adapt, in an intelligent way, to new circumstances as they arise. In this Harry Bloom blog post, Abrams Academy shows how an agile school can effectively shift strategies when necessary. Organizational agility and sustainability, it turns out, fit together well.
Focus on the essential. PEJE learned to jettison many items we thought we needed, but ultimately had to discard. In the same way, your school needs to not be all things to all people. As RAVSAK’s Marc Kramer says in this video on crafting a JDS value proposition, it’s essential to hone in on your school’s unique forms of excellence.
Think of the present and the future. We had to figure out both the short term (what to throw away and what to keep) while, at the same, decide how we wanted to store all future communications (in the cloud). Schools need to think on two tracks as well. You need to think about, say, your upcoming recruitment and retention issues for the upcoming year in addition to building your endowment and legacy program for the long-term future.
Fear not. The schools that will thrive in the 21st century are those that dare to take bold action, in spite of internal trepidation. Fuchs Mizrahi, in Cleveland, Ohio, is one such school. They recognized that they needed to make some serious changes in order to achieve long-term sustainability, and they did so without flinching. Read the story here. Similarly, our migration to the 16th floor, and into the cloud, calls to mind a teaching from Reb Nachman of Breslov: Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od veha’ikar lo lifached k’lal, or All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear. When the time comes to change, do so with intelligence and courage, and move forward.