Local author joins principal for talk on innovation | March 5, 2014 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - March 5, 2014

Local author joins principal for talk on innovation

by Renee Batti

She teaches innovation in an MBA program in San Francisco. He oversees a Menlo Park middle school at which innovation is a star.

Lisa Kay Solomon of Menlo Park, who has co-authored a new book on innovative strategies for problem-solving and idea generation, will be in conversation with Hillview Middle School Principal Erik Burmeister on Wednesday, March 12, at Kepler's bookstore to introduce a book she recently co-authored.

A conversation seems an appropriate means to unveil the book, "Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change," which Ms. Solomon co-wrote with Chris Ertel, a social scientist and longtime adviser to Fortune 500 company executives.

Although the book's focus is the world of business, "it's a personal passion of mine to feed (the strategies) into education," Ms. Solomon said.

She enlisted Mr. Burmeister for the Kepler's event because of his application of "design thinking" principles to the Hillview curriculum and culture — principles that come into play in "Moments of Impact," which teaches alternative approaches to the top-down, unproductive strategic meetings that some say are the rule in the corporate world.

Mr. Burmeister has led Hillview through a multi-faceted "redesign process" since arriving at the school in summer 2012. To do so, he employed the design thinking protocol developed by the Stanford University Design School, and created a "design team" of staff and parents.

Changes developed and tested at the middle school include a new master schedule that accommodates more collaborative learning and hands-on projects that apply design-thinking concepts — a process that begins with empathy to understand the perspectives and experiences of others, then moves through brainstorming of possibilities, design and testing, and finalization of a solution.

"The Hillivew story is a perfect example of the type of strategic conversations (Lisa) Solomon promotes," Mr. Burmeister said in an email. "We were so enthusiastic about Lisa's work and expertise that we asked her to join our Design Team this year," he said, adding that she will join other team members in "shadowing" a student this month — a process the team uses to evaluate what students are experiencing and how changes being put in place might be working.

Mr. Burmeister said that connections between what Hillview is doing and the principles presented in "Moments of Impact" include how the school reassessed and defined its purpose. "The 'problems' we set out to solve weren't necessarily seen by others or by us as 'problems.' Our work wasn't about solving some big issue that was causing angst for parents or decreased achievement for students," he said.

"Our problem was really about asking the question, 'Does the education we are providing and the structure in which we are providing it really meet the needs of our current students and the world into which they will be graduating?'

"By any measure, Hillview was doing really well. However, with a focus on 'strategic exploration and discovery,' as (Lisa) Solomon refers to it, we were able to identify that there was so much more we could be doing if we were willing to engage creatively in the human experience of design."

The mother of two children, Ms. Solomon has been involved in the Oak Knoll School parent community for some time. Several months ago, after finishing the book, she was introduced to Mr. Burmeister by her neighbor, who is an Oak Knoll teacher and a member of the Hilliview Design Team, Ms. Solomon said.

After joining the Design Team herself and working with Mr. Burmeister, Ms. Solomon observed that the principal seems to have a natural ability to think expansively and strategically, which is leading to positive change at the school.

"Erik is doing it by instinct— he's doing it by feel," she said, adding that "Moments of Impact" is a book "for people who may not have those instincts" but want to learn to be more effective thinkers, leaders and decision makers.

Ms. Solomon is a faculty member of the MBA in design strategy program at California College of the Arts, where she established the Innovation Studio. She has lectured at university business schools including Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Cornell, and has been published in a number of magazines, journals and blogs.