Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Support Simplicity, Change and Diversity

Number 6 on my seven habits list may appear to be contradictory. For some people, simplicity means the absence of change and diversity. However, I believe that change, if managed well, is a positive element in most institutions, including language programs. This is a good thing, since some change is pretty much unavoidable.

In supporting simplicity, I advocate something akin to Occam’s razor: when faced with two relatively equal ways of doing something, choose the simpler of the two. Often needless complexity creeps into policies and procedures as an artifact of change over time. Looking for ways to simplify without losing effectiveness is a good habit to have.

In supporting change, I think the key element is not to fear change. If we accept that change is inevitable and seek to manage it well, a lot of angst and frustration can be avoided. Losing our fear of change is not necessarily easy. We have to trust in our abilities to manage change and we have to be able to accept changes we may not like. Change can also be liberating if we view it as an option always open to us. Some changes are forced on us but other changes can come proactively from us. By focusing on those changes that we can instigate and control ourselves, we can reduce the negative impact of changes that we don’t instigate. In this regard, it is helpful to have an attitude that is open to possible changes all the time. This is not to say that the more changes we instigate, the better off we are. Managing change requires time and energy and too much change can be exhausting. However, viewing everything as potentially changeable – if desired or needed – is ultimately more effective than viewing everything as ideally unchanging.

In supporting diversity I am supporting openness to, and respect for, the diversity of ideas, points of view and abilities of others. This entails an ability to not think too highly of one’s own ideas and abilities. It also implies a fairly democratic approach to management as opposed to a strongly hierarchical one.

Change and diversity appear to be very significant issues in the ELP at this time. There is tension between those who favor change and those who don’t, and between those who support hierarchy and those who support more democratic ideals. Until we can resolve this tension, it will be difficult to achieve much of a consensus on any of the other issues listed in my last posting.