Part I: Why de-centralize
He was a nice guy, our IT Director. And he was actually very talented. But Dave had accumulated an astounding number of enemies in our school. Why? Like the narrow part of the hourglass with all the sand backing up above it, he was the chokepoint of all content leaving our campus. From emails to web updates, sports scores to marketing initiatives, he held the behind-the-scenes power that slowed all outward-bound content to a crawl. Dave the IT Director was dedicated, working day and night, weekends and holidays – but he was still widely reviled as “the guy who keeps us from getting our work done.” Communications, admissions, advancement, alumni relations, academics, and more were affected by the inability for anyone to use the school’s systems to send out information without having to go through the IT Department (in your school it may be the Communications Department, the Principal’s Office, or the Headmaster’s Office).
My recommendation? Don’t be a Dave.
The Rationale for Centralized Control: Let’s take a moment and evaluate the why this happens and see if we can learn a few lessons. First, let’s take an honest look behind the curtain to see why the Daves of the world create this environment. There are good motives and bad.
Bad motives: The bad can range from a psychological desire to be controlling, a feeling of needing to be needed, or just plain ineptitude. Controlling information can be used as a power play, but in my experience, that’s not usually the case, and even if it were, let’s give our Daves the benefit of the doubt.
Good motives: More often the desire to centrally control the distribution of content is founded in one central conviction: it is the belief that it should be done – for security, for consistency of message, for accuracy. You might have heard (or said) something like: “We can’t let just anyone send anything out; there’s no telling what might end up out there!” Usually this is founded in a genuine concern and interest in the school’s well-being. However, good motives do not necessarily produce good policy.
The Response to Centralized Control: Okay, let me say something that will shock the Daves on our campuses: I let students tweet on behalf of our school. Yes, you read that right. These students are even allowed to tweet to our Twitter accounts without clearing their tweet with administration first! Isn’t that just asking for trouble? You might ask. Quite the contrary, actually. Permit me to explain…
If history shows us anything about autocratic leadership, it is that it inevitably produces a desire in followers to rebel. So think about what a centrally controlled information system will tend to do – it will invite people to find ways around it, and it will likely engender resentment. Instead, what if you encouraged people to produce and distribute their own content, and communicated to them that you trust them, that you believe in them, that you have faith in their ability to represent the school well? In my experience, you provide better protection for your school than if you had all your information on lockdown. “Train & Trust” is a principle worth considering. If you teach your people how to create meaningful content, train them to understand and achieve your high standards, and trust them to fulfill the mission of the school as they disseminate content, you will have conscripted an army of people dedicated to doing what one person or department was trying to do alone.
Summary of reasons why you should de-centralize the creation and distribution of content in your school:
- It eliminates an information bottleneck, and allows information to get where it needs to go in a timely manner
- It taps into the best of your people all around campus, fostering creativity and problem solving at an exponential scale
- It lets the people who know most and care most about particular types of information to be the ones managing it, not a central authority who cannot hope to be an expert in all areas
- It engenders goodwill and teamwork
- It turns all those involved into deputies for your cause – i.e. the distribution of excellent content in accordance with your school’s mission in a secure manner
So, I’d encourage you to avoid the bottleneck in your school that blocks the sand from flowing through information hourglass. Instead, pour the sand into the sandbox – then train and trust your people to play nicely.
Coming next: Part II: How to decentralize
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