DeHavilland, so far
The vision for the company – the big-picture model I aspire to – is analogous to something Marshall McLuhan said about his work. In a speech he gave on the future of education in 1974 titled “Living at the Speed of Light,” he talked about how his interest in communication theory was different from that of most people in the field: that most researchers and professors looked at communication as a question of transportation, while McLuhan was more interested in the environment created by whatever was doing the transporting.
To use a railroad analogy, most people are interested in getting cargo from point A to point B as quickly and effectively as possible – solid vehicles, good tracks, as few obstacles as possible. McLuhan, on the other hand, was more interested in the effects of the railroad. What did the railroad do for the farmers who could now get their goods to market more easily? How did it change the lives of businesspeople who could now travel across the country in a matter of days, not months? What did it do to cities? How did it change financial markets?
Most communicators focus on the best way to plant their message into the minds of their audience. Do I know them well enough to know what they need and speak to their interests? Should I use direct mail or television? How do I overcome their barriers (skepticism, apathy, other interests) to get them to understand and, ideally, act?
McLuhan, on the other hand, was interested in what changes were wrought by old and new media. How did the telephone change society? How did a family change when you dropped a television into the living room?
I’ve always been inherently interested in communication – getting cargo from A to B – and believe there’s great value in helping clients navigate the often-complicated, often-confusing education market to deliver a message of social and educational merit. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a handful of clients who were looking for some support in this area, and I’m enjoying the work we’re doing together. This sort of work is important, it will always be a part of DeHavilland, and I’m happy about my progress to date in building up this side of the business.
However, I’m also interested in the environments created by communication channels – or, in the case of education, what environments could be created if communication channels were put into place. To belabor the transportation analogy – what would happen between the residents of two towns if we started a rail service between them? Wouldn’t they begin to travel? Wouldn’t they understand one another better? Wouldn’t trade and other types of exchanges vastly increase?
It’s amazing to me that there are so many groups with such a vested interest in education, and yet there’s so little communication between each of those groups and the education system (let alone among the groups themselves). The groups are generally self-contained, speaking their own languages and generally talking past one another. There’s no dialogue because there’s no platform or channel for dialogue.
How would stakeholders behave if we opened up the rails, and they were given a way to truly interact with, and participate in, the education system? Would business, for example, approach education differently if they were invited in as partners and collaborators, instead of as an extra pocket for cash, goods, and volunteer hours? Wouldn’t their support for education increase dramatically, and wouldn’t education be better off as a result of their participation in setting outcomes and processes that tie in to the real world?
This is the side of the business where I’ve failed to move forward. Looking back at post number one, the real game-changing element to DeHavilland is the idea of creating new communication channels to help spark understanding and dialogue – to clear away the fog that seems to sit between education and its stakeholders and help make public education a truly public enterprise. And I’ve been too timid.
Fortunately, it's not too late to start. Therefore, I’m officially taking the first step by announcing the creation of a new online forum for anyone involved in business/education partnerships: businesspeople, educators and public outreach specialists, education foundations, nonprofits, policymakers, and anyone else who wants to jump into the fray.
This forum will be noncommercial: I’m doing it because it needs to be done. It will reside as a standalone site and will offer a directory of organizations involved in business/education partnerships, resource and best practice sections, and a bulletin board to allow all parties to share thoughts, suggestions, war stories, and to generally engage in a dialogue that’s not possible anywhere else online.
It’s a start – but it’s definitely not the end.
I’ll announce it here once it’s live, of course, and ask people to spread the word (as a pro bono initiative, it won’t have much of a marketing budget). So check back here or keep your ears open for updates; you can also register at the DeHavilland site to make sure you receive updates as they occur.
I greatly enjoy helping clients move from point A to point B, navigating unfamiliar terrain to share the resources they wish to dedicate to teachers and students. But I also see great promise in blazing new trails, building new communication channels for the benefit of all stakeholders. It’s an opportunity to not only change the landscape, but to actually change the people connected by these new channels – and I can’t imagine a greater vision for a communications company than to enable productive dialogue in a field as fundamentally important as the education of our youth.