A Manifesto: Hey Teacher, You Are a School! by Cristian Mitreanu

The following essay has been originally published as "Why Teachers -- Not Schools -- Are the Real Institutions" at TeachThought. This is the original manuscript.



"I am a teacher, therefore I teach," is a phrase that seems to describe your job pretty well. Teaching is, nevertheless, what you are getting paid for. But times are changing and such narrow perspective could become dangerous. At the very least, you are probably leaving parts of your professional career in the hands of others, failing to fully materialize the value that you could generate. In the worst case scenario, though, you could simply be rendered irrelevant.

If we look beyond all the labels and terms conventionally associated with the teacher profession, if we ignore all the semantics and the constraining "baggage" that comes with them, it is easy to see that you are an institution. Not necessarily a legal institution, but rather a value-generating institution. Simply put, you are directly responsible for a student’s partial accumulation of knowledge and skills. 

Although realizing that you are an institution is a first step in the right direction, that is not enough. In the 1960 Harvard Business Review article "Marketing Myopia," Theodore Levitt explains how companies fall victim to their own narrow perspective on what they actually do:

"The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because the need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, even telephones), but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry wrong was because they were railroad-oriented instead of transportation-oriented; they were product-oriented instead of customer-oriented."

In your case, the customer is the student. And you are in the education business, rather than the teaching business, which tends to be heavily shaped by the general technological level and the way the society and, thus, the education system is presently organized. It is a distinction that suggests that, as an educational institution, the jobs that you do (yes, already do!) go beyond teaching.

In my recent presentation "Unlocking Innovation in Education through Meaningful Technology (A General Model for Ed-Tech)," which was also mentioned in this very blog [TeachThought], I identified the basic jobs that an educational institution (or simply, school) must perform. It all begins with the identification of the steps that the student is taking during the education process, whether that refers to a single course or a four-year program: 1) CONSIDER skills, programs, schools; 2) ACQUIRE knowledge, skills, certifications; and 3) ACTUALIZE new (intellectual, professional) identity. 

Now, as with any service-providing institution or organization, the school must match the student’s behavior in order for a mutual engagement to take place. Consequently, the basic jobs that a school must perform are: PROMOTE, DELIVER, FACILITATE, and OPERATE. And, since we have already established that you are an educational institution, these are your basic jobs too.



This is the job corresponding to the student's CONSIDER. Depending on the characteristics of your student population, your organizational affiliation, and your level of involvement, the job could take various forms. The most passive form is your reputation, whether you are actively managing it or not. At the other end of the spectrum, you could be already involved in a dialogue with the prospective students. You might have already developed a following or, even better, a community.


This is the job corresponding to the student's ACQUIRE and is what we conventionally think of as teaching. And this job too takes various forms. At the minimum, it is your classroom teaching activity. In other circumstances, though, this job could go well beyond teaching in that it establishes a platform for the student's learning process. In other words, this is the job where you enable the student to learn in an integrated, unifying manner -- whether the knowledge and skill comes from the interaction with you, from the interaction with other students, from individual study, from family and friends, or from some or all of these sources.


Corresponding to the student’s ACTUALIZE, this is the job where you are supposed to help the student close the loop of development (whether that is intellectual, career, or professional development). Having just acquired new knowledge, skills, and potentially a certification, the student is in the process of re-inserting himself or herself into the environment, in a position that is perceived as an advancement. In some circumstances, such as public K-12 education, this job is embedded in the system to some extent. Nonetheless, in other instances, you might have already developed strong relationships with the entities with which your students will engage next, facilitating a smoother actualization process.


As an institution, you have to create a lasting environment, in which your activities can be performed repeatedly over an extended period of time. In short, and from the institutional point of view, you have to ensure that you are a lasting entity. This job too might be embedded in the system, where the public school you teach at provides a physical classroom, offers you a computer to use, and performs all the other supporting tasks. In some cases, though, you might be already handling these jobs yourself. Using the latest technologies available, you could be performing underlying tasks such as student information management, accounting, and information technology management. 

This holistic view of what you fundamentally do provides valuable guidance in an education space that quickly evolves toward a student-centric environment. Whether you remain affiliated to an existing organization or try to start your own, this framework of your basic jobs could help you maximize the value that you bring to the table. In conclusion, I would say, make this your manifesto and always remember: "Hey teacher, you are a school. So, start thinking and acting like one."

Unlocking Innovation in Education through Meaningful Technology (A General Model for Ed-Tech) by Cristian Mitreanu


Are you currently working or running a business in the ed-tech space? Then you might find my 33-slide presentation "Unlocking Innovation in Education through Meaningful Technology (A General Model for Ed-Tech)" interesting. Here is the summary:

Innovation in education is hard. It is hard because the what must stay relevant in an ever-changing world. It is hard because the how and the when directly affect the value of the what. And it is hard because education instances range widely from informal day-to-day interactions with the environment to complex activities, conventionally associated with what we call ‘formal education.’

Based on the understanding that the underlying technology is a key, inseparable component of the education process, the following presentation introduces a new worldview (an explanatory model) that helps those involved in education and educational technology get a clearer, more comprehensive view of how things work and what is ultimately meaningful and valuable.

The presentation is structured in four sections. It begins with the identification of the major challenges and trends in the education space. The second section is dedicated to illustrating the rationale behind the model. The third section reveals some of the major insights that emerge from the new worldview. And, finally, the presentation ends with a few thoughts for the ed-tech provider.

And here is the presentation:

A PDF version will also be available for download soon.

UPDATE 8/22/2012: The PDF is now available here.

[Tip: If you have an iPhone or an iPad, email the PDF file to yourself, as an attachment. Then open it with iBooks, where it will be saved so you can read it anytime --  a much nicer reading experience.]

Theories Are Like Maps by Cristian Mitreanu

Kevin A. Clarke and David M. Primo, both professors at the University of Rochester and authors of the new book "A Model Discipline: Political Science and the Logic of Representations," recently wrote an interesting NYT piece on the need to overcome "physics envy" in social sciences. Here are some good excerpts:

Many social scientists contend that science has a method, and if you want to be scientific, you should adopt it. The method requires you to devise a theoretical model, deduce a testable hypothesis from the model and then test the hypothesis against the world. If the hypothesis is confirmed, the theoretical model holds; if the hypothesis is not confirmed, the theoretical model does not hold. If your discipline does not operate by this method — known as hypothetico-deductivism — then in the minds of many, it’s not scientific. [...]

But we believe that this way of thinking is badly mistaken and detrimental to social research. For the sake of everyone who stands to gain from a better knowledge of politics, economics and society, the social sciences need to overcome their inferiority complex, reject hypothetico-deductivism and embrace the fact that they are mature disciplines with no need to emulate other sciences.

The ideal of hypothetico-deductivism is flawed for many reasons. For one thing, it’s not even a good description of how the “hard” sciences work. It’s a high school textbook version of science, with everything messy and chaotic about scientific inquiry safely ignored.
— Kevin A. Clarke and David M. Primo
To borrow a metaphor from the philosopher of science Ronald Giere, theories are like maps: the test of a map lies not in arbitrarily checking random points but in whether people find it useful to get somewhere.
— Kevin A. Clarke and David M. Primo

What Is Interesting? by Cristian Mitreanu

Ever wondered what makes an idea interesting? In his 1971 article "That's Interesting!: Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology," published in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Murray S. Davis provides some timeless insight. Here are three interesting (no pun intended) excerpts:

It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great because his theories are true, but this is false. A theorist is considered great, not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting. Those who carefully and exhaustively verify trivial theories are soon forgotten; whereas those who cursorily and expediently verify interesting theories are long remembered. In fact,the truth of a theory has very little to do with its impact, for a theory can continue to be found interesting even though its truth is disputed — even refuted!”

”We have seen that an audience finds a proposition ‘interesting’ not because it tells them some truth they did not already know, but instead because it tells them some truth they thought they already knew was wrong. In other words, an interesting proposition is one which denies some aspect of the assumption-ground of its audience, and in The Index of the Interesting we have categorized the various aspects of this assumption-ground which can be denied. Since this is the defining characteristic of an ‘interesting proposition’, it can also be used as a criterion to determine whether or not a particular proposition is interesting.”

”But even the ‘Stars’ of social science sometimes assert propositions found to be non-interesting. Why should this ever be the case? Besides the occasional fall of the Stars themselves into mediocrity, the fault may lie not in the Stars, but in their audience. Propositions are interesting or uninteresting only in relation to the assumption-ground of some audience. If an audience finds a proposition asserted by a reputable social scientist to be obvious or irrelevant or absurd, it may be because the proposition has come to the attention of an audience other than the one to whom it was originally intended. A proposition which merely affirms a particular assumption, is irrelevant to any assumption, or annihilates the whole assumption-ground, of one audience may have been formulated to deny a particular assumption, be relevant to some assumption, or harmonize with the whole assumption-ground, of another audience.
— Murray S. Davis

You can download the entire article here.

Reinventing Management: A Unified, Top-Down and Bottom-Up, Approach by Cristian Mitreanu

I recently entered the competition "The Beyond Bureaucracy Challenge: Creating Inspired, Open & Free Organizations" -- part two of the Harvard Business Review / McKinsey M-Prize for management innovation at the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX). Started by Gary Hamel, the MIX is "an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century." His talk "Reinventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment," which is embedded below, details the context of this undertaking.

My entry "A Unified, Top-Down and Bottom-Up, Approach to Business Management" points to the "fundamental theory of business," which I developed over the past several years. According to the MIX requirements, the entry is structured as a "hack" ("a hack can be as seemingly basic as a better way to run meetings or as high-stakes as a complete overhaul of the compensation system — as long as it turns the tables on management-as-usual and offers up a pathway to progress on one of the moonshots"). Here are a few excerpts from it:


A new perspective on human nature, particularly on human needs, allows us to develop a dynamic model of the organization and an integrated top-down-bottom-up approach to management. Some of the major benefits of the resulting holistic inside-out-outside-in view include expanding the boundaries of the organization, bridging the gap between plan and execution, and increasing the owner's power in the management process.


- Make direction-setting bottom-up and outside-in

- Reinvent the means of control

- Rebuild management's philosophical foundations


"As a society, we were simply advancing toward understanding how to successfully perform increasingly larger sets of activities over increasingly longer periods of time. Unfortunately, what should have been a natural progression of our general understanding of business was diverted by historical circumstances on a dead-end road of knowledge. The quest for a fundamental theory of business was replaced by the quest for a theory of sustainable competitive advantage. Consequently, every effort to understand what it takes for a company to achieve enduring success was hampered by limitations inherent to the concept of strategy." This quote from my 2009 essay "A Wake-Up Call for the Business Nation" provides a high-level overview of the problem.



As indicated above, the solution presented in this hack is a theory of (understanding and doing) business that provides a more comprehensive and realistic explanation of how organizations fundamentally work. 



Some of the major benefits that the new theory brings to the business world include:


As mentioned in the hack's title, the new theory provides a unified, top-down and bottom-up, approach to business management. It also allows us to see businesses holistically, integrating the inside-out and the outside-in perspectives.



Some areas, where potential barriers to adoption might lie, include:


"Who's this guy?," many will ask. And rightfully so. History is chock-full with examples of individuals who have taken advantage of those who lacked information. Furthermore, over the past few decades, providing advice in the business management area has become a very lucrative field. 



First StepsA few steps that could be taken immediately (in ascending order of impact and required resources):


"If you understand cause and effect, it brings about a set of insights that leads you to a very different place. The knowledge will persuade you that the market isn’t organized by customer category or by product category.  If you understand the job that consumers need to complete, you can articulate all of the experiences in that job," said Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School in an interview with Inc. magazine.


Your comment, vote, or any kind of support for this entry would be highly appreciated.

Reviews for OFMOS by Cristian Mitreanu

A few of my former classmates have been kind enough to review the prototype of my video game Ofmos. Their comments were aggregated on the Illinois MBA blog, but I thought that it is much easier to just copy the original blog post here.

MBA Student Creates Video Game to Teach Business Fundamentals

Cristian Mitreanu, creator of the TEDxUIUC event, had put his expertise to work and created a new video game to teach us the fundamentals of making decisions at work. His game, OFMOS, is an innovative casual video game that mimics the basic actions taken by a CEO when deciding what the company should offer, when, and to whom. Rather than dealing with two separate portfolios, one of offerings and one of customers, this new theory allows us to analyze a company as a single portfolio of business entities. These entities are virtual business spaces defined by an offering and a set of customers, who have the same behavior relative to that offering. They are called “ofmos,” a term derived from the combination of words offering-market-cosmos.

In a beta-test of the game, 4 MBA students played and provided feedback and comments about their experience. Keep reading to hear from Srini, Koichi and Brett...

One Second-Year MBA student, says:

”The game is innovatively designed, easy to learn yet challenging to play. The game moves quickly and requires you to stay on your toes. Business students can use it to understand how businesses need to constantly create new growth opportunities while their existing products move through the product lifecycle. Students would also understand that businesses need to diversify their offerings across premium to value goods.”

Koichi Sato, Second-Year MBA:

”OFMOS is interesting but challenging because we need to determine what combinations of business units work the best in a short time. As I proceeded to harder levels, I failed many times and analyzed all the information available quickly to execute my plan.

If you are engaged in business, managers have to make decisions in many cases in terms of financial strategy, marketing strategy or organizational strategy. In any of these cases, one of the most important things is learning how to organize the information available in a short time and determine which strategy the company should take as soon as possible to capture the market or maximize profits. This experience helps to enhance the ability to analyze the information appropriately in a short time. Since we are supposed to be future business leaders as business students, this basic ability definitely helps us to acquire the sense of business.

As I mentioned, this game requires to make my decision in a short time. It reminds me of my experience as a project leader in new service development section. Almost all the decision should be made at appropriate moment. So this game absolutely helps me to enhance my skills as a decision maker. Moreover, this game contains some funs as well. I can say that the game will give us useful experiences with well-developed essence of business.”

Srinivas Venugopal, Second-Year MBA:

”I immensely enjoyed playing the game. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in business or anyone looking to get sensitized to the general dynamics in business. While the game is entertaining to play, there seems to be more to it than just entertainment value. It enables visualization of the general dynamics in the marketplace and the process of running a business. This leads to enhanced comprehension of the dynamism in the market and consequently, better understanding of strategic business decisions required for marketplace success. I wish to congratulate Cristian and team for this stupendous effort in distilling the essence of business and capturing it in a manner that makes it easily accessible and enjoyable, simultaneously. Indeed, an impressive feat.

For those whose curiosity is piqued, I recommend reading the article by Mitreanu titled “A Fundamental Theory of Business”. I wish Cristian and team success in this endeavor of making mundane concepts in business come alive.”

Brett Miller, Second-Year MBA:

”I enjoyed playing the Ofmos game. It made me think about the life of different types of products and how they perform in an evolving market. In Cristian’s game the market for products is constantly maturing and that has an impact on the value of each product that you have out there. The evolving products in the game reminds me of the philosophy of continuous improvement, which is more related to operations management, but I think it also applies here also. To win the game the player needs to be continually planning and designing new products while checking on and actively killing off old ones. I know Cristian says strategy might be a bad word, but I think there is a strategy to this game, and it’s one of continuous product development and improvement.”

** OFMOS is intended to be enjoyed by most adults, with various levels of involvement — from superficial immersion, where the player manages a system of moving objects, to deep immersion, where the player acts as a CEO running a large corporation over extended periods of time. The prototype, which can be downloaded at www.ofmos.com, is primarily intended to test the appeal of the game mechanics.