Do We Gain By Delaying the Inevitable?

An item in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the ongoing Sears bankruptcy saga caught my attention. The headline reads, “Sears Staves Off Liquidation; Stores to Remain Open.” The clearers subtext to the article was relief that an icon of American retailing would not be facing an immediate and ignominious demise, despite the fact that Sears has been all but dead for quite a long time.

To me, this begs the question of whether anyone is really well-served by Sears’ zombie status. Creditors are still on the hook, employees may receive a paycheck or two more, but the end seems in sight, and everyone merely delays reckoning with the inevitable as there is exactly zero reason to believe that Sears can once again be a vital and vibrant player in retail. Would we be, on net, better off to just get it over with in a rational and orderly process—sort of like a form of hospice for corporations?

The same question can be asked about any number of private schools, especially those in declining markets where there is a surplus of seats. Painful as it may be, would some schools be better served by liquidating and contributing assets to a like-missioned peer? And what role should associations play in helping broker these difficult conversations within boards?

I get it: no board wants to be the last board, but as with Sears, maybe there could be some value in knowing when to say when.

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Is this the beginning?

The week before Christmas 2018 almost certainly will stand as an epic display of how politicians in democracies destroy community well-being while seeking political advantage. Never mind the massive wealth destruction caused by ill-considered tweets fomenting declining investor confidence, nor the transparently silly spectacle of the treasury secretary calling to shakily reassure banks that all was well. This graphic from McKinsey shows that these events are really just a continuation of a longer story arc that began earlier in the year.

Global CEO confidence and expectations for markets have been souring for months, and hit a nadir (we hope) in December. Because so much of economics is psychological–whether or not people have confidence about the future–these data are especially scary for independent schools. All indications are that a 2008-esque downturn is barreling toward us and schools should be getting ready now.

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The 9 big design trends of 2019

Design leaders at Microsoft, Google, Ideo, Pentagram, Gensler, and more weigh in.

Source: The 9 big design trends of 2019

See “We’ll Focus on Focus” and “Cold, Efficient, and Modern Lose Their Grip.” What will be the effects on education?

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About Boys and Education

We have featured the under-performance of boys in school as one of our periodic “hot topics” for school heads and their board chairs, and in this article (possibly behind the paywall) in the weekend Financial Times the subject gets feature treatment with some valuable history. There is a lot going on here, and like all complex phenomena it is undoubtedly multi-determined and defies easy analysis, but we are delighted that others are taking notice, too.

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Number Three of Five Marketing Ideas for Private Schools

This is the third in a series of five brief articles each with a piece of marketing counsel for clients in the private, independent education sector.

Idea #3: The best marketing helps parents understand how the school helps them become their best selves as parents and their students to become their best selves as human beings.

Those marketing independent and international schools face a harsh paradox: the harder they “sell” features and benefits, the less loyal customers parents become; yet, if they don’t talk about features and benefits no one enrolls. The problem is that conventional marketing, by focusing on features and benefits, feeds into a transactional mindset that makes it easy to switch schools based on something better at the place up the street. So much for conventional approaches to marketing and telling the school story!

The challenge is to change the conversation from what is on offer to the sort of parents and people the school creates. Seth Godin, in his new book, This Is Marketing, points out that “Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem.” The problem is that most of us try to solve our problem when we market. We try to sell more of something, not solve the problem our “customers” have in mind when they come to our school.

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Number Two of Five Marketing Ideas for Private School

This is the second in a series of five brief articles each with a piece of marketing counsel for clients in the private, independent education sector. Idea #1 was in the previous post.

Idea 2: Marketing is Counter-Productive if there are Real Quality or Service Issues

“If only people understood what we do well they wouldn’t care so much about the small stuff.” Right. Good luck with that, because problems in “small stuff” (and some of what heads of school call small seems pretty big to us) erode confidence in the big stuff. Problems in middle school science are a drag on the upper school’s reputation, even if the upper school kills it in STEM. A slipshod sports program (scheduling mistakes, bad coaching, poor equipment) makes parents wonder what other details you aren’t attending to.

Harry Beckwith, in Selling the Invisible, makes the point that marketing cannot overcome problems in quality. Fix the problems first, then look at marketing. It was true when Beckwith first wrote about it in 1997, and it is even truer today (the paperback edition was copyrighted in 2012).

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