Paving the Paths

Paving the Paths

I was thinking quite a bit over this weekend as we get ready for Summer Camps (and hosted an amazing Elite Pro-Am, from what I hear!) about the incremental steps that we take year after year to make programs more professional, more useful, and more accessible to students. These incremental steps sometimes feel at odds with more dynamic phrases we may here, such as ‘game-changing innovations,’ ‘bold bets,’ and ’transformative leadership.'

The Summer Camps are just one example, though I think they may prove a helpful one. Four years ago (2015) we had an internal summer camp only. In 2016, we expanded the camps beyond debate and tried Writing courses for the first time. We invited one visiting coach, Noah Messing, and invited him to invite a handful visiting fellows for summer. In 2017, we continued to experiment by adding in Coding/Robotics, Business Case Competitions, Journalistic Writing, and Public Speaking/Storytelling. Some courses worked out more smoothly than others!

In 2018, we added in Creative Writing but removed Business Case Competitions, responding to our perception of market demand and our ability to fulfill it. We also invited more visiting coaches than ever before to lead their own sessions, further decentralizing the summer camp process and procedures. We also offered camps in both Pudong and Puxi for the first time. This year, in the wake of interest last year in Creative Writing, we see it’s of even more interest than Journalistic or Persuasive writing for our students! Responding to the needs and behaviors of our students and parents has taken us some time, but after a few years I’m confident we’re doing a better job at meeting the needs of our students than ever before for our Summer Camps.

This progress reminds me of the ‘quad’ at my college. A large rectangular parcel of grass, there were plenty of dusty footpaths leading across it, some clearly from one corner to another, others from a seemingly-random place to another. After a while, the administration had some of the paths paved over, creating easier walking paths for those who used them, especially in the wintertime.

Observing the behaviors of others, allowing them to define certain tracks, and subsequently paving the paths allows for lower-risk and high-value infrastructure builds. When it comes to incremental innovations, rather than completely guessing what your constituency needs, sometimes it’s best to let them vote with their feet. Mind you, these paths were naturally temporary: once a new building opens on campus (or a new offering is released in our case) the patterns may change. Perhaps bricks must be moved from Point A to Point B. That will take time and energy and capital. Such is the cost of making any change.

An impatient person at heart, I feel it’s always best to get going and see results immediately.

Though as of late, I’m seeing paving the path can sometimes be a better alternative than laying the bricks outright.