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Excited to Kick off the MISBO + IDEO Project!

Dear Colleagues,

IDEO San Francisco

IDEO San Francisco

As you know, MISBO has embarked upon an innovative project with IDEO and 12 cohort schools. I had the opportunity earlier this month to visit with two of the cohort schools in California: The Nueva School and Hillbrook School. Additionally, I spent the morning with Annette and Becky at IDEO at their offices in San Francisco. IDEO is a unique organization which is focused on helping other organizations through their human-centered design approach. So, it was not surprising to find that their work space and location are innovative and inviting. The offices are in Pier 28, on the Embarcadero, literally right under the Bay Bridge. Walking in the door one is struck by the openness of the space and that the flooring remains the original wooden pier flooring and in fact one can hear the water moving below the floor. I was told at time water may actually ‘splash’ through the wooden planks.

IDEO San Francisco

IDEO San Francisco

As I was given a tour of the space and more importantly a tour of the history, culture and philosophy of IDEO, it was clear to me why IDEO is the leader in their field. The space is designed to accommodate the innovative work that is being accomplished. After visiting with two innovative schools the prior day, which both have focused on creating flexible learning environments combining indoor/outdoor learning spaces, I understood that IDEO was committed to creating a very similar environment for their teams to succeed. Much of what we are currently learning about space design for schools was being demonstrated in IDEO; large open spaces that promote collaboration with a wide number of teammates is the core of the space. Significant amounts of natural light help make the space open and comfortable. The most attractive space (which in a traditional organization would be reserved for the executives) is actually a central meeting/gathering space overlooking the bay. I was introduced to “home plate” – yes, there is a home plate attached to the floor – which serves many purposes. The most obvious is the waiting area for the three restrooms which accommodate nearly 200 (or more) people; at home plate one can look in three directions and notice either a red light or a green light indicating whether a restroom is available. The more important significance of home plate is as a meeting/gathering space. Becky told me about having her first meeting with IDEO CEO Tim Brown at home plate. It is a perfect place for people to meet others who they may not know well or work with on a regular basis.

I believe that one of the most important spaces is just as one walks into the building. On the wall are a number of very short (2-4 word) philosophies that are guiding principles for IDEO. We discussed the importance of a number of these. Collaborate – a word and a skill that we discuss for our students and the adults at our schools. For IDEO, this may be the most important attribute. This organization is successful because of the focus on “we” as opposed to “I”. Embrace Ambiguity – this one felt particularly important in relation to this project. For both MISBO and IDEO this project is filled with ambiguity. It is a grand experiment with high hopes and aspirations. We truly hope that with the help of the 12 cohort schools we can change the landscape for all independent schools. Learn From Failure – another key component of what we are teaching our schools and our students. This is embraced and built into the culture of IDEO and I believe has been instrumental in their success. Our work with IDEO is apt to generate some failures, which will allow us to learn and improve as we move forward. Make Others Successful – clearly this is linked to “Collaborate” but explicitly challenges IDEO team members to think beyond themselves. It can be related to other team members as well as the clients they serve. As a leader of an organization, this has been an important driver for my thinking and approach to leadership. The leader of an organization is often recognized for the successes of the organization. I know (as do most leaders) that these successes are always a team effort. For MISBO, this means the efforts of every member of the staff, the board, as well as our member schools. During my visit at IDEO I could not help thinking that the students at our schools are the ones that will thrive in the type of environment that IDEO has created and nurtured. As I have said over and over, independent schools are poised to be leaders in the changes required in education to ensure our children have the skills, tools, and experience required to be successful in a rapidly changing and at times unpredictable world.

Spending this time with Annette and Becky at IDEO reinforced my belief that MISBO and our schools are extremely fortunate to be able to work with this organization and team of thoughtful, caring, and committed people to help our schools succeed.


Marc Levinson
Executive Director, MISBO

We power independent schools.™

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