people passionately behind a compelling mission and then give them zero resources.” That will, in her
opinion, without failure, give birth to innovation.
Build a Field for Dreams
If you build it, they will come. But who’s the “they?” The single most consistent—and deeply passionate—
refrain from members of my cohort, to my question about innovation, was: Get the right people. That’s
The year was 2001. The two of us were sitting on a bench in Central Park. It was a cold February afternoon.
We were eating hot-dogs and drinking coffee.
“What would you be doing if you weren’t a Head of School?” I asked.
“ I’d be an officer in the military,” David responded. I remember being struck by the speed and
clarity with which he answered my question.
‘Obviously,’ I thought to myself, ‘he’s been asked this question before. He’s thought this issue
through.’ David was always quick and clear, and had typically thought most things through earlier and
deeper than the rest of us.
“So, why aren’t you in the military?” I asked.
“Because our war makes more sense than the rest,” he said. “Plus, it’s more interesting and
perhaps more important,” he added.
We had this chat in New York. We were attending an International Recruiting fair. David Tully was my
boss. The war he believed we were fighting was the war to innovate education.
David was a master recruiter—a magnet that attracted great talent. And he was leading our crusade to
get as much talent and as many innovative thinkers to our school as possible. 14
In 2001 (the same year David and I were drinking coffee in Central Park) Jim Collins15 reminded us that
organizational greatness is driven by a commitment to “first WHO then WHAT” For some reason, upon
reading this finding, everyone was surprised. We shouldn’t have been. It was not the least bit insightful.
If the history of the world (from a ‘good to great’ lens) has taught us anything, it is: It’s all about the
The winning equation is:
The right people will create the right culture.
The right culture will build the right products (in our case ‘educational programs’).
The right product will validate the culture.
A validated culture will attract more of the right people.
And bang! The flywheel is…well, flying.
So, you have the right people, now what? Well, for starters, listen to them, and insist that they listen to
other ‘right people.’ One member of my cohort (he works for one of the largest bureaucracies in the
world) said, “In my business we often respond to issues based on the structure of our bureaucracy. If it’s