Here is a radical idea that works: looking at children as agents of change. The One Laptop Per Child programme is a living proof of that. And here is a less radical idea that might work – but we don’t know because we never really tried: looking at employees as agents of economic recovery.
About a month ago I attended the 20-minute presentation of MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte at TEDx Brussels. In case his name doesn’t ring a bell: Negroponte is the face of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).
Their mission is to provide a means for learning, self-expression, and exploration to the nearly two billion children of the developing world with little or no access to education. Yep – these people are on a mission.
Children as Agents of Change
During his 20 minute talk Negroponte explained the basic idea behind the project: development through primary education. The fundament is the inspiring and radical idea to “leverage children” and the way we think about them: no longer as recipients of information, but as agents of change.
According to Negroponte they had no other choice: “When you are faced with illiteracy numbers such as Afghanistan, where 75% of the girls don’t go to school, building more schools will not close that gap.”
Just imagine the resistance and laughs Negroponte must have gotten when he first started talking about this project. For example, even now people resist the idea of dropping laptops in desolate areas where people hardly know what a laptop is. “You know what?” Negroponte continued, “You can! Just a few days after we have dropped these OLPC’s we saw connections taking place and activity on those laptops and networks.”
So they decided to change the way they look at children. And when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. To their surprise, looking at children as agents of change has led them to unexpected results: teachers coming back out of retirement and children teaching their parents!
By the way: as you are reading this each kid in Uruguay has an OLPC. Duh… think about that – there might be a lesson in there about belief and commitment.
What’s In It For Us?
It makes me wonder: if dropping laptops in desolate areas of developing countries can make them leapfrog literacy, couldn’t connecting each employee on Twitter have us leapfrog economic growth?
You may say this is a stupid idea.
You may say it’s impossible.
I say it might just work.
I say it costs you nothing.
I say if employees are your most valuable asset, maybe it’s time to tap into their potential.
I say what do you really mean when you talk about Human Capital Management or Talent Management? Do you mean carrot-and-stick, or do you mean passion-and-growth?
I say it’s time we start looking at employees as agents of change instead of recipients of information.
I say what have you got to lose?
I say it’s a project with a name: OTPE: ‘One Twitter account Per Employee.’
Let’s open up a little in 2010 – shall we?
Bonus for the heart: below is the A to Z of OLPC, I must have played it about a million times: