Monday, January 4, 2010

The Visa Office, and Standing in No Line

Something happened to me today that I thought you might want to know about.

I went to go submit my Chinese visa at the Consulate on 12th Avenue in New York City. I rushed over in the taxi, got out at the curb and walked in, expecting a huge line and hordes of people, or at the very best a bureaucratic nightmare. This has been my experience at other visa offices around the world -- especially in Hong Kong at the Indian Consulate and the Consulate of Myanmar.

Just past the security barrier, where the two officers screened my jacket, my phone and my Kindle, is a small room divided in two by two very wide pillars. There are about twenty chairs, blue colored, arranged in neat rows. And scattered in the chairs are a mix of about a dozen people, some of them Chinese-looking, waiting patiently. It was hard to figure out what they were waiting for, but they seemed to have been there for a while.

There was a rope cordon that directed traffic to windows, but at the end of the cordon corridor, another cordon had been erected, blocking any exit from that corridor. So, where was the line.

I reflected on this for a moment. It was so interesting that I anticipated and looked for a line. In China, and in fact, in many situations, there's no sense of a line. My China instincts kicked in. I moved around the back of the room, around the two large pillars, and just stood in a proximate way, next to two people I thought to be in what would probably be a line if there were more than two of them standing there.

One of them moved. He went to a window. Then the other person moved, and she went to a window. And then the first man who went to the previous window moved away, and then the woman in the window looked at me expectantly. I moved to the window, submitted the application, was given my form, and told to come back tomorrow.

What does this have to do with education?

We figure things out on our own, I think. I have learned from my time in Hong Kong, and my occasional trips to China, that my best laid defenses -- wanting and expecting order, following order, and looking for lines -- don't really work when you are on the move and in a new territory. It pays to plan ahead, but it also pays to let those plans slide, and do what is necessary in the moment.

Standing in the Chinese consulate, I was back in China, literally. I was on their turf. It is so refreshing to give up one's sense of order and adopt the expectations of another group.

Can we do that within our own culture? Can we practice a kind of capitalist compassion for the order that others wish to force on us, our schoolchildren and our teachers? Let's turn that into a passion for disruption and the creativity of disorder.

Sometimes decision makers, like presidents, policy makers and legislators and other lofty people want to make decisions for us in education. They want to tell us what to read, or how to learn. They want to tell us where to go to school and how to build that school model.

There are great people out there, don't get me wrong. But there are so many people out there with great business ideas that are not being heard, or, having been heard, cannot realize their dreams because of what amounts to a love of structure and a distaste for disruption.

A calm and business-like approach to passion for disruption should create a dignified and powerful conversation.

And if you want to talk about this with me personally, or with people like Ron Packard, CEO, K12 and some other professionals in the space, you can find us on January 20 in New York at the collaborative and worlwide Business Breakfast at the Omni Hotel.

Register, and get into the disruption.


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