Good to Great
By. Phillip J. Lazarus
Ernest Hemingway was once asked by a reporter why he rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times. Hemingway responded, “I was trying to get the words right.” Hemingway epitomizes the critical link between discipline and creativity. Jim Collins, business guru and author of Built to Last, Good to Great, and How the Mighty Fall, has consistently asked the questions, “How does a company get it right?” and “What makes a company great?” Based on years of inquiry, he and his research team are convinced that greatness is not a function of circumstances. Greatness is a function first and foremost of discipline and conscious choice. Moving a company from good to great is accomplished by disciplined people engaging in disciplined thought, which is then followed by disciplined action. It requires companies or social service institutions to examine the brutal facts of their circumstances and environment. This means that in order to be great, they must always be disciplined, data driven, and make hard choices based on facts and qualitative and/or quantitative evidence.
One of the key ideas in this good-to-great trajectory is the Hedgehog Concept, the essence of which is that a company must strive to attain piercing clarity about what they can be best at and how to produce the best long-term results. Collins notes,
When we examined the Hedgehog concepts of the goodto- great companies, we found they reflected deep understanding of three intersecting circles: 1) what you are deeply passionate about, 2) what you can be the best in the world at, and 3) what best drives your economic engine.
During the past 16 months, I have had the opportunity to understand the inner workings of NASP and have come to appreciate how over the years our association has been on a continuous journey from good to great. In relation to the Hedgehog Concept, we are deeply passionate about the wellbeing of children and we let that be known. At the top of our letterhead, it reads: Enhancing the mental health and educational competence of all children. At the bottom below our e-mail signatures are the words: School Psychologists: Helping children achieve their best. In school. At home. In life.
We can be best in the world at the intersection between the knowledge base and practice of education and psychology. We as school psychologists know more about psychology than anyone in education and more about education than anyone in psychology. We strive to ensure that when stakeholders are looking for expertise related to psychology and schooling, NASP is the premier source of knowledge, whether that information is provided in our publications, position papers, handouts, white papers, or by our media experts, and that all the information we disseminate is data-based.
In terms of a nonprofit organization, what drives our economic engine are two main forces. The first force is our ability to anticipate and meet the needs of our members; it is the active participation of our members who are continually seeking to improve their knowledge and skills and deliver the highest quality of services to our nation's youth.
The second force is the hundreds of volunteers who provide their time and energy to ensure that the mission of NASP is fulfilled. Our volunteers serve on workgroups, task forces, publication boards, and on our speakers' bureau. They serve as officers, state delegates, program managers, interest group coordinators, and School Psychology Action Network contact coordinators. In addition, we are aligned with our NASP Children's Fund; the Education and Research Trust, Inc.; and the Minority Scholarship Program, all of which are run by volunteers.
As an association, we strive to make collaborative data-based decisions. For example, we make decisions about the convention and the summer conferences based on all types of data. We collect data from all attendees about the overall convention, venues, speakers, breakout sessions, events, keynote presenters, exhibit hall, career services, etc. Just the data-based summary of our last convention (San Francisco) was 27 pages long and is being used to improve upon and plan for our next convention in Philadelphia (for which we had 240 volunteer paper, symposium, and poster submission reviewers).
When our economy went into a tailspin, we faced the hard facts and cut back our activities and expenses to ensure that our association remained fiscally sound and could weather even a more brutal financial storm. As a result, we are now financially in excellent shape and our membership is at record numbers with more than 26,000 members.
After 42 years in business, NASP is moving from good to great, and working with discipline and data to get it right.
If you are interested in the work of Jim Collins and his most recent book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, then please go to www.jimcollins.com.
If you would like to take a more active role in NASP, please join me and your NASP colleagues in the Community conversations. See page 5 in this issue for our new mobile app!
Philip J. Lazarus, PhD, is president of the National Association of School Psychologists.