Laurence Spring is an advocate for understanding how organizations can set goals for change and actually achieve those goals. One need look no further than Mr. Spring’s life and career to see that he exemplifies that which he teaches.
After teaching school in the early part of his career, Spring received his Masters of Science in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Rochester in 1998 and ascended to the heights of the education profession by serving as superintendent of schools, first as an Assistant Superintendent in the Wayne Central School District in Ontario Center, New York, then as Superintendent of schools in Cortland, NY, and Schenectady, NY. In all, he served as Superintendent for 19 years, and during that time he obtained his Doctor of Education from Manhattanville College School of Education.
Mr. Spring has retired from serving in the public school system to start his own consulting firm to develop and promote a groundbreaking piece of software meant to measure the capacity of an organization to achieve change from within.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
Going way back as a teacher and a trainer of teachers, I had an expertise in assessment. I let that aspect of my work go by the wayside because being a superintendent can be an all-consuming job, but the more time I spent as a superintendent, the more other folks would call on me to lend some of my time to them to run assessments. The more I did that, the more rewarding it felt. It’s a different kind of perspective to be able to look at an organization from the outside and tee what’s happening, analyze it, work with a team of folks to come up with a plan to set goals and achieve them. I started to think I’d like to do that kind of thing as my job and leave the superintendency.
At the same time, I was experiencing frustration in my own organization around the difficulties associated with the changes that we were trying to implement. We had a lot that we needed to do in our district, a lot of changes that needed to happen, and I was frustrated by the pace at which it was happening and what seemed like some lip service that people were giving to change.
As I was developing this concept about a limit to how much change an organization could manufacture, I was dismayed to find out the problem was not the organization, but the problem was me. I was expecting my school district to produce far more change than it was capable of, and I had to come up with a way to limit that. I developed a method and started testing it out in the organization. There was a really great reaction from the folks that I was testing it with; they thought it was a really significant element that was missing from change management literature. There’s more to change in an organization than just how to implement it. There’s the requirement to know that the organization can handle it in the first place and how fast they can take it on without overwhelming them. After this very positive experience, I was encouraged to further develop this concept and do something with it. I was excited to be able to pursue this and begin to make this my life’s work.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
During the pandemic, my day has been really interesting. I don’t have the degree of social interaction that I enjoy but have been able to keep a few things really constant. I start every day off with some exercise and reflection. I find that the combination of those two things is very helpful in ensuring that I have a clear vision on what I want to get done during that day and how I want to map that out and keep myself on task. After that, I like to do some writing. I enjoy having my writing happen early on in the day. Things are still relatively quiet early in the morning and writing really pushes my thinking. It helps me think more deeply and clarify things in my mind.
As the day goes on, I move into more interactive activities. This usually involves some video conferences or meetings and then some shared worktime on projects. I try to move those things into the afternoon. It allows me to use some different thinking processes around the things that I was writing in the morning and chew on those ideas and refine them or talk about them with someone else helps me test them. To see if they’re worth anything or how they might be refined or how other people are reacting to them.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I start with writing to try to get an idea to come to life. For me, it’s about getting it down on paper or on a white board. Sometimes the starting of writing an idea down can be really hard because elements of it can seem irrational or silly. But if I don’t ever get it down on paper, then it always stays as this ethereal concept in my head that maybe someday I’ll get to. If I just start writing, though, it begins to take shape and a plan begins to form. Eventually I can go back and clean up those pieces that didn’t at first make sense or seemed silly.
What’s one trend that excites you?
One thing that I’m hoping sticks around a little bit is video conferencing. Over the last year I’ve been seeing so many more people making use of it and not just to talk with each other. I’m really interested in how rapidly the tools associated with video conferencing are evolving, and I’m excited to explore how those tools might help organizations to learn and get better at an even faster pace and help protect employee’s time.
One of the things that people in organizations complain about the most are meetings. Having to be in meetings that many employees don’t necessarily find productive or helpful is a drain on organizations. People might say, “I’m in a meeting that I don’t need to be in, this could have been done in a memo.” I think these video conferencing tools can really help cut down on the number of meetings, the time of those meetings, and put some really good facilitation and decision-making tools in place to help organizations learn at an even faster rate.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Starting off every day and ending every day with an appointment with myself to consider what needs to be done. I try to make sure that when I first sit down at my desk in the morning, before I even open up my email or start getting into any kind of writing, I make sure my desk is clear and that I’ve got my list of tasks ready.
Then at the end of the day, I do a similar thing. I have a short appointment with myself to go over my checklist. Did I get everything done that I needed to? Did I make sure that everything is put away on my desk and I’ve gotten everything cleaned up? This is really assistive for me.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell me to listen to my mother more. When I was very young, my parents were the smartest people in the world. Probably from when I was about 12 until around 24, I thought they didn’t know anything. Then slowly I began to realize that they really were pretty smart people. I wish I could go back and tell myself, “Your mom is really, really smart! She does know what she’s talking about and you really ought to stop and listen to her.”
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
One of the things that I constantly say that people have a hard time seeing is that no organization has the capability or the readiness to take on new change at any given moment. Organizations are in a constant state of operating at or beyond capacity. If they want to make change in the organization, they have to create the capacity. That means eliminate some other things or otherwise expand their capacity.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One thing I have found that is really helpful is to review my old notes. I start every day by writing and I find when I got back and read what I’ve written 5 to 10 years ago, that it’s almost like I’m reading someone else’s writing. My own thinking from 10 years ago can be very powerful to me now, either to see how my thinking has evolved during that time or to remind me of particular perspectives or things that I was thinking about then that I have since forgotten but it might be an important piece to bring into play.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The thing that I’ve found valuable so far is spending my energy on folks who share the passion I have. I’ve not been spending my energy on trying to convince people who think about organizations very differently than me. It’s counterproductive at this stage.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
It hasn’t been just one failure; it’s been more like three failures! I’ve been trying to get this consulting business off the ground and what it’s rooted in is this piece of software that measures the magnitude of change.
I have had a series of setbacks, some of which were technical in nature where the algorithm was not quite working out and some that were technology-related in trying to get software developed that would actually work and be user friendly. There has been a pattern of setback after setback, but I have continued to move forward.
I have overcome the setbacks by continuing to believe in the concept, not giving up, but having a feeling of inevitability of this idea. I have been persistent, knowing that it is going to happen, and trusting that every setback gives me an opportunity to learn something.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Over Christmas I bought one of my kids one of these large fleece ponchos. It’s super comfy and I have wondered why nobody is making them of the same kind of material and technology that they use to make electric blankets. If I was in the textile or manufacturing industry, I would be looking to carve out some market share there by making a heated cozy or comfy. Those things I was looking for were sold out and they were not even heated.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’d have to say a very comfortable pair of pants. Spending $100 is not a life-changing amount of money but it can make you look and feel good, which I find are both things that are important in trying to be your best self. When I feel that I look nice and I’m comfortable, it helps me to be in a spot where I am able to do my best, whether that’s thinking or working or whatever.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Right now, I’m using Asana a lot, which is a project management tool. It really helps me to keep on top of projects and all the tasks I need to do, especially those that relate to other people on my team. It helps us stay in communication and hold each other accountable. Those are things that could easily get lost in email or my head without a tool like Asana.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The book I recommend most frequently is called Better by Atul Gawande, a Boston-based surgeon. It’s a collection of essays that are mostly of a medical nature but they have broad organization and humanitarian appeal and have application to how organizations get better. It discusses how people perceive things in particular ways and get trapped in their thinking. Not only is the author very smart in the way he looks at organizations and asks people to rethink how they do things, even the way they think about medicine, but he’s also a very good writer. He uses tools of the writer’s craft in a way that makes reading about organizational change very enjoyable to read.
What is your favorite quote?
I have a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging on the wall in my office: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
• Persistence is key. No matter what the setback, getting up and trying again is mandatory.
• Ensure that you never lose the perspective that you have more to learn.
• Finding quiet reflection time really is key to remaining centered and ensuring that you can think at your best.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.