Why “day one”? The concept is not mine; it belongs to Jeff Bezos. I read about it one October long weekend five years ago in an issue of Fast Company. I found myself wondering, what if every day were day one? What happens on day one?
For almost six years at the time, along with my friend Tony, I had delivered a presentation at the NAIS Diversity Leadership Institute (DLI) on leading and managing change. We spent the first several minutes defining organizational culture. In our collective experience and readings of schools and other industries, we encountered the same (derogatory) definition of culture everywhere: “It’s the way we do things around here.” The Day One concept defied that definition and everything that’s wrong with it. If it’s Day One, there’s no yesterday to reference, no established norms or practices to stifle innovation, creativity or difference, and possibilities are just that – possibilities.
In my five-plus years now at The Children’s School, there have been many occasions when I’ve said, and heard others on my team say, “It’s still day one.” So we goofed up trying something new or different. Creating a culture that rewards constant iteration and refinement, even transformation and innovation, is extremely difficult. It’s a mindset, not just behaviors, exhibited in daily practice and relationships.
Day One does not mean rewarding just any kind of failure. Failure of basic responsibility – operational efficiency or core expertise – should not be rewarded. Day One doesn’t hold us back because of habits or tradition, just because “it’s always how we’ve done it.”
So, what happens on Day One?
- You’re just born.
- You are not jaded yet.
- You don’t know everything
- You dream in possibilities, not realities. Idealism is not dismissed.
- You’re intensely curious
- No one stops you from doing something because it’s not the way they do things around here.
- You struggle to run but you try anyway
- You are full of energy and enthusiasm for your vision.
- You are unwilling to settle or compromise.
- What drives you is an idea, a possible transformation.
- You live in ambiguity rather than demand or expect certainty.
- The mess doesn’t bother you. Imperfection is expected.
Day One is both terrifying and liberating. Which do you find?