Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why Not?

by AJ

"Think small. One vestige of the TV-industrial complex is a need to think mass. If it doesn't appeal to everyone, the thinking goes, it's not worth it. No longer. Think of the smallest conceivable market, and describe a product that overwhelms it with its remarkability. Go from there."

--Seth Godin

Here then is the business argument for thinking small (having already reviewed the educational arguments ala Littky). We are programmed to want big, big, big. Most private English schools have this disease. They are always trying to appeal to the big mainstream mass. To do that, they've got to copy everyone else... copy the traditional school system that most students are comfortable with. And thus they find themselves in the middle of a pack of equally bland competitors.

Imagine this proposal for an English school in Japan: We will help students acquire English through teaching them about African-American culture. We will focus specifically on slang and idiomatic conversation.

Conventional wisdom in Japan holds that Japanese students are scared of black people. This is why you'll find all white teachers at most schools. Conventional wisdom holds that Japanese students demand grammar-translation methods and traditional textbooks. Conventional wisdom holds that Japanese students demand teachers from North America, the UK, or Australia. Conventional wisdom holds that to make good money in Japan, you've got to cater to kids.

This may be true of most Japanese (I have no idea), but The Wisdom 21 school broke all these conventions and is thriving. They are thriving BECAUSE they broke with conventional wisdom. They employ a "rainbow coalition" of teachers.... many who are from African or Asian countries where English is widely spoken (ie. India). Their curriculum is focused on African-American culture... clearly a passion of their African-American founder/owner. They do not teach children,... adults only.

Simply put, the big chains cannot compete with them. There's simply no way in hell a giant company like Nova could create anything so interesting. Wisdom 21 now has four schools... is growing quickly despite their seemingly "small" target market.

Being remarkable is good business.... and its a good career path. Being remarkable, increasingly, is the only kind of "job security" available.

Whether you are a teacher or a school owner.... consider Seth Godin's advice:

"Find things that are 'just not done' in your field, and do them. Ask, 'Why not?'. Almost everything you don't do has no good reason for it. Almost everything you don't do is the result of fear or inertia or a historical lack of someone asking, 'Why not?"