I know this one is a stretch and it is much more a book and movie than a phrase, but I’ve been hearing a number of people use this comment (or insinuate the meaning behind it) to represent situations that they don’t want to find themselves in. For example, on Friday I had a conversation with a colleague who directs a K-6 science curriculum program that is in the midst of major changes due to new standards. My colleague has done a phenomenal job of pacing his work, and has designed a curriculum writing framework that should be shared on the large scale; it is truly that amazing.
Despite his cautious preparation and careful rollout of changed curriculum, he knows that initiatives can, even when we’re careful, take on lives of their own. As he mentioned in our conversation, “If <blank> district joins our program, we are currently not prepared to do our best work for them. We don’t want to get too big, too fast.”
This desire to avoid the “Too Big to Fail” mentality is a worthy one, but one we also must balance with the need to take big risks from time-to-time. This shouldn’t mean that we ignore evidence and plunge into a black hole, fully expecting to return whole, but, we should feel comfortable with a bit of the unknown about us; it’s what allows us to live, if even for a few moments, on the cutting edge.
Regarding my colleague’s comment? In this situation, I wholeheartedly agree. Bringing on that district at this point in time would add too much instability to a program that is shifting its footing during a redesign. I do think though, even on larger scales, some tremendous failure is worth it, if for no other reason than to humble ourselves back to the drawing board, and to show others (and ourselves) why it is so important that we have a support network to provide us with critical feedback as we explore, and evaluate, our practice.
No one is ever too big to fail, and in fact, even the biggest will fail, and should welcome it and what it can bring to “shake things up.” Our desire to be cautious and to be careful so we don’t get too big too fast has tremendous merit. Still, we must be willing to sometimes get a little too big and go a little too fast. Otherwise we’ll never know what we should be avoiding in the first place.