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Being brave is not a risk. After all, that’s how you stand out. “It’s more of a risk to blend in because nobody notices you.” So goes the seemingly counter-intuitive advice in The Contagious Commandments, co-authored by Paul Kemp-Robertson and Chris Barth. Schools would do well to heed the risk of blending in. The tome is full of ‘commandments,’ a series of admonitions that result in a positive impact, whether that is increased brand awareness, attitudes toward a brand, or performance.

The authors share four of their commandments in the November 2018 issue of Business Life:

  • Have an Organising Principle

  • Weaponise Your Audience

  • Ask Heretical Questions

  • Align With Behaviour


You must be able to figure out why your school exists: both for employees and for students and their families. Don’t just think about growing your enrolment and redesigning (or building) learning spaces; how are you different from your competition, and how do you help families navigate the years of their children’s development?


A strong choice of verb, this commandment deals with collaborating with your students and families, and using them as your media channels to advance your school brand. What if they helped to evolve what your brand stands for? ‘Media channels’ should be seen as a euphemism for ‘word of mouth,’ still (arguably) the most effective recommendation for schools.


The authors cite the example of a hotel that asked itself, “In a hotel that’s not full, why can’t people stay for a few more hours or even another night for free?” An Australian boutique hotel chain that did this very thing found out that, when people were presented with this opportunity, they chose to pamper themselves with special room service and other services, resulting in a 359% return on investment for this initiative. Ask “fundamental questions about the nature of your organisation, and champion awkwardness” suggest the authors.


Don’t reinvent the wheel; instead, identify existing patterns. How might your school build on them? Basically, “it’s all about listening, and prioritising people,” says Kemp-Robertson. His advice is to understand what people are doing in “areas adjacent to their idea, and then move in that direction, rather than expecting people to change their behaviours and go out of their way to interact with advertising” (46).

As you consider your next strategic plan (or episode of strategic thinking, etc.) in your school, how might you engage with The Contagious Commandments in your work? One frequently missing element in school strategy work is attention to brand awareness and attitudes; this should form part and parcel of your strategy.

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