Higher education is deep in the midst of a period of change the likes of which this industry has never seen before.
Every day, we’re being told about new ways to see and do things; students are customers and universities are businesses competing to survive. This isn’t your grandpa’s higher education.
In order to keep pace with these developments, innovation must be a central ideal for every college and university in the United States. We must constantly evolve our practices to meet changing expectations and needs. Yet, innovation, creativity and change can be surprisingly hard to find on campuses today.
I have identified five major roadblocks to the creation of an innovation culture in the higher ed space.
1. Stasis Due to Lack of Funding
Some feel that innovation only follows money, and when there is no funding, there can be no innovation.
Brilliant, creative minds need little more than what they have right now in order to increase innovation and foster creativity where they work. “I can do nothing new until my superiors provide me more funding” is a tired, old song. We need (and some have) a new anthem: “Let’s just see what we can do with what we have already.”
A significant challenge today? You bet. Doable? Absolutely.
2. Lack of Innovators throughout the Academy
Innovation at the grassroots level could flourish on its own, but enterprise-wide interest and attention is a different matter entirely.
Institutions need to showcase their creativity mavens — those just waiting for the chance to share their passion. Someone who is truly passionate about innovation can champion the effort and enable things to happen. Just like the innovators, leaders are ready to take up this mantle, given the opportunity.
Rare? Yes. There? Yes.
3. Inability to Break Down Silos
Silo mentalities exist throughout higher education and departments are slow to share successes, let alone innovations.
Celebrating innovative educators and practitioners will introduce significant peer pressure throughout the institution — and others will take it from there. Educators pride themselves in leading in their respective fields; they are experts and seek recognition and acclaim as such. Leading in innovation will be no different. They will rise to the challenge, showing colleagues what they can do.
4. Guardedness Instead of Collaboration
There is no easy way to share innovative ideas with colleagues in higher ed, nor is there a compelling reason to do so.
Showcasing team efforts will spur inter-departmental conversations, creativity and projects. Leadership needs to provide the venues within which innovations can be showcased and celebrated. Simple, low-cost approaches can start the ball rolling (e.g., faculty showcases or lunch-and-learns to start). Competition-based innovation showcases will surface creative initiatives, many of which already exist but remain hidden. I call them ‘pockets of excellence.’
Know this: they already exist. Let’s bring them into the light.
5. Fundamental Belief in Acquisition
Some people myopically believe that acquiring something new will necessarily bring innovation, fresh thinking and surprising results.
Remember one solid fact: acquisition does not equal adoption. Just because you have the latest, hottest thing, does not mean it will get any traction at all, let alone propel the institution forward. Acquiring more shiny toys is like broadening the horizontal part of the proverbial “T”.
The result? Higher ed remains shallow.
What we need to do instead is lengthen the vertical column of the “T.” Develop new, exciting and meaningful ways to use what we have today in more creative and innovative ways.
The result? Higher ed deepens (and learns and grows).
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