Do we lack the skills of the innovator?

In a recent Fortune article titled Why is Innovation So Hard, there is a quote that is very important for those of us in higher education to consider.

“The primary function an organization’s rhythm is to maintain equilibrium.”

Why this quote has special meaning for higher ed pros is that part of the foundation of our organizations, part of why they are so long-lasting and why they outlive Fortune 500 companies and other types of organizations, is that they have a rhythm and they have traditions.  The semester (or quarter) system cycle.  It lulls us.  Our institutions thrive for the service they provide to our society.   But, we survive by repetition and ritual.   Many (if not most) leaders become leaders because they are able to replicate and deliver effectively. In the so-far-excellent book (I’m only a few chapters in), The Innovator’s DNA, the authors state,

In contrast to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, products or processes, most senior executives work hard to efficiently deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model.

So, where does that leave the would-be innovator who is working within the system?   This isn’t another blog post about MOOCs or the latest EdTech start up.  This is about the higher ed pro who is pushing boundaries, iterating, pivoting and innovating inside their institution.

I don’t compose this with a lot of sage advice or solid answers in mind.   But, I am increasingly intrigued by those who choose to be in our field, but focus on the skills of an innovator — discovery, idea generation, questioning, experimenting, risk-taking, comfort with discomfort.  We don’t tend to hire for those skills.  We tend to hire for content/discipline knowledge and experience, along with personality factors and more standard workplace skills such as communication and teamwork.

Perhaps one key for the leaders of our various higher ed sub-fields is to begin thinking more broadly about what skills we need in our staffers.  Are we looking solely for the ability to replicate and duplicate.  Or should we more purposefully look beyond “best practices” for those “next practices.”

Has your office expanded the desirable skill set for your staffers?  Have you re-written job descriptions to include anything forward-facing?  Are you otherwise organizationally preparing yourselves to be more innovative?  I’d love to hear from you, if so.

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  1. Love the insight, Mr. Miller! Always look forward to reading your new blog posts. Keep up the great work at UCS!

  2. garyalanmiller

     /  January 26, 2013

    Thanks, Myles (although technically, I’m not at UCS anymore!)


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