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    The StratEDgy blog is intended to be a thoughtful hub for discussion about strategy and competition in higher education.

Brought To You By The Letter X
April 24, 2013 - 5:37pm

In Scrabble, you can get eight points for using the letter “X” in a word, making it one of the more valuable letters behind “Q” and “Z” (although some argue this should change, see this BBC News Magazine report.)

In general, using “X” in a name denotes some kind of experimentation. Think edX. That letter, and what it represents, is one of the reasons it is such an exciting time to be involved in higher education. Institutions have always invested in the future: providing knowledge to students and supporting research to realize a brighter future.

With all the shifts in education now (rising prices, technology, MOOCs, etc.), higher education is responding more and more by experimenting – with new ideas and with new business models. 

While experimentation can be fast-paced with quick twists and turns, at the same time it requires a long-term view to identify and solve the more pressing problems. Of course some ideas can produce rapid results. Other ideas take longer, but may do more to solve the problem at hand.  To that end, experimentation can often mean adopting a long-term perspective. Just ask the people who created the 10,000 year clock in the mountains of Texas.  Their goal was to create a symbol for long-term thinking.  Jeff Bezos, CEO of, is involved with this project because it’s a concept that hits close to home. In a recent interview by Harvard Business Review he said:

JEFF BEZOS: “Well, I would say one thing that I have learned within the first couple of years of starting the company is that in inventing and pioneering requires a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time…” Read the full answer here.

ADI IGNATIUS: “How do you institutionalize the ability to come up with these good, misunderstood ideas?”

JEFF BEZOS: “Well, I think it's a couple of things. One is we have a lot of internal stories that we tell ourselves about persistence and patience, long term thinking, staying heads down, focused on the customer even while being criticized…” Read the full answer here.

In a math problem, “X” often represents the unknown value, and it’s motivating to think of all the problems we may solve together through our experiments. 


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