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Student Affairs Innovation Ideation
May 9, 2012 - 5:59pm

My last post was severe in its critical intensity. I poked around…posited and provoked. Innovation is such a buzzword these days. Getting a blogger to write about innovation is as easy as getting me to drink coffee. For this post, I wanted to be more generative than critical. While I've never defined "radical student affairs" on this blog…nor will I ever define it concretely (peaceful acceptance of ambiguity is fairly radical, right?), I realize that pushing and provoking requires ideas. Innovation requires ideation and something to chew on…to mull over. In that spirit, and in no particular order, here are some thoughts on how Student Affairs can become more innovative as a profession:

Convene with Energizers: Sometimes my favorite thing about this blog are the wonderful comments that readers create. Your insights and thoughts are transformative. Yesterday's comments were outstanding. My post is the appetizer to their collective entree. We all should read the comments from Lisa, Cindy, Lani, Gary, Joe, Annetstone, Jeff and Chris as their words are well worth another read. We have so many bright minds in this field. When we come together, our creativity is amplified!

Discuss the Bubble: In many of the higher education news stories, the "bubble" is frequently discussed. Disruption is also a normal buzzword. When do we discuss current events like the premise of the higher education bubble? Events and occurrences in higher education that aren't just Student Affairs related have to be part of our knowledge base. Our learning opportunities need to be far more current and far-reaching.

Create and Maintain Momentum: Innovation is difficult when you don't have momentum. The energy to sustain a culture of creativity and innovation is something that always requires replenishment. Getting an organization to change, or even slightly shift, is no easy task. In the previous post, I mentioned that a dynamic leader was necessary to get things going. Well, innovation requires a communal effort in order to truly be long-lasting. Push, pull, nudge, and tug your way to getting things shifting, but remember that momentum often requires a constant sense of positive vigilance.

Build and Communicate: People always ask me about who is "doing it well." Sometimes I have an example or two, but most often, my answer is that there are lots of pockets of folks who are building and doing great things. However, because those folks are usually neck deep in the act of doing, they aren't sharing their story. Please, email me, post a comment, or send a carrier pigeon. We need to know more about our builders.

Cultivate Questioners and Supporters: In Chris' comment on the "cultivating innovation" post, he mentioned the concept of questioning as being framed as a negative challenge. How can we grow a culture of questioning that is thorough and appreciative? People who support current processes are also innovative in that sometimes our best questioners aren't necessarily informed of "why" certain things are the way they are.

Reward Your Innovators: Business does this all of the time. If you do an exceptional job, you're rewarded. It's a simple equation and it often leads to fantastic innovations. What would happen if Student Affairs was more proactive in how it rewards those who are on the cutting edge of innovation. It might just spur others to come out of the box.

Remove Mediocrity: In Lisa Tetzloff's uber courageous blog post, "We cannot afford mediocre employees," she sheds an enormous light on a major issue in Student Affairs: we rarely cull mediocre employees. In order to be innovative, shouldn't we reward AND remove? Lisa is spot on when she says that "the costs of keeping marginal employees, of course, can be very high."

Formalize Creative Time: Time is something that everyone wants more of and yet no one seems able to formally build it into their day. AltProDev is crucial, especially for those folks who aren't able to travel to outside events. Building in time during the week to be creative, to analyze…heck, just to think for a moment, that's what we need to figure out. How amazing would it be to have on a position description a certain percentage of time that was dedicated to being innovative, creative, and generative?

Translate Ideas Into Action: Innovation is great as long as it produces something that is transformative or valuable. There should always be a sort of "eye on the prize" mentality when it comes to innovation. What are you trying to do? How will it help? What opportunities will emerge? Who do you need in order to take your ideas and turn them into action? Doing is just as important as thinking.

Move Outside of the Silo / Make Campus-wide Connections: Our campuses are chock full of super smart and exciting people. Practice what you preach to your students…move beyond the silo. Meet your faculty and other administrators. Do this often. Innovation can be sparked by an individual, but it often requires the collective whole.

Being Honest About Change: Change is scary. Fear is pervasive. Innovation butts heads with change resistance on a daily basis. Honest communications is generally the best place to start when it comes to actually taking an idea and using it to promote/activate change.

Students Can and Should Be Part of This: Often forgotten (the irony!) in the process of innovation, students are amazing. Students are smart. They usually know what they need before we do. Ask your students for their assistance. Or even better, let your students drive the innovation train at your campus. We need to do this…we need to do it far and wide, sooner than later. Students have terrific ideas and are usually eager to generate fantastic innovations.

What ideas would you like to share?


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