Monthly Archives: October 2013

Reinventing ourselves

reinvent“Our duty is to wholly reinvent ourselves. We are America’s future—intellectually, socially, culturally.”  – Gordon Gee, former president of Ohio State University

As we grapple with how our colleges and universities can survive and thrive well into the future, we must in many ways reinvent ourselves and how we do business.  Conversations about how to do this well have been taking place on Minnesota State College and University campuses throughout our state over the summer and fall, as faculty, staff and administrators have been responding to a draft set of recommendations, entitled “Charting the Future.”

As I’ve been contemplating many of the recommendations in the report, it has been helpful to reread The Innovative University by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring.  Most of the 2011  text outlines the evolution of higher education in the U.S., and compares and contrasts some new models of educational delivery.  The authors acknowledge that all of higher education is in crisis, with rising tuition, out of control costs, and is facing disruptive technologies, such as for-profit competitors offering online degrees. They suggest that college and university leaders will have to innovate to the point of changing the DNA of higher education from the inside out in order to survive, since our traditional model of higher education in the U.S. is expensive and unsustainable for the long term. To get started with this process, Christensen and Eyring admonish institutions to focus on their unique contributions within the higher education landscape, by:

1)      Assessing Capabilities – determining what we’re best at and how well we meet the needs of students and other constituencies we serve.

2)      Making Choices – making hard choices about what the organization will and will not do and being clear about the trade-offs.  Asking:  what students will we serve? What will the academic offerings include? What are our unique areas of expertise?

To have these conversations about capabilities and making choices, Christianson and Erying wisely recommend that questions of people must be put ahead of questions of strategy. In fact, they state that faculty members hold the key to successful institutional change.  And the organization must demonstrate a high level of commitment towards their people to ensure individual commitment to the mission. They add, “Innovation may require them [faculty] to alter their activities, but no meaningful discussion of change can be undertaken without assurances that capable members who commit to innovating can remain with the community.”

As we move forward with “Charting the Future” discussions, it will be important to continue to engage not only our faculty leaders, but all stakeholders in the important and tough choices we need to make.

Anita Rios


Leadership and innovation

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We in higher ed don’t want to fall into the trap of doing the same thing over and over as the rest of the world changes around us!

Taking a look around the environment in higher education provides ample evidence that things are changing. As leaders who care about higher ed, we need to bring a full set of competencies to our work.  Todd mentioned last time that the final set of leadership competencies for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is focused on Leader as Innovator. (As a reminder, the first three were Leader of Self, Leader as Relationship Builder, and Leader as Manager.) So what makes innovation important enough to be included with this list?

What makes innovation so essential for leadership is that we can’t continue to do things in the same way, or even do things in a better, more effective version of the old way. We need to address what Harvard professor Ron Heifetz calls adaptive challenges.

Adaptive challenges require a response that’s different than normal managerial expertise. In a recent interview published by Creelman Research, Heifetz defines it this way:

The adaptive context is a situation that
demands a response outside your current
toolkit or repertoire; it consists of a gap
between aspirations and operational capacity
that cannot be closed by the expertise and
procedures currently in place.

Much of our work as leaders is about the other three competencies: being self-aware; nurturing the broad range of relationships that are necessary to be successful in higher ed; and wisely managing time, talent, and resources. These skills are critical. However, sometimes they need to be enhanced by an ability to adapt to new ways of doing business. Heifetz says that leaders facing adaptive challenges need to:

  • “Orchestrate” conflict in order to move things forward
  • Ask the tough questions and encourage discussion among all stakeholders
  • Take an experimental approach to problem solving that encourages creativity and learning from mistakes
  • Acknowledge that this is new territory – I don’t know the answer, and there isn’t an “expert” that can help us fix this quickly

This kind of innovative leadership – from all levels of the organization – will help us step out into the uncharted territory of higher education in the future.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Innovation and agility

In his latest article, Accelerate!,  published in the November Harvard Business Review, John Kotter suggests that the greatest challenge you face as a leader is staying competitive and successful in today’s changing environment. He describes it as “constant turbulence and disruption.” Think of the seismic changes occurring that you are grappling with right now:cheeta - accelerate-your-brand

  • dramatic shifts in who are students are and how they want to learn
  • major transformation in the economy and the jobs of the future
  • employer and governmental pressure to demonstrate results
  • technology advances, constant change and complexity
  • fundamental shift in funding and an ever increasing cost burden
  • competition from all sides

Kotter highlights the importance of “strategic agility” for today’s leaders to succeed. At MnSCU we describe it as Leader as Innovator, our final set of leadership competencies. They focus on the knowledge, skills, abilities and attributes needed to:

  • Articulate Your Vision and Mission
  • Build Organizational Capacity to Meet Future Challenges
  • Demonstrate Effective Decision-Making

Together they set the stage for anticipating the changes needed, making the key decisions, engaging your people, and building the capacity to deliver!

Todd Thorsgaard