How to be innovative (sort of) in Student Affairs

I have been reading and thinking a lot about innovation lately.  The culture at my institution is fast-paced, forward thinking and innovative, especially in the last few years.  In general, the landscape in Higher Education is changing and we as Student Affairs professionals need to adapt our thinking, programs and services.  Something I have noticed though, is that for some, innovation and new thinking can be difficult.  Often, we get stuck in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.  For many of these folks, they have an all or nothing approach to innovation. The notion is that you have to come up with the next best thing, this big new idea, and it has to be grand.  It is when you realize that is not entirely true, that you can begin to think differently and in a way that fosters innovation.  I am writing this post to share some tips that have worked for me to think about innovation in a smaller, more manageable scale.

1.  Assess first

Trying to innovate without knowing what the needs or problems are is like running a marathon without shoes, and perhaps without any training.  It can be done, but it makes your task much more difficult.  I am a firm believer that you can’t find a solution until you have identified the problem and its scope.

2. Think thrift shopping

Sometimes you don’t need to spend all kinds of money to get a pair of jeans when you can get something just as good from a thrift shop.  The same  thought process can be used while seeking new ideas.  Some of my most “innovative” ideas for my work and my institution have come from colleagues or by researching what is done at other institution.  Though it is not a new idea or innovative in the truest form, it is new and innovative for my work and my institution.  You will be amazed by how many incredible things your colleagues are doing and we are fortunate to be in a field that is so willing to share and help.  Utilize your resources and watch the new ideas flow.

3. Think small

The point, for me, of innovation is not necessarily thinking large scale.  It could be the smallest tweak to a program, a minor change to a service that could make the biggest change or impact.  By thinking small, you open yourself up to more ideas that are practical, and oftentimes more cost effective

4. Brainstorming; groups or individuals? BOTH!

It is no secret that Higher Education loves committees!  We have meetings about meetings.  While thinking and brainstorming in large groups can be helpful, it is not the only way.  Sometimes group think can occur and the politics involved with any organization can stifle individual creativity.  With my students, I encourage them to brainstorm on their own, once the problem has been identified, then come together as a group.  Instead of a rattling off of undeveloped ideas, the group gets to hear solid, well-thought out ideas and evaluate them instead of starting from scratch.  This saves a lot of time, a valuable resource for all of us.

5. Be flexible and adaptable

This final step is, perhaps, the most important.  Sometimes an idea can seem so profound and everyone is sure it will work; and then it all blows up!  There are outside factors that effect whether or not a new idea will work.  These are often out of our control.  It is important to not let the failure of one new idea deter you from trying others.  It is important to learn from your mistakes and move forward with the new knowledge.

What innovative ideas have you implemented in your work lately?  What was that process like?

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “How to be innovative (sort of) in Student Affairs

  1. The landscape of Higher Education is changing, and if you don’t keep up, it will pass you by. I enjoyed reading through your thoughts and tips on “innovation”. I am constantly trying to figure out what ways we can improve services; often times I’m stuck thinking that we need large scale change and funding to do it. “Wouldn’t it be great to send all of our employees to the Disney Institute?”. I’ve found that collaborating with other departments on our campus or simply reaching out to other colleagues through the associations we are involved in, can provide some innovative and new ways of doing things. I think that a bit of risk-taking is also necessary. Assess your needs, do some research, and jump right in. I’m excited what the future holds, and I’m confident that we’ll continue to re-invent ourselves, be creative, and solve the challenges we face.

  2. Hi Tim,

    Loved your thoughts on innovation! Especially the importance of pre-program assessment. In days of scarce resources it’s imperative that every innovative punch has the most power at impacting student success.

    Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s