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On Innovation

On Innovation

Over my many years in higher education technology leadership the word innovation has been used, perhaps overused, to describe what we do with technology. As I’ve watched colleagues move, with some trepidation, to new working environments I’ve seen innovation at its finest. 

Figuring out where to place the new home office in an apartment or house, after years of working in a large space with a conference table for gatherings, was a challenge for one colleague. He struggled with the concept of a virtual conference room that could achieve great results. What he found, to his surprise, was work got done faster and more efficiently by coming together in a virtual room, with a shared screen, and opportunities for dialogue. He closed a recent meeting by texting me to say “That was a surprise. We sure got a lot done!”

That same person was worried that the services we provide would be diminished without being on campus. When being on campus became impossible together we stepped up and validated the value of our work together, regardless of geography. After the conclusion of a recent meeting, where project plans and deliverables were reviewed and approved, he commented “that went well… this is business as usual, for a while.”

Business as usual, for a while, may become business as usual for a long while. I’ve read many of the advice columns about how to become a successful home-worker, such as:

  • Designating a dedicated workspace
  • Getting dressed for work and combing your hair
  • Keeping your dog quiet, your kids quiet, and your spouse from shouting up the stairs
  • Using a mutable microphone
  • Paying attention when you are on camera
  • Not chewing into the microphone
  • Etc, etc

I am convinced that there is more to this that is generating true innovation.

The real business as usual is an attitude adjustment. The value of our work comes from our interactions with each other. The synergy that generates great results when minds work together to solve a common problem. We are social creatures and until this time felt that sociability was best demonstrated by physical proximity. As administrators we missed, somehow, what some of us have been telling teachers and learners about virtual learning. That it creates an equally enriching learning experience, just different! Now we know.

So, yes, don’t eat on camera and keep your dog out of microphone range. But, more importantly, embrace the opportunity we have to truly innovate and support the evolution of the work paradigm. We will all be better for it.

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