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Innovative Idea? It’s Going Nowhere Without the People

Author: Tammi Cooper

We’ve all heard plenty about the need for innovation in higher education. We need to change, adapt, and move faster. We see examples of innovative programs, services, and offerings at conferences and through webinars that excite us and make us believe we can do it too.  But, what we hear little about is what it took to get there.

What does it take to move an innovative idea to the point of actual fruition? It takes a sharp focus on the people.

I’d like to offer five actions you can take to focus on people and move your innovation forward. This list comes from the heart and not a textbook. Currently, I’m leading the development of a technology-driven, competency-based undergraduate degree program at a small, private institution. For us, this is an innovation that touches and changes several aspects of our institution from the way we deliver an academic program, to admissions, to financial aid, terms, billing, etc. While we still have a long way to go before we’re done, many lessons about what it takes to move an innovative idea to completion have already been learned and practiced. From the beginning, we focused on the people.

  1. Inspire – The first time you talk to anyone about your idea, you better be inspiring. That first moment sets the stage. Its cliché, but it’s true…there is no second chance to make a great first impression. Inspire those above you to come alongside you. Inspire those who will work with you to come alongside you. Once inspired, others will stand with you.
  2. Support – If you are the mover of an idea, being a supporter is one of the most time-consuming roles you’ll assume. To truly support someone, you have to understand what they do and how your idea impacts them. Once you know that, you can support them through the change more effectively.
  3. Communicate – I know. This one makes every list. That’s because it really does matter. I looked back at my calendar over the last six months and at least half of my time was spent communicating with groups on campus about our innovation. Communication comes in lots of forms: regular check-ins, recaps after meetings, recaps after major milestones, etc. If I hadn’t first inspired them (see #1 above), then learned a bit about how it would impact their areas so I could support them (#2 on the list), my communication would not be as effective.
  4. Listen – Don’t think your idea will look the same as it did when you conceptualized it. If it does, you might question whether you ever listened to anyone else.  Lots of management textbooks will tell you that a solution arrived at by a team will be stronger than any single individual’s solution. I tend to agree.
  5. Celebrate – There may be a few people who could care less about celebrating small victories along the way, but the vast majority can’t wait to see what’s next. Every now and then, when we meet about something “innovative,” we indulge in chocolate, cupcakes, cobbler in mason jars, or talk about who needs a tiara.

Nothing I have mentioned above is unique or, let’s be honest, innovative. However, I want to challenge you to consider whether or not you truly are intentional and deliberate about each of these areas when you want to move an innovative idea forward. The time we spend planning to inspire, support, communicate, listen, and celebrate is time well spent. As the mover of an innovative idea, it’s up to you to capture its spirit, and then keep the people standing beside you.

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Tammi Cooper, Ph.D. is the Associate Provost at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where she is currently overseeing the development of a competency-based undergraduate degree program. She is also a graduate of the NGLC Breakthrough Models Academy. See a video and a project plan of Tammi’s BMA team project—MyCompletionPath—at the BMA 2014 Team Projects page

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