Taking Failure to the Next Level

I spent most of the week at the Rutgers Business School attending a conference on the future of graduate business education.  Usually I consider attending a conference a “win” if I leave feeling affirmed about what we are doing along with one good idea I can steal.  I left this conference feeling affirmed with three good ideas I could steal.  No doubt my team will be thrilled with today’s “to do” list.

No doubt the most affirming moment came when a corporate executive said: “Every student needs a course in failure.  It should include how to recover from mistakes, especially how to fire people.”  I had just been explaining our failure competition to a few deans who wanted to steal the concept. (Imitation really is the highest form of flattery.). We looked at each other and smiled.

And so, I’m issuing an RFP to anyone on our faculty interested in developing an undergraduate or graduate course on failure.  I’ll provide some summer support for the winning concept — a two page concept paper is all I’m looking for.  The goal would be to offer the course in the Fall of 2017 and if it goes well, to try to include it in the core for Fall 2018… Either at graduate or undergraduate level, whichever is the most appropriate.

So whose willing to help us take failure to the next level?   

Free Shipping

People love free shipping. Some see it as the reason to buy more.  Others see it as added value for the same price.  My guess is, if you’re not offering some form of free shipping and you’re in retail it is increasingly hard to stay in the game.

With all the changes going on in higher education, I have often wondered aloud about what could be our version of free shipping… Added value for a face-to-face educational experience at the same price.  I got a few ideas (the Exchange being one) but would like to hear from all of you.  So send me your ideas. Who knows, you just might change higher education in the process.

The Real Victory

This weekend we partnered with the UCF Alumni Association to host a tailgate for 350 fans before the Michigan game.  Both Julie Stroh and I are Michigan alums.  Dr. Hitt was pleased to see us both sporting black and gold.  When I spoke to the crowd, I used my time to put the game in perspective…

When I walked into the Big House in 1977, Michigan was ranked No. 2 in the country and had more wins than any other program in college football history. FTU didn’t have a football team. Today we share the field, and this huge accomplishment couldn’t have been possible without the hard work and support of the people here today.

The institution across the street taught me the importance of greatness. Everyone in the stands today and all the players wearing winged helmets understand that being good, or pretty good, isn’t good enough. The weakness of the institution is reflected in one of my favorite T-shirts you will see around campus. It reads: Maize–A more arrogant shade of yellow.

I don’t know who will win today but I do know two things: UCF’s best days are ahead of it, not behind it. And the real victory, the real victory will come when the dean of the business school at Michigan is a UCF alum. 

I don’t have to tell you that the final score wasn’t pretty. But progress at universities is measured in decades, not football weekends.  And while it is fun to watch our teams compete on the field, the real measure of our success comes from preparing our students to know they can compete with anyone, anywhere (in the classroom, on the field and in shaping the future) and that greatness is always the expectation. Go Knights.

Street Smarts For Faculty

This past week the Ambassadors held sessions in the Exchange designed to help familiarize new students with life in the college, teach them how to connect with faculty and staff and give them tips on how to thrive in the classroom.  We call it “street smarts” and the basic idea is to teach students how to communicate with us by effectively communicating with them in language they understand… the language of fellow students. 

This generational challenge extends to the classroom too where we regularly start out communicating with students in language they understand in the hopes of getting them proficient in the languages we understand… The languages of academia and business.  Effectuating this type of transformation requires professors to use examples that are relevant to their student audience… Things that connect with students’ experiences and they can relate to so they understand the faculty’s perspective.  Conversely, nothing kills learning like a dated example. It makes the professor seem out of date and out of touch. Yawns follow.  Listening stops.

I rediscovered an old resource this week that helped me make sure I was relevant in the classroom.  It’s called the Beloit College Mindset List and you can access it by clicking here.  It reminds us of the things we think are current events or trends that Freshmen students never experienced or see as old hat.  The list is insight into student mindsets.  Items 3 and 10 on this year’s list make me feel sad for them.  Item 49 makes me feel really old.  The list comes out every year and takes five minutes to read, but like a month to process (lol).   Well worth the time. Think of it as street smarts for faculty.

What the Internet Kills

Friday after “Welcome To The Majors,” our guest speaker Robert Stephens did an Exchange with me at a lunch in front of about 100 business and community leaders.  Given Robert’s background with Geek Squad and Best Buy, I asked him about the future of bricks and mortar retail.  His response: “Amazon and the Internet will kill mediocre retail.  Great bricks and mortar retail will do just fine because people want a shopping experience, especially when they don’t know exactly what they want.  The Internet is for people who know exactly what they want. (I am paraphrasing here a bit.)

I then asked him if there was a lesson in this for higher education as well.   He nodded and responded that the Internet will kill mediocre education too.  Robert noted that when he went to the University of Minnesota, he wanted to be taught by that crazy haired old guy wearing a tweed jacket whose provocative ideas made you think.  Instead he got a graduate student in a class of 400 who had trouble communicating with his audience.  Robert dropped out.

He pursued Geek Squad instead, ironically on the advice of one of his professors who told him that the university wasn’t going anywhere and that he could always come back if things didn’t work out.  That professor now works at UCF.  His name is Dr. Peter Hancock.   They had coffee together before the event and Peter was in the audience during Welcome To The Majors. Small World.

Even in what was a disappointing experience for Robert overall, a bond between a student and faculty member stuck.  I couldn’t help but wonder what course Robert’s life might have taken if he had met more Peter Hancocks while in school. But,  I didn’t wonder at all about what’s going to happen to higher education if it doesn’t figure out how to give more students more opportunities to build relationships like Robert and Peter’s.   That Internet really is a killer…


I want UCF students to get a great education.  This is not just about whether they have a solid grasp of statistics, finance, marketing or management.  Understanding these topics gets you a good education, not a great one.  A great education requires things that transcend a specific course or major.

First there must be some “aha moments”: eye-opening interactions that expand your horizons; presenting you with new possibilities, challenges, and perspectives on the world. Aha moments come from interacting with accomplished faculty, dedicated staff and engaged students who challenge your values and world view while raising your aspirations.

Second, a great education helps students make good choices about their careers and life.  It allows students to realistically preview different paths, better understand their interests, strengths, and weaknesses, and helps them develop a realistic plan to achieve their goals.  This requires students to get out of their comfort zones, experiment, build relationships with people who are different than themselves and risk failure so that they can succeed.

Finally, a great education gives students the confidence, knowledge and skills to compete with anyone, anywhere, no matter what the competition’s pedigree.  This comes from being in a competitive environment that helps students improve their performance through sustained effort combined with strong developmental feedback.

If you got these three things, you got a great education.  And a tell-tale sign that someone got a great education is what baseball coaches call swagger.  They look for it when players step up to the plate.  It is a critical quality in a game where you fail (get out) way more frequently than you succeed (get a hit).  Ricky Henderson, perhaps the greatest lead-off hitter of all time was famous for repeating under his breath: “You are the greatest Rickey” every time he stepped into the batter’s box.  If he struck out, he could be heard saying on his way back to the dugout: “You’re still the greatest Rickey.”  Rickey had swagger and people wanted him on their team.

Knights need swagger too. Be prepared: I am going to be looking to instill some swagger in all of you.

Welcome to #UCFBusiness

If you are new to the college, you are not alone.  We welcome more than 2000 new students to the College today along with 10 new faculty and six new staff.  You’ve probably heard that we are big: more than 8500 undergraduate students, about a 1000 graduate students and 225 faculty and staff. It can be hard to stand out in such a large crowd.  If you stand in the back of the room and wait to be discovered or provided the help you need, you guarantee disappointment and risk total failure. Fortune favors the bold here.  Don’t miss out on accessing the many resources we have to help you succeed.

But our scale does not define your experience in the College, the shared beliefs of our faculty and staff do.  We believe that no real learning occurs inside your comfort zone; that the most defining moments happen when you get to have a conversation with someone who has something interesting to say; and that a great education expands your horizons, helps you make good choices about how to spend your one precious life, and gives you the skills and confidence to know that you can compete with anyone anywhere.  We have created a culture and set of experiences that will demand that you engage with us in the pursuit of these objectives. These things are not negotiable.  If you are not willing to sign up  for this adventure, we are not the place for you.  Frankly your life here will be miserable.  If you are willing to go down this path, the journey will transform you.

For our undergraduate students, the journey starts immediately.  “Welcome to the Majors” is this Friday.  It is the single largest face-to-face class on UCF’s campus each semester.  It is designed to introduce our newbies to the culture of the college and help them start to form a strategy for how to stand out from the crowd and “get to the one” (if you don’t know what that means you will).  Welcome to the Majors is complemented by “Street Smarts,” a workshop run by our student Ambassadors that gives new students tips on how to best succeed in the College.  The Ambassadors are part of the College’s leadership team and play an important role in shaping our culture.  They will be doing several “Street Smart” workshops each day for the first two weeks of the semester in The Exchange.

The Exchange is a place where we invite in community leaders who have interesting things to say to our students. Thanks to our friends at FAIRWINDS Credit Union,  we have a guest in the exchange almost every day.  Most days we have more than one Exchange. Many of our guests in The Exchange employ UCF interns and graduates. They are interested in identifying good talent while sharing their experiences and advice with young people like you.  At no other time in your life will you have so many potential employers coming to visit you.  Go early and often, but remember to reserve your seat before you go, there are only 120.

By October you will likely have had your first tests in your primary core classes and will need to start taking a hard look at where your interests intersect your skills and talents.  So we have designed a week to introduce you to the various majors in the college and the array of careers associated with them.  You will hear from faculty, alums, and friends of the college.

The goal of all this activity in your first seven weeks is to get you engaged outside of your comfort zone, to get you in the right major, plot an efficient course to graduation and have you develop an action plan for landing the job you want before you leave here.  Lonny, the Office Professional Development team, the Primary Core Faculty, the Student Ambassadors, and Jennifer Johnson who runs The Exchange are all here to help you make good choices as you start your time with us. And if you need some mid-course corrections, don’t worry we will have a follow-up to  “Street Smarts” ready  for you right after midterms.

Welcome to the UCF College of Business. Get your armor ready Knights. Charge On!

EDC Faculty Summit 2016

If you teach at the Executive Development Center, you know Bob and his team have worked incredibly hard to create a distinctive, high-touch, student experience for the hundreds of working professionals enrolled in our Masters programs.  The EDC is the front door to the College for many people in the business community.  It’s on 36 West Pine Street that seasoned professionals learn how engaging with great faculty and a committed group of classmates can change their perspective on business, forge relationships that further careers and challenge people to get out of their comfort zones and do their best work.

The secret sauce in executing this vision is the faculty’s willingness to work in a coordinated fashion to support this student experience. Bob and his team are prepared to give you a sense of the backgrounds and aspirations of our incoming students, what new programs they will be launching this year, the assets at your disposal, and how the marketplace is changing. If you teach at the EDC and want to help us continue to offer the highest value-added education in Central Florida,  we need you to share your ideas on how we can continue to improve on how we execute this vision.

Tuesday is going to be a very engaging day.

Sharing the Stage

I get to meet a lot of interesting people in my job, even a few “power couples.” The first power couple I met was Oscar and Carolyn Goodman. It is hard to do the Goodmans justice in a book let alone a paragraph. Oscar is a former mob lawyer turned politician who served three terms as mayor of Las Vegas. He passed an ordinance requiring that any film shot in the city include him in a scene. Oscar would show up with a showgirl on each arm (Jennifer and Porsha) and a martini in his hand at public events. We were honoring him for his contributions to building the city, but I feared we didn’t have a stage big enough to contain the man. That was before I met his wife, Carolyn, an equally strong personality who had founded the best known college prep school in the city. When I learned she was going to speak too, I feared a very long evening filled with verbosity. I was wrong. They were gracious, funny and generous to a fault. I was awestruck as two big personalities both complemented and found room for each other on the stage. The voters of Las Vegas apparently saw the same thing I did, for when Oscar stepped down, they voted Carolyn mayor in a landslide.

I met another power couple Friday: Alan Eustace and his wife, Kathy Kwan. Alan is a graduate of UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science. His career led him to Google where he served as Senior VP of Knowledge. Knowledge is a big thing at Google; they don’t just give that job to any chump. He also holds the world record for the highest-altitude free-fall jump. The dude jumped from the stratosphere (25.7 miles from the ground) in nothing but a pressure suit. Wikipedia claims Alan “wasn’t widely known as a daredevil prior to his jump.” Well, I sure expected one to show up in my office. He did, but the surprise was his wife, Kathy. Like Carolyn, Kathy was a force in her own right. A Berkeley MBA who served as Managing Director of Finance at Kaiser Permanente for 11 years, she is a trustee at UC Berkeley and head of the family foundation. Alan and Kathy had graciously agreed to talk with our Ambassadors, and I was struck at how they shared the stage much like Oscar and Carolyn. It wasn’t a coincidence that both Alan and Kathy stressed the importance of finding smart, high-energy, positive people who were committed to doing something big to work beside. While they spoke in terms of career advice, their interactions told you that it was “how to pick a life partner” advice, too.

I thought this was the best lesson they could have given our Ambassadors. Like all ambitious young people, they so want to be viewed as leaders that they sometimes push their best potential collaborators off the stage. As Alan remarked, no one achieves great things alone. They achieve them by surrounding themselves with the best possible people and finding ways to help make their shared dreams reality (spouses included). This means saying “yes” as much as possible, especially when it comes to sharing the stage. Don’t worry, if the venue was big enough for Oscar and Carolyn, it’s going to big enough for whoever is up there with you.