Repost Wednesday: Lunchtime Roulette

Last Thursday I hosted my first faculty lunch of the semester. The idea is to bring together small groups of people from different departments who might not normally interact to get to know each other better, discuss issues of common interest or concern, and begin to build a more cohesive sense of identity and purpose. Eighteen of the twenty people chosen for the first event accepted my invitation.

Among the topics we discussed were efforts to better coordinate curriculum, Ph.D. student recruitment, the poor state of some classrooms,and the elimination of economics from the general education requirements. In each of these lively discussions there was a desire to spread awareness, bring more people to the table, and generate momentum around ideas. The hour flew by and I was very impressed by everyone’s willingness to engage in the conversation.

As the discussion unfolded, I mentioned an article I had read a few days ago where a company had implemented what they called lunchtime roulette. The idea was to randomly assign people to go to lunch together at the company’s expense. The goal was to drive innovation through idea generation from people who don’t normally get to talk to each other. I commented that I couldn’t afford to implement this policy for pairs of faculty and send them off to a restaurant, but that I was willing to buy lunch for small groups of people from different departments to get together over pizza or sandwiches to discuss a programmatic or college policy issue of common interest or concern. Since no one told me I was nuts, here’s the deal:

1. If you want to hold such a lunch you need to get three other people to sign on to a meeting. The four of you must come from at least three departments so that we know that the issue cuts across a number of disciplines. This group cannot be a standing committee of the college. I want it to be an organic group of at least four. The issue must pertain to students, teaching, curriculum, fund-raising needs, cross disciplinary research, or infrastructure.
2. Email your names and a short description of what is going to be discussed at least one week prior to the proposed meeting. The email should go to Anne Marie.
3. We will review the request and if it meets the above requirements, we will send out an email to all faculty announcing the topic, time and place of the gathering so that anyone who wants to join the discussion can come. People will need to RSVP by the day before the meeting if they want to eat. We will buy up to ten lunches. (If interest exceeds ten, we will consider a different forum for the topic.)
4. After the meeting one of the original four requesters must provide us with a summary of the discussion and any proposed action steps so that we can post it on a portion of our website for anyone to read.
5. If you don’t give us something appropriate to post within a week of the meeting, you don’t get to ask us to fund another gathering. If you do post it, you can ask to have a follow-up lunch if you believe it’s appropriate.

It will be that simple.

These lunches will go on throughout calendar year 2013 as long as people find them useful and keep asking us to schedule them. After that we will evaluate the program and decide whether we want to extend it for 2014. (Foard, the budget master, is having a heart attack as he reads this. I didn’t tell him in advance of this post.) So get talking.

Time to Write a Memo

I have written only one memo to the faculty since I came to UCF. I find them far too impersonal a way to manage and I would much prefer to start a conversation or float an idea via my blog. Can you imagine a memo entitled “I want to invite Popeil, Kiper and Snooki to the College” or “Your Friends Are Redundant”. So wherever possible, I leave the memo writing to Taylor and Foard.

But memos are appropriate to announce official policy and begin the process of embedding certain values, expectations, and actions into our organizational DNA. I have talked for most of the Spring semester about the need for our college to lie at the cross-roads of town and gown: to become an engaging place where people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives meet to get out of their comfort zones, collaborate across disciplines, take risks, and use real-time data in ways that revolutionize how we think, create value and shape the future.

It is time to put some weight behind these proclamations by proving rewards for people who help create this culture through their actions. So, I’m devoting about fifteen thousand dollars a year to annual awards to students, faculty, and staff who exhibit excellence in their efforts to engage others, collaborate across disciplines, take intelligent risks, and use real-time data to bring insight to a compelling problem or issue. Some of the awards will recognize classroom interaction, some service to our profession and community, and others to research. Some of the awards will be awarded by students, some by the college’s advisory board, and still others by elements of the faculty. All of the awards are meant to call attention to important contributions to our culture. I hope to announce these awards and recognize the winners at an annual Spring event in late April.

Look for the memo with all the details next week.


Repost Wednesday: This Simply Won’t Do

I believe the best education comes when you get a chance to sit down on a log and have a conversation with someone who has interesting stuff to say. It is in those moments of exchange that ideas come to life, assumptions are challenged, experiences shared and people transformed. Without this sort of dialogue learning is ephemeral, only superficial memorization of facts and theories: Let’s call that a PowerPoint education.

So, it is with great concern that I reviewed our most recent results from the National Survey on Student Engagement. Relative to seniors at our benchmark institutions, UCF College of Business Administration seniors reported high levels of academic challenge and a supportive campus environment. But far too few students have meaningful interactions with faculty or engage in co-curricular experiences: Less than half of our students discussed a grade or assignment with an instructor; less than a quarter talked about ideas from the readings or class with a faculty member outside the classroom; less than fifteen percent say they experienced a culminating project, exam or thesis; less than five percent say they worked with a faculty member on a research project. I could go on, but you get the point.

If you are a student, I will not let you hide in the back of the classroom. If you are a faculty member, I will not let you hide behind lecture capture. If you are a department chair, I won’t let you hide behind budget cuts. If our value proposition rests on the high returns to face-to-face learning, we need to make sure it happens…all the time and everywhere. If we don’t figure it out, on-line formats are going to eat our lunch.

So, I’m looking for ways to create more opportunities for students to sit on logs and talk to faculty without breaking the bank: Digital, Styrofoam or wood logs; during breakfast, lunch, dinner and after-hours. If you are like me and want education to be transformative, not transactional, I want your ideas. How can we get more faculty and students talking to each other, working more together, and creating a culture of engagement? I know incentives are important here too…so suggestions for carrots and sticks are also welcome.

Warning: If you don’t help me generate good ideas, I will just have to implement the ones I come up with on my own. Accepting the status quo simply won’t do.

Headlock and Wedlock Night

There was a time in the 1970s when the Atlanta Braves were bad. They were a chronically last place team in an awful stadium, with indescribably bad food, and no hope. Surprisingly nobody came to the games. The Braves were desperate to attract fans and in the process created some epically bad promotion nights designed to mask the fact that the team lacked a commitment to winning. They held wet t-shirt contests (yes, really they did). They had a promotion that once you bought a ticket you could continue to use that ticket until you went to a game where they actually won. And in perhaps the weirdest promotion night ever, they had “headlock and wedlock night”–34 couples were married in a group ceremony on the field, followed by a wrestling match (it ensured that at least 68 people came to the game). The Braves were not alone in trying to mask a lack of commitment to winning: the hapless Indians had “dime beer night” (you can guess how that went) and the White Sox had “disco demolition night” between games of a scheduled double header with the Tigers which resulted in game two being forfeited to Detroit due to a small riot. You can’t make this stuff up.

Headlock and wedlock night popped into my head twice at meetings over the last few weeks. Maybe it happened because I’m going to see the Marlins play this week, but both meetings (one involving academics and one student life) involved activities that were failing to meet expectations. In both instances, some of the people in the room (by no means all), thought the solution lied in distracting people from the failure. If only we had the right slogan, marketing materials, or “entertainment value” people would respond in the way we hoped.

Last week, I wrote a blog post about wanting to celebrate failure in the college. More precisely, the lessons learned from the experience. Failure is inevitable, but it is never an excuse for a lack of commitment to winning. If you want to build pride, reputation, and tradition, if you want people to join your team or take up your cause: commit to the relentless pursuit of winning in class, on the field, throughout campus, and in life. Yes, you will inevitably fail along the way. But if failure drains your commitment to winning, get out of the business. If you don’t leave now, ideas like “headlock and wedlock night” aren’t far away.

I Have A Crazy Idea

Foard tells me that it has become standard in job interviews for positions that report directly to me to ask: “How comfortable are you working for someone who walks into your office and says— I have a crazy idea.” I admit that I do this regularly. Sometimes I talk myself out of it. Sometimes I convince others the idea is worth pursuing. Always I am asking my staff to do more work or to do something in a different way.

One of my obsessions is to think about how to shape the culture of the college in ways that promote the qualities I want to instill in our students: risk-taking, a willingness to get out of your comfort zone, collaborating with people from different backgrounds, and making high-quality decisions based on real-time data.

My latest crazy idea is that I want to celebrate failure in the college. Why? Because nothing great happens without it. Only through failure will our students find great success. So, in many ways, failure is the doorway to greatness, we just aren’t comfortable with that idea. All the iconic business stories have failure right in the middle of them. Yet we push our students hard to be uncomfortable with failure so that when it inevitably happens, it is devastating to them.

I want to turn this dynamic on its head by creating a college-wide competition that requires every student to stand up, explain a failure that they have had and what they have learned from it. The event would be an exercise in story-telling, getting out of your comfort zone to describe a real life journey and share important lessons that can benefit others. It would also emphasize the point that everyone fails, survives it and needs to learn from it. The winner would be the student who told the most compelling story with the best learning lessons for business professionals. I would be willing to put significant prize money behind this (e.g., a one year scholarship) and perhaps a speaker series where we would ask alums to come in and tell their stories of risk-taking, failure, lessons learned and eventual success. I am even considering a similar event with awards for faculty and staff.

Think about the mentors and influencers in your life. What are the stories that they tell you to help frame up your pursuits? How many of these conversations deal with overcoming something…coping with and persevering through failure? World changers embrace risk and that can only happen if they have developed a good comfort level with failure.

So in the spirit of Foard’s interview question: who wants to work with me on this crazy idea?

Repost Wednesday: Dinner at the College

If you had three people in history you could ask to dinner, who would they be? It is a question commonly asked of interviewees. The response is frequently both entertaining and revealing. Ruling out dead people, I’d invite Ron Popeil, Mel Kiper Jr., and Snooki. I think Snooki’s speaking fee is a little high (ask Rutgers they paid $35,000 to the horror of their students). If so, Kim Kardashian would do. We would serve rotisserie chicken, debate each others’ “up” and “down” sides in infinite detail, and probably cause enough drama to be charged with disturbing the peace—oh wait that’s the Housewives of Orange County.

Maybe inviting them to dinner is a bad idea, but I would like them featured on a panel discussion at COBA about personal branding and launching a highly successful career. Even this doesn’t quite give them their due for each of my guests did more than achieve celebrity status…they invented a whole new category. Ron Popeil is from my father’s generation. He is maybe the best pitchmen ever, created all sorts of kitchen gadgets and perfected the infomercial. Mel is from my generation. He invented the professional “draft analyst,” became a fixture on ESPN and turned the NFL player draft into a two-day television event. Snooki, is from my children’s generation and while it is fashionable to make fun of her, as far as I know, she is the first serial reality TV star—let’s hope that can’t be easy to do. The format is simple. Ron, Mel and Snooki will tell their stories. The students will be charged with identifying similarities in their stories and developing actionable career strategies based on our speakers’ experiences.

Our guests are what sociologist and writer Malcolm Gladwell calls “outliers.” They are unusually successful people and if we are to believe Gladwell, they are likely to share a few common characteristics. For one, outliers tend to come from a culture of entitlement. Not “the world owes me something” view we normally associate with this term, but rather from a perspective and tradition that says it is okay to challenge authority, pursue your own agenda, and take the initiative. (Helicopter parents take note.) Snooki, for example, has plenty of this, and can take a punch to boot. Outliers also have the vision or good fortune to see opportunity before others do. Mel Kiper credits his career in part to a discussion he had with an NFL general manager who spoke of the need for better information on players and encouraged him to turn it into a business. Finally, outliers get lots of practice developing their new skill before anyone else does. Gladwell is a strong proponent of the 10,000 hours rule—that virtually every really talented person spent the equivalent of five full years in practice. Getting extensive practice hours in before anyone else gives outliers important first mover advantages. Mel started his firm while he was still in college and I have no doubt that he spent hours pouring over player numbers when he was eight years old. Similarly Ron Popeil came from a family of pitchmen, had perfected his pitch skills through years of practice and seized the opportunity when the broadcasting rules changed to allow long format commercials.

Another way to look at our guests is that they are all entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs tend to identify and advocate disruptive ideas—ideas that challenge conventional wisdom in an industry, turn assumptions upside down and revolutionize a market. I’m only guessing but the type of entitlement culture that Gladwell describes may also give people a natural advantage in generating disruptive ideas and thereby creating new market opportunities to get their 10,000 hours well before anyone else. For Mel, the disruptive idea was that only those inside the game—coaches and scouts could evaluate talent. For Ron, it was that you couldn’t separate product development from marketing –that they are one in the same. If I’m right, opportunity isn’t a matter of luck, it is the product of a particular culture and hard work. Snooki isn’t on reality TV by accident, she executed a plan that involved cultivating a unique personality. Thomas Edison once quipped “The reason so many people miss opportunity is that it tends to be dressed in coveralls and looks like work.”

In the end the question isn’t whether we would have the infomercial, draft analysts, or serial reality TV stars without our guests. These developments were probably inevitable. The question is they these developments are associated with the names Popeil, Kiper and Snooki. And, how we can increase the odds that the name associated with the “next big thing” is our own.

Ron, Mel and Snooki….have your people call my people and we will set something up.

Aimlessly Seeking A Career

I shook more than one thousand hands on Friday as our business students got their degrees and moved on to the next stage in their lives. Sometimes I wonder where they all come from.

This year thanks to Lonny, I have a much better idea of where our undergraduate degree holders are going. Lonny took me up on my offer to buy lunch for cross- departmental groups wanting to discuss a college-wide issue. Actually in this case it was breakfast and the “lunch time roulette” group developed and implemented a survey of graduating seniors in our capstone course. Fittingly, I got the results on Friday afternoon about four hours after graduation.

More than 550 students replied to the survey. Forty-five percent of the students were looking for full-time work. And as Lonny puts it, among these job seekers only half report that they know what they want to do and less than 40% know where they want to work. At best, 40% have been to Career Services and most of that was just to meet with a counselor and have their resume reviewed. Less than a quarter have taken advantage of services such as workshops, company info sessions, mock interviews, etc. However, the same group is very confident of their skills to find that unknown job, scoring in the affirmative by 80% to questions about their interviewing and networking skills. In short, they don’t know what they want to do or where they want to work and have done little to hone their job search skills, but they are sure they will find something that suits them.

I don’t share their optimism. It is hard to look for work when you don’t know what you want to do. Will a skilled aimless search produce a better result than an unskilled aimless search? My guess is that both end with the first job offer. Only luck will produce a good match. A bad match hurts the alum, the employer and us. So how do we help students improve their career decision skills so that they do a more honest assessment of their job search capabilities and get a better start on landing the right job? Lonny and the group, looks like I’m buying lunch again..

Hey what do you say, let’s Graduate some Knights Friday

COBA students graduate this Friday. To those of you that will shake my hand as you cross the stage: Well done. I have only one line of ancient wisdom for you as you cross over to alumni status: Fortune favors the bold. The Romans believed Fortuna, the goddess of luck, was more likely to help those who took risks. In other words, you make your own luck in life through your deeds. Get busy.

As I wrote on Monday, we need more rituals in the COBA, pageantry that underscores who we are and what is important to us: That includes graduation. So in an effort to start a new tradition, provide inspiration to future students and make graduation more engaging, I want you all to tweet me (@pauljarley) your most uncomfortably rewarding moment at UCF… A time when you took a risk as a student and how it paid off. Please use the hash tag #ucfbusinessgrad. The best examples will be used throughout the coming year as quotes that will appear on our TV screens in BA1 and BA2. So make them inspirational and G-rated. Oh, and I’ll be tweeting some of you words of congratulations as well.

Go Knights.