There is no Plan B

It has been ten days filled with lots of highlights from our President’s Focus Breakfast where we challenged the community to take the ball, to our Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership hosting UCF alumni and Blair Witch Project co-creator Robin Cowie, to the launch of our Blackstone Launch Pad and our Titen Visiting Lecture Speaker UCF alum Dr. Glenn Hubbard. (Yes, the external relations team has been putting in a lot of hours this month.)

But perhaps my favorite moment this week occurred during our Dean’s Advisory Board meeting when a member asked what our contingency plan was for dealing with the possibility that Massively Open On-line Courses would become wildly popular and disrupt higher education. I responded that there was no plan B– that we had to win plan A by providing value through face to face education–if we couldn’t do that we were dead. I expected rebuttal from the board member. Instead I got a satisfying smile. As I looked around the room, people nodded.

Sometimes there can’t be a plan B–you have to be “all in” on plan A. Everything we have done in the past ten days or so, all those highlights I mentioned a moment ago…those are the sorts of things that will help us win with plan A.

Repost Wednesday: Failure to Success

As we kick off this semester’s failure contest, here is last semester’s winning entry:

Student Name: Cary E Caldwell

I was working for a high volume Foreclosure and Bankruptcy law firm in 2007 as a legal assistant while maintaining a full schedule of classes. At 21 I was getting burned out since our company was downsizing and placing the file load unto me. I was doing 3 peoples jobs and was working for a very hard boss who would ask me to skip classes in order to meet deadlines.

Well one evening after a very tough day of work and school I went on my Myspace account (this is 2007 mind you) and blogged about my boss and the horrible experience I was having. Not realizing that someone in my office was one of my “friends” and had forwarded the not so nice blog to my manager.

The next day I received an email stating that I was to clean up my desk and leave my ID badge at the admin’s desk. I was devastated. I moved from my home in Florida to this Dallas, TX firm and had no real family and friends that I could rely on to get me through my schooling. So I quit college and packed up to my mother’s house. I went online and found an insurance job in Connecticut and decided I would not return to academia. After about 3 years of being the low man on the totem pole, I realized that I needed to go back to school and have a balanced work/life experience. So here I am very grateful for everything I’ve learned so far to better myself and excited about getting back to the corporate world.

Instructor’s Comments: It shows that failing to be vigilant in all aspects of your life can cost you. Particularly relevant because of social media’s increasing impact on our students and their work prospects.

Failure Competition 2.0: Failure to Success

Below is an email I received from Dr. Robert Porter who teaches our capstone course. He took up the challenge to begin our failure competition last year. We had 177 entries and more than 800 votes were cast on-line to determine the winner among our four semi-finalists. As we prepared for this semester’s competition, Bob shared the following observations with me. They make for compelling reading and I hope they will be of great use to our students as they prepare for this round of competition…..


You are a champion of the idea that exploring failure is a key learning opportunity for our students. I shared this idea last semester in a challenge to my students in their capstone/applied strategy course – to share their experiences regarding their own challenges. During that semester I was asked by a student, “Is failure the best teacher in life?” While I personally don’t think it is always the best teacher, I do think it creates one of the most powerful learning opportunities we can experience. I think a good way to view this process is to recognize that learning to succeed is often the result of a personal change driven by one’s failure.

One of my greatest learning experiences in life was when I failed my physical exam to enter the US Naval Academy. The Academy represented a chance to get an incredible college education, and serve my country in repayment. My grandfather was a Naval Academy graduate, and as a result I was eligible for a Presidential Appointment to the Academy. The appointment process to an Academy is a rigorous examination process. I spent two years in high school going through the interviews, taking the qualification exams, and ultimately I received the Presidential Appointment contingent upon a physical exam. My physical exam came during my senior year in high school. The exam was conducted at a naval base by navy doctors and it took a full day. I learned at the end of the exam that due to a childhood injury to my hip when I was 10, which landed me in a home for crippled children for a year, I would most likely have severe arthritis about the time that I graduated from the Academy. As a result, I was rejected and my Presidential Appointment was given to the next qualified candidate. I was devastated by the news. I was a high school senior with no good backup plan for college due to the near certainty of my appointment. I thought my entire future was based on going to the Naval Academy.

One of my most significant mentors in life was a man named Lew Treen. He was a war veteran, a gifted semi-pro baseball player, and a high school principal and coach. One thing he taught me was, “To learn is to change, and to change is to learn.” I called Lew Treen the day I was rejected to get his advice. His advice was to ‘learn from this, build on it, and move forward.’

I wound up attending UCF to obtain my engineering undergraduate degree. This led to my career with General Electric, and many other very positive opportunities in my life. I learned that major setbacks in life, with a great deal of work, can be converted into very positive new directions. Success is not automatic in life, even if you have a Presidential endorsement. You have to learn how to succeed. Failure guides you on what you need to change when you don’t succeed.

I propose we set a challenge for our students along these lines -to paraphrase Lew Treen, “Learning to succeed can be the result of change driven by failure.” While I think exploring experiences related to failure may encourage students to press through their challenges, I think that positioning the failure exercise to focus on how students have learned from these failures or how they used them as a platform to succeed makes this challenge focus on an individual’s growth that results from change. It essentially transforms the exercise from articulating one’s failure into the process of learning and growing from it. Everyone fails at something at one point or another in life, and if we are able to approach these situations with the perspective that we can learn and grow from them, then they are not failures after all, but learning ultimately how to change and then succeed.

As a side note, when I was 30, I needed a total hip replacement just to be able to walk – the Navy doctors were right.

Bob Porter, PhD

Much Ado About The Wrong Things

Last week, I had a few people pass on an article to me about a study that suggested that non-tenure track faculty were better teachers than tenure-track faculty. You can read the article by clicking here. In short, the article reported that students at Northwestern who took introductory courses from non-tenure faculty were about 7% more likely to take another course in the same discipline and to score about one-tenth of a grade point higher on that second course than students who took their introductory course from a tenure-track faculty member.

For those of you who don’t know, tenure track faculty have teaching, research, and service activities. They are evaluated on all three dimensions. In most university settings very high standards apply, including having a national reputation for thought leadership in their chosen field of research. Non-tenure track faculty typically are evaluated almost solely on their teaching prowess. If they are not good at this, there is little reason to keep them.

I haven’t read the study, but based on the report I am unimpressed by such small differences in outcomes. Given non-tenure track faculty specialize in teaching and that introductory courses typically require more one-on-one interaction to help orient new students to the discipline, I would have expected the differences to be greater. If anything, the study may help discount the myth that only non-tenure track faculty care about their teaching.

But from where I sit, the article’s primary concern is misplaced. We have some very fine non-tenure track faculty in our college. Unlike most colleges, many of our non-tenure track faculty engage in some form of scholarly activity; they also make important contributions through sharing their practical experience with students. For a professional school such as business, there is more than enough room in the curriculum for some courses to be taught from a theoretical perspective and others to be taught through a more experienced-based approach.

The concern isn’t over who can best teach introductory undergraduate courses, but how the increasing use of non-tenure track faculty is impacting the very nature of the university. What separates universities from state and community colleges is the emphasis on discovery (basic research) and how this permeates the culture of the institution and makes it an incredibly dynamic place. Non-tenure track faculty, in contrast, are charged with communicating state-of-the-art practice. The concern is that the more we rely on non-tenure track faculty, the more we lose the opportunity to encourage discovery and a forward focus and the more we risk that our students will fail to see the future, practice will stagnate and society will stall. Let me put this a different way: if given the chance who would you rather sit on a log with — the person who is paid to explain an idea to you, or the person who came up with the idea in the first place and is working on new ideas to push us forward? I worry way more about putting thought leaders on logs than the average grade point average in introductory courses or how many people move on to a second course in business.

Learn to Ask Good Questions

Most people think leadership is all about having the right answers. Perhaps this is because people turn to their leaders in times of uncertainty to show them the way. But I have found that it is far more important to ask good questions. As my friend Tom Bland once told me, the essence of leadership is making sure people are focusing on the right things while the essence of management is making sure people are doing those things right. Answers are essential to good management, but asking good questions is what leads you to where you need to go. So if you want to lead, you need to develop the capacity to ask thought-provoking questions.

This insight also applies to students who are in search of their futures. Students go to school in the hope of finding answers: learning techniques and perspectives to help them master a body of knowledge, land jobs and start careers. But much of this information tends to be answers to other people’s questions: in other words, how to do something right. It rarely tells you if you are focusing on the right things for you. Discovering the right path requires that you get out of your comfort zone and engage in meaningful dialogue with others. You need to develop the capacity to form good questions, the courage to ask them in uncomfortable settings, and the willingness to listen to answers you may not want to hear.

Repost Wednesday: The Dixon Cornbelt League

The title of today’s post is based on a short story by W.P. Kinsella. He is most famous for writing a book that later became the movie “Field of Dreams.” In the short story, a college baseball player who had a very disappointing season gets invited to join a summer league team in a small town in Iowa. He is hoping to use this opportunity to turn his career around. The townspeople are extremely supportive of the team and show up to practices in droves. Yet the regular season never starts. The reason is that all of the players in the Dixon Cornbelt League have a reputation for being great in practice, but choking in game situations. So they give in to their fear of failure and just never compete.

Education is about learning and demonstrating what you know to the faculty who are evaluating you. But in a sense, this is still practice– a competition to land a starting job on the team. To quote Herbert Spencer, professional schools believe that “the great aim of education is not knowledge but action”. In other words, if you don’t do anything with the knowledge you have obtained, it is not worth much. Just getting great grades in school won’t make you a success in life. It will make you an underachiever.

As you transition from college freshmen to the world of business, you need to hone your professional skills, take stock of where you are relative to the competition and work on what you need to do to get better. You need to be able to turn your knowledge into business deliverables that are superior to what other people can produce and effectively communicate the virtues of your work to others so that you can land that job, contract or consulting project you want. Whether you like it or not, you are in a race to realize your dreams.

We in the UCF College of Business believe in the virtues of competition. Competition makes us stronger. It challenges us to become our best through focus and consistent effort. It is also the best way to benchmark our progress as people and institutions. That is why we encourage our students to take part in national and regional student competitions that test their ability to deliver high quality products and services against students from places like Arizona, BYU, Clemson and Penn State to name just a few.

And know that UCF students have fared well, impressed the competition and used their success to further their careers. We have competed with distinction at Harvard’s International Business Model Competition, brought home hardware from the National Collegiate Sales Competition, and hold one of the largest social entrepreneurship service learning initiatives in the world.

So find an opportunity, compete for a spot on one of our student teams this year, and show future employers what Knights can do. Unless of course summers in Iowa surrounded by corn appeal to you. If so, you are at the wrong school!

Lonny Says We Have Baggage Fees

Last week, I got the following email from Lonny.  It was so good that I wanted to pass it on to everyone.

Ok, so this article has absolutely nothing to do with student advising, careers, and all the other stuff we’re supposed to do here…or does it?

The question is, do we have “baggage fees” that keep us from really helping students?  Yes, we do!!!

Do we have antiquated views (and rules) about the qualifications/duties of an advisor?Do we have College rules and pre-requisites that require us to process over-rides and waivers? Do we focus more on getting through classes to graduate than we do on what happens after graduation?

For example…the student schedule planning tool should help a student do their own schedule, right?  However, from what I’ve heard, the student has to go back and manually enter all 60+ of their hours before they can use the tool because it can’t/won’t/we haven’t taught advisors to/we don’t require people to/we haven’t asked it to/whatever the hell… auto-download prior classes.

No customer is going to manually key in their service history to make your job easier.  Besides that, even if they did, all a student has to do is miss one pre-requisite and they are barred from scheduling any CBA classes on their own…even though intro classes don’t really require that knowledge and we just jury-rig the system by processing waivers and over-rides.  That said, no matter how attractive we make the tool or how much we blame students/advisors/leprechauns for not using the tools at their disposal, we can’t speed up the boarding process.

These “baggage fees” keep us doing things the same way instead of looking at new, innovative, and/or more meaningful ways of getting students to their destination.  Have a cup of coffee and think about that this am.  Just because everyone else does it, doesn’t mean it’s right…  🙂