Lunch with Seth

Friday was a big day in the College.  We had 3,000 students show up to Welcome to the Majors (see photos from the event here) and a lunch with more than 100 business leaders to hear Seth Godin speak and have a conversation about what it takes to differentiate yourself in today’s business world. I thought you might all enjoy my comments at the lunch explaining why I wanted to bring Seth to UCF…..

Good Afternoon! It is such a pleasure to see so many of Orlando’s Business Leaders in the audience today. We are starting a new era at the College and I am excited to share a stage with Seth Godin to tell you how business education is changing and how we can work together to build something remarkable here at the UCF College of Business.

I am especially thankful to our Sponsors: Burr Forman, Florida A&M Law School, Florida Blue, Florida High Tech Corridor, The Orlando Magic, UCF Marketing, and Verizon for helping to make this event possible. Seth’s comments to 2000 students at Welcome to Majors this morning did much to help set the tone for the College of Business experience this year.

Before I ask Seth to say a few words to kick off our discussion, let me tell you a little bit about how we got to this place and why I wanted the Orlando Business Community to hear from him.

I have been a dean for eight years, (5 at UNLV and 3 here) and a faculty member for almost thirty. Over that time, I have become increasingly convinced that undergraduate business education is fast becoming a commodity..

  • First, American trained faculty are using American concepts and theories to provide the same education to people around the world;
  • Second, the internet has made information free, replacing the need for standard lectures and recitation sections
  • And Third, on-line education allows anyone to be “a professor” and provides convenient, low-stress experiences with little regard to quality control….content is being built into the technology, the instructor is little more than a grader, and people can take these courses at home dressed in their bathrobes.

While information may be a commodity– perspective, experience and connectivity are not.

I believe that in education, the single most important person after the student is the person in front of the class.

I believe that no real learning occurs without people being uncomfortable.

I believe that today’s business education is misaligned with the contemporary marketplace: that we are still trying to win the last war: one won with standardization, stability, and cost-minimization, rather than prepare students to win today through differentiation, quick pivots and unexpected options based on real time data.

I believe that the value of higher education lies in providing students with reason, perspective, intuition, and the qualities the market values: characteristics such as getting out of your comfort zone, taking smart risks, working across boundaries and knowing how to be a creative problem solver.

And, I believe that the only way to do this in higher education today is to create a culture where students engage with faculty, industry and each other every day.

As my beliefs were coming into clear focus, I stumbled upon on a TEDX talk called “Stop Stealing Dreams” by some guy named Seth Godin. Seth was asking many of the same questions I was:

  • What if it was possible to teach habits, attitudes and mindsets like risk-taking, boundary-spanning, and persistence? (What if I could cure all helicopter parents, I thought..)
  • What if we taught people what it really takes to succeed?
  • What if instead of asking students to participate, we expected them to and supported them with a wide variety of opportunities to engage?
  • What if we tried to differentiate the school this way, rather than just by having the best Department of Whatever?

Seth’s video emboldened me.

And UCF had put me in a position to try to effectuate these types of change. No matter that I am at a huge College with 9000 students built on efficiency, standardization and per unit cost minimization. I have a faculty with a spirit for innovation, a committed staff, and a university leadership eager to let me try something different. UCF is decidedly that way…always expecting the next milestone

While Seth’s words were encouraging, I went down this path because I believe it is the right thing to do and that the schools that figure this out first will win the future.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not even sure I know all the questions. But over the past three years, we have inched toward the edge of this cultural cliff by:

  • Replacing academic advising with career counseling—students are required to think about their future and how they are going to get there, the day they walk into the building. This is NOT optional.
  • Creating Welcome to the Majors—a signature experience that introduces students to our culture of engagement and challenges them to use their time here to take the actions necessary to realize their dreams.
  • Implementing a Failure Competition where students compete for recognition by destigmatizing their failures, celebrating persistence and telling others what they can learn from the experience.
  • Bringing greater visibility to college-wide rituals that emphasize cross-functional collaboration, data-driven decision-making, risk-taking and problem solving (e.g., Joust, Case Competition, etc.) AND
  • Fashioning rewards for faculty and students who exhibit the qualities we hope to instill in all our students.

This semester, we take the plunge off the cliff’s edge by

  • Launching a New Integrated Business Major designed to create “students of the business” –people imbued with the qualities and skills needed to work in today’s networked economy of many small and medium sized employers. AND…
  • We are Opening the Exchange: A place where all students will be expected to come and engage with people from the business community: EVERY DAY at least 100 students will be exchanging experiences and ideas with thought-leaders who can help them invent their future.

This last effort is key: It involves an open invitation to the business community to engage with our students in conversations about how they can best approach what lies ahead.

I want The Exchange to be the centerpiece of the UCF College of Business Experience and I want all of you to help make it the cross-roads of town and gown on campus.

With so much at stake and so much ahead of us, I thought it was the perfect time to ask my muse (Seth) to come and challenge all of us to get this done.

As fate would have it, I had a connection: Dean Caravelis—an alum and great friend of the College who has developed a dialogue with Seth and attended one of his weekend retreats.

I called Dean and took him to lunch. We concocted a plan, you all chipped in, Dean printed these cool notepads, AND…..

Seth Godin is here. How Awesome!!!

Seth, the floor is yours…

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