Almost Random Thoughts on Being Unique

I’ve been thinking a lot about being unique lately. In addition to our “get to the one” concept, I have been pondering “uniqueness” as it relates to the University’s strategic planning exercise and the charge to the budget realignment committee, of which I am a member, to develop a financial model that supports the University’s strategic goals. It is always dangerous to gaze into a crystal ball, but my money is on the new strategic plan wanting to build areas of “uniqueness” at UCF.

Despite what our mothers tell us, we are not born unique. Yet with a little planning, foresight and luck, we can develop distinctive combinations of perspectives, relationships and experiences that set us apart in our quest to be the one. Even if this path doesn’t make us unique in the strict sense of the term, it can make us without a peer in the more limited places where we compete.

Unique programs or colleges are more difficult to come by. Sometimes your surroundings can give you a leg up (e.g., have NASA and the Cape just down the road from you). Other times, you can accrue the benefits of a first mover advantage (e.g., Entrepreneurship at Babson or International Business at South Carolina). But sustaining a unique program is difficult because the barriers to entry in academia are not that high: a copycat program just requires a brochure and a few people who can stay a chapter or two ahead of the students in the book. Witness the explosion in entrepreneurship programs.

So a more realistic goal is to create “sustainable distinctiveness” in key areas. These are relatively rare programs of quality that bring advantage and can be sustained with investment in the right people and organizational culture. Ideally these programs would also generate a premium in both societal impact and financial margin. Can a budget model be developed to support such programs? Sure so long as the model provides a feedback loop that allocates the resources to attract and develop the rare talent and culture necessary to sustain such programs.

Hmm….You know I think the same could be said for students seeking to get to “the one.” They too will need to defend their distinctive advantage by continuing to find the resources necessary to develop the perspectives, relationships and experiences that will continue to set them apart. They too will need a budget model with a feedback loop. Huh, maybe these two problems aren’t as different as i first thought…..

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One thought on “Almost Random Thoughts on Being Unique

  1. It seems that a lot of focus in higher ed, when it comes to “uniqueness,” is on what’s done with/for the exceptional student. Whether it’s Entrepreneurship at Babson, or the “Berkley School” of Human Geography at LSU or Latin American studies in Austin, those programs seem to only engage the small percent of very bright students whose GPAs, academic records, and vitae afford entry. Unique programs that attract the already unique. Maybe what is needed are unique offerings that can have an impact on the rest of the student population. Instead of making the unique “uniquer,” students (and the schools they attend) would probably do well to make investments in activities/programs that engage the currently unengaged.

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