No Lectures Ever

So, if I gave you the opportunity to have courses without lectures, where you would be required to meet with a faculty member one-on-one or in small groups four or five times a semester to get the professor’s deepest insights into the material and get your questions answered, would you sign up for that course? You would still have to complete assignments and show you know the material, but no lectures ever. Would you do it?

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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: 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.

Clean the World

As I mentioned last Monday, my trip to Washington DC gave me the opportunity to meet and engage with many people from very different backgrounds.  My team included the CEO of Ron John’s, a former astronaut, and a young student from UF (who was getting way out of his comfort zone).

It is awfully hard to beat an astronaut, but probably the best story I heard came from Shawn Seipler.  Shawn is a father of four who was looking for a way out of all the travel associated with his sales and marketing job.  One day while in one of an endless stream of hotel rooms, he called down to the front desk to inquire about what happens to all of the bars of soap and shampoo in hotel rooms when the customer checks out.  The answer of course was that it is thrown away.   It was then that Shawn and his partner Paul Till, started to research the potential for recycling soap products.  Their orignial goal was to keep them out of landfills, but  while doing this research, the team discovered that two very deadly child diseases:acute respiratory illness and diarrheal disease could be significantly reduced simply by giving kids soap to wash their hands.

It was from this research that Clean the World was born.  Clean the World now employs 30 people here in Orlando and works with corporate partners to recycle soap and distribute it to impovrished people around the world. I found his story so compelling, such a great example of professional risk-taking, cross-disciplinary collaboration and data-driven decision-making that I invited him to speak at UCF.  But, I had already been beaten to the punch:  Shawn will be speaking in the student union at 4:30 on April 9th as a guest of our Center for Entrepreneurship.  If you want inspiration, come out and hear his story.

The Value of Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

Last week I was fortunate to accompany members of the Central Florida Partnership to our nation’s Capitol to discuss among other things the importance of university research and entrepreneurship. There were about 70 of us on a trip beautifully orchestrated by Jacob Stuart and his staff where we met with members of the Florida congressional delegation in small groups. I was assigned to Jacob’s group no doubt to ensure that an experienced hand was watching the new guy. It was not my first time interacting with legislators (I worked for the Wisconsin Legislative Council many years ago), but it was my first foray onto Capitol Hill.

When I learned of this trip, I debated going. It was two days out of my busy schedule. It had a nontrivial price tag and federal initiatives are much more important to research in science and engineering than business. Yet, Legislators often overlook the importance of business education in commercializing STEM-based research. The trip was an opportunity to educate legislators on this topic, support my STEM colleagues, champion public-private partnerships, and network with many key community leaders. When I decided to go, I thought, “either this is going to be one of the more interesting things I have done since coming to UCF or it is going to be two days of my life I’m never getting back.” Happily, it turned out to be the former rather than the latter.

The trip offered several great lessons in how to successfully step out of your comfort zone. For one, It never hurts to have an experienced guide. Jacob, who had spent years on the Hill navigated us through the protocols that come with meeting our representatives, pointing out the rituals, norms and behaviors expected of visitors to Congressional offices. He also explained the crowded calendars of our legislators, the need to be succinct and the importance of staying on message. If you didn’t know what to do, the fallback was to observe and take your queue from Jacob. He would pull you through.

Second, make sure you know what is important to your hosts. They are going to listen to you to the extent that they think you have something important to tell them….stuff they need to know to be successful–not stuff that is just important to you. For example, legislators are about bang for the buck. They have busy schedules and people have lots of issues. The more pervasive the problem you bring, the more important it is to them and the more likely solving it will get them re-elected. So don’t talk about you, talk about how the issue impacts as many people as possible….. In this case, why it is important to the county.

Third, understand how people in this new setting learn and speak in their language, not yours. I remember this well from my days in Wisconsin: Legislators learn by constituents’ story telling much more than they do through data analysis. I was trained in my world to do just the opposite- to put my faith in carefully collected and analyzed data, but I saw stories kill data in legislative settings all the time. If you wanted to win with legislators you had to bring them citizens who could effectively tell stories that were consistent with the data. The whole Central Florida Partnership trip was an exercise in this…here were a broad cross-section of regular everyday citizen’s, not paid lobbyists, visiting their representatives to tell them stories they needed to hear to ensure America’s future success. Charts, tables, regression coefficients, standard errors, and effect sizes need not apply.

These are lessons every student needs to learn to be effective in new settings, but the biggest payoff from the trip for me was the ideas, insights and new contacts I got from talking to people I don’t normally hang out with. The two-day trip generated ideas for three blog posts: Today’s post, next Monday’s post on Shawn Seipler and Clean the World, and a yet-to-be scheduled post on very successful people who think it is important to go back to school and finish their degree. I also got ideas for two new degree programs (my staff will be thrilled to read this) as well as some constructive feedback on one of our signature programs that would have been difficult to get in other settings. Finally, I met several influential people who would now take my call when I wanted to engage them in some way for the benefit of UCF. All in all, an efficient use of my time and the college’s money.

Take Professors Not Classes

Last week Greg Mathison invited me to sit in on his Change Management class in the Professional Masters in Management Program downtown at the Executive Development Center on Pine Street. They were doing a presentation on Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring’s book “The Innovative University.” Greg knew the topic would be of interest to me and I wanted to engage students in a dialogue about the future of higher education in the face of so many potentially disruptive forces.

At one point in the students’ presentation, they had a line on a slide that read:

Take Professors not Courses

Being skeptical of the many versions of “the sky is falling in higher education”, I thought well at least the authors got that right.

Taking courses is about filling out plans of study. That is about graduating. Taking professors is about gaining insight and perspective. That is at the core of higher education.

Every professor knows exactly what I mean. They were someone’s student and can tell you who. I am a James Stern/Paula Voos/Craig Olson student. This matters in how I view the world, seek solutions, and define success.

You want to take professors who will make you their student. Doing that will help make you unique.

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 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, infrastructure needs and the elimination of economics from the general education requirements. In each of these 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 impressed with 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 send pairs of faculty to restaurants for lunch, but that given our discussion I was willing to set aside some money from the Dean’s Excellence Fund to buy pizza or sandwiches for small groups of people from different departments to discuss an issue of common interest or concern. So here’s the deal:

1. If you want to hold such a working lunch, you need to get three other faculty or staff to sign on to a meeting. The four people must come from at least three different departments so that we know the issue cuts across a number of disciplines. The group cannot be a standing committee of the college or a subset of a standing committee. I want it to be an organic group of at least four.

2. The issue must pertain to students, teaching, curriculum, cross-disciplinary research, or infrastructure.

3.Email your names and a short description of the agenda to Anne Marie at least a week prior to the proposed meeting.

4. I will review the request and if it meets the guidelines, we will send out a notice to all faculty with the topic, time and place of the gathering so other interested parties can attend. People will need to RSVP by the day of the before the meeting if they want a lunch. We will buy up to ten. If the meeting draws the interest of more than ten people we will provide an alternate forum for the topic.

5. It is the responsibility of the four requesters of the meeting to provide me with an appropriate summary of the meeting including action steps. The summary will be due one week from the end of the meeting. This summary will be posted on our website.

6. Failure to comply with item 5 will bar all four of the original requesters from being part of another group to request a similar meeting.

7. If you do post the summary and justification for a subsequent meeting exists, you can request a follow-up working lunch under these same rules.

It will be that simple.

This policy will be in place for calendar year 2013. At the end of 2013 we will evaluate the program and decide whether to extend it for another year. So get talking.

The Reboot Button

I spent most of last week in south Florida. We have many alums in the greater Miami area and lots of high school students (and their helicopter parents) wanting to come to UCF. One of our south Florida alums is Mitch Less, a partner at Grant Thornton. Mitch is accountant to the Miami Marlins, Southern Wine and Spirits, and the World, to name just a few. He opened many doors for us and hosted a dinner with a small group of committed alums. Most importantly, he is an avid baseball fan: but I digress.

I travel a fair bit for my job and my meetings with alums and friends of the college have a variety of purposes. One is to invite industry experts to speak in our classes and mentor our students. Another is to develop employment opportunities for our graduates and provide talent for our partner firms. I am also looking to secure the financial and human resources necessary to develop signature programs for the college as well as provide platforms upon which our alums can network and further their careers. Finally I am always in search of ideas on how we can differentiate our students in ways that will appeal to our stakeholders and enhance the school’s reputation. This inevitably leads to a discussion of what students need in order to succeed in today’s business world.

What struck me on our four-day trip to south Florida was that despite the diversity of business models employed by our alums and hosts, there is a great deal of consensus on what students need to succeed. People make money and contribute to our economy in a diversity of ways. Only a few of these models get much attention in business school. So for example alumnus Steve Felkowitz and his partner UCF parent Martin Sutker, run a global sourcing company named Atico that designs everything from gift wrap, novelties, and holiday decorations, to small appliances and lawn furniture. Manufacturers from around the world then produce the products for retailers who place orders with Atico and sell the items under private labels. If you have bought any general merchandise in CVS or Walgreens, you have bought something from Atico. Steve and Martin add value and make money by understanding market trends, employing analysts and designers, and having a vast network of manufacturers who can create products on demand for retailers looking for the next hot item at the lowest possible cost.

If Steve and Martin represent the “old economy”, alum Zach Hoffman represents the new. Zach freely admits that he doesn’t understand the physical business world, but his company Exults Inc., understands the virtual version of commerce. His grasp of the internet, search engine optimization, social media and mobile platforms is leading to a rapidly expanding client base and new regional offices in the northeast and west coast. Zach lives in an entirely different world than Steve, but both survive and thrive because of their ability to recognize opportunity, stay ahead of the curve and adapt to evolving conditions.

Perhaps this is why Steve, Martin, and Zach (as well as several others we met) hit on common themes for developing qualities in students that will lead to their success: a forward-looking orientation that recognizes trends; a willingness to take risks, communicating a compelling vision succinctly to others, networking with purpose, and cultivating both a persistence and adaptability in executing your business. It isn’t enough to focus on today they noted, you have to know how to reinvent your company to be able to compete for tomorrow. Steve put this colorfully when he commented that too many people from today’s video game generation were sacrificing perspective in the pursuit of persistence: “They want to beat that game really badly and continually hit the reboot button in an effort to reset the game and win, but rarely do they step back to ask themselves why they failed last time and alter their strategy.” When he said this I immediately thought of my meeting with the Miami Marlins and what Michel would say…. hmm, but then I digress…

What is College For?

I am hosting my second Tweetup of the semester on November 19th. It is one of the ways I try to connect with students, understand their aspirations and get feedback on the UCF experience. You can sign up by clicking (here). This Tweetup will focus on building a unique culture for the College: one that will help develop a distinctive set of qualities on our graduates that advantage Knights in their careers and life.

But before you attend the Tweetup, I’m asking that you watch this video from Seth Godin: Seth is talking about primary and secondary education and how it was designed to ensure that we had a sufficient number of workers for our industrial society. I like this video for a variety of reasons, but the most relevant point for the Tweetup is that it shows how a culture was purposefully created that fostered certain qualities in people, qualities the economy of the time demanded and valued (e.g., respect, conformity).

Seth goes on to note that we are no longer an industrial society. That today, the American economy has a different set of drivers. So, he rightly asks in today’s world: “What is school for?” It is an excellent question. I doubt he means that we should stop teaching math or science or English. I also doubt that he thinks we should stop trying to create well-disciplined minds capable of solving complex problems. What he is really asking is: what set of characteristics should school foster in today’s students? Once we understand that, we can create physical spaces, design learning experiences, develop rituals, and extol role models that will help create a culture that supports our goals.

In searching for a unique culture for our College, I am essentially asking “What is College for?” Like Seth, I’m not asking whether or not we should teach students about net present value or the four Ps of marketing. I am asking: what qualities do we want to instill in our students? Which ones are most important to their success in life and which of these qualities do we choose to emphasize in building a distinctive brand for the College?

Let’s talk.

TweetBack Thursday: The Challenge of Staying Current

My very first UCF Twitter follower was @C_Pritchard.  He has a certain status with me. Not just because he was a trend-setter but because he asks really good questions.  Clayton asked me to comment on “the challenge of a university to stay current to the ever changing skill needs of the market.”  Wow, Clayton books could be written on that topic: I’m sure several have.  I can’t do justice to your question in a single blog post but let me make three observations about how I think about this topic.

First, a surprising amount of the “skills needed to succeed in the market” really haven’t changed much over time.  When you look at data from employers about what they look for in new hires, the same things appear year after year: (1) good communication skills; (2) the ability to work in team settings; (3) an analytic mind that understands numbers, (4) the ability to creatively solve problems and (5) the ability to motivate others.  This is why I am so big on students developing good conceptual frameworks and strong general skills.   Writing, math, and platform skills never go out of style.  Critical thinking from a well-disciplined mind and problem solving abilities are important in all work environments (and life in general).   Make sure you get these while you are in school.   Your career will take you in several, often unexpected, directions.  These are difficult to predict. An investment in general skills will see you through: The rest is largely context.

This gets me to my second point.  A good college education makes you a life-long learner.  It teaches you how to learn and adapt.  How to take things you are familiar with in one context and apply them to a different environment.  So, if you got a good marketing class and a good IT class, you should be able to learn what you need to know about internet marketing on your own.  If you feel you need some additional help, take an executive education class.  Executive programs and workshops are far better at getting you up to speed on emerging issues and practices than traditional college courses.  University courses tend to be about expanding your conceptual tool kit, developing general skills and giving you information about best practices in established areas.  They are not well-suited to just in time learning on emerging trends in highly specialized areas like IT where practices change quickly.

None of this is meant to suggest that curriculum does not change in response to business needs. Colleges of business rely on their advisory boards: groups of accomplished business professionals in their fields to ensure that program content is both rigorous and relevant. These boards can be very helpful in identifying general trends across industries that suggest modifications in curriculum: things such as the ability to work in cross-functional teams, entrepreneurial thinking, or an increase in demand for people with mathematical modeling skills.   What is important is to identify trends and new fundamental skill sets that are being employed across a variety of industries—things that if taught will increase the employment prospects of students across a broad spectrum of employers, not just for a few.

So in a sense, university curricula are conservative by design: We want to make sure you understand the fundamental concepts and principles of your chosen profession.  The practice of business can be trendy at times.  Theory X was replaced by Theory Y which was replaced by Theory Z.  Total quality management had its day:  Lean manufacturing too.  Six Sigma has its followers.  Big data and sustainability are currently all the rage.  It’s hard to guess which of these things will persist, which will evolve and which will fade away, but if you get a good organizational behavior course and understand statistics you’ll be able to adapt to the latest practice whatever it might be.