Bugged by Little Things

Every once in a while there’s little teeny tiny things that bug the hell out of me. Today it was misspelling something in an email that went out to 30 professors.

I’m not so sure why it bothers me so much. Clearly I want to hold myself to some high standard–but the reason for that isn’t clear either. Am I trying to show off to someone? Do I just care about excellence that much? Or do I fear facing what I am without the purpose the high standard gives me?

Whether accurate or not the last one might be trying to read a little too much into one letter. However, I feel the point still stands on subjecting ourselves to more stress because we feel like we should. For clarity: misspellings absolutely contribute to things being harder to read understand, but this was one letter and it was quite clear what I meant. So, I’m subjecting myself to some degree of stress or self judgement over something I feel like I should, rather than something I really want to.

It sounds absurd in this scenario, but it happens all the time–mostly around being busy.

I’ve written about that a few times: [1] and [2]

On Self-Selecting Groups

Today we started making a plan to recruit next year’s UI Fellows. We settled on an information meeting that doubles as a screening opportunity. In the expected style, this isn’t going to be lecture-like, as we might find in a study abroad info session, but will give them a chance to interact with us and each other.

Ideally, this will allow us to ask some good questions to find out who would only be motivated by a free trip to California, and who really wants to make change on campus. I’m not entirely certain how we’re going to go about that one, but it’s achievable.

An interesting thing we came up with while figuring out how to find people for this info session was needing to define the psychograph of the right person. Many marketing approaches focus on easier to determine characteristics, like a book marketed toward 20-35 year old single men living in NYC or Boston. While that approach is meant to find specific people, it’s also meant to be a fairly large group because you’re selling things. Here, we need four out of around thirteen thousand.

Fortunately for us it’s quite easy to make that number smaller. Ideally, we’d be working with current freshmen and sophomores as to max out their time to make an impact. That gets us down to six thousand. If we use the intersection of that and students in the classes of professors on the innovators list, we’re likely down to tens of people–though we can’t know that for sure. Add that psychograph we’re down to probably 5 or less. That’s what we want.

We haven’t defined this psychograph yet, but I have a feeling it will be tough. Nearly everyone wants to be innovative, so many people falsely believe they’re creative while others have limiting beliefs saying they aren’t, and so many students are afraid of the word entrepreneurship.

Starting with innovation, how many people can even define it that well? I know I can’t–but I do know there’s quite a few ways to look at it. For better or worse it’s also a huge buzzword in higher ed. Every campus wants to encourage innovation because it looks good for them and its what the donors want. It’s the hot thing–like maker spaces. But what feels like it should be the obvious thing seems so easily lost–approaching the spread of innovation in an innovative way. There are the tried and true methods like creating a maker space, starting an entrepreneurship club or innovative organization none exist, or hosting workshops. The potential problem I see here is that these groups are self-selecting. It’s absolutely true that reaching 100% of people is impossible, but the self-selecting groups are going to do these things anyway.

To compound the above problem, how many people do we need to influence to consider a project successful? Is it in the Tim Ferriss book editing style where it takes five or six people to say they hate a section to consider taking it out but only one person to say they love it to keep it? Do we have some kind of minimum? It’s hard to say when turning even one person on to these ideas can possibly have a huge impact. It’s an unfortunate tradeoff at that point though–spending large amounts of time planning and executing things for the possibility that one person will take it to heart and change the world. But that’s the path we chose isn’t it?

I do know I rapidly changed the topic at the end, it’ll stay that way.

Thoughts From an Innovation Meetup

*University Innovation Fellows is a program out of the d.School at Stanford meant to create changemakers in higher education. Find them at universityinnovationfellows.org *

Earlier today I got home from an innovation fellows meetup at La Salle University. I’m a little jealous of their setup. They have 8ish fellows like we do at UD but they’ve really got the identity down. Unlike our experience of this being a thing we do, for them UIF is their main activity. Instead of how I do a bunch of different things and try to sneak in some side projects for UIF they’re just doing all innovation all the time.

I like that concept. In addition to the obvious big wins they have like the maker space, they seem to get along really well and are recognized as influencers by administration.

This isn’t to say that we’re undervalued or ignored at UD. It’s more like we get exactly what we ask for, and not much else. We have to see our projects through from ideation to completion and the check gets written for us. On paper this seems fantastic–I’m sure many people wish they had this type of setup. For some reason, however, we’re not taking that much advantage of it. I think it’s got to do with the community.

The more “successful schools” have the fellows do their own recruiting for the next year. This is different than UD, where a faculty member will pick a certain student and direct them to the application. This approach lacks community and can rely on extrinsic motivation if the faculty member mentions the annual meetup. I am definitely partially guilty here.

While extrinsic motivators can work, I think the motive here is important. If you read the manifesto (link), adding a line about “yeah I get to fly across the country to visit google” seems out of place. It’s designed for people who really truly want to and believe they can change the world, starting in higher ed. We’d then think that we have to have, cultivate, or recruit based on intrinsic motivation.

To go back a little in the story, I think of this as an issue because I felt like a real dumbass at the meetup this weekend when we had basically nothing to show for UD. I think the national meetup with 300 people we can definitely hide a little. But with 30 in a seminar setting, its much harder to find. This showed up a lot in the administration resistance and community building sessions. The two of us representing UD got to engage everyone else on our problems that seemed quite basic compared to what others were working with. Now, this isn’t a bad thing particularly as a school in its second year, but several wished they had our problem because it seems easy.

As for the solution, we have verbal confirmation that we can lead the recruitment. This likely won’t change the hand-picked nature we currently have, but it will allow them to engage the current fellows well before they’re asked to do so in the training. In effect, we want to focus our efforts on setting the next group up for success and somewhat cutting our losses on ourselves. This isn’t because we’re incapable, but that we weren’t and didn’t set (ourselves) up for success. To be quite honest I’m not sure what this solution is going to look like, but I’d love for it to engage different parts of campus than engineering and entrepreneurship. It’s weird how innovation can be so exclusive.