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.

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