by • April 18, 2012 • Leading, Leaders and Leadership, Life As I Know It, Professional DevelopmentComments (2)1593

What Next? Why Not?

I’ve been following some of the recent conversations around innovation in higher education with much interest over the past days and weeks. I am continually inspired by the brilliant ideas and unyielding passion those I follow & engage with on Twitter have in these discussions. There seems to be considerable desire for change.

Here’s the problem: How do we move from ‘wouldn’t it be cool if …’ to ‘look at this cool thing we did …’?

Here’s my challenge (and perhaps my fear): I don’t know if we can … yet. 

While the dialogue is rich, engaging and full of good ideas, it is only, in reality, a small piece of the puzzle. Why can’t we get beyond the conversation?

The conversation, the dialogue, the ongoing discussion are creating a problem, and potential solutions, that is bigger than us. There now exists this almost unattainable notion of the problem and what could ‘solve it’. The idea that we need to ‘fix higher education’ is, for many, a large, daunting task. When faced with such a seemingly impossible task, where do we even begin?


We begin not by pursuing the solution, but by wrangling the problem. 

I’m not going to make any attempts here to conceptualize what the ‘problem’ is with higher education today (if you follow me on Twitter you should have some idea of what I think already). What I’m getting at here is that until we can conceptualize a problem that is well defined and tangible, it becomes nearly impossible to create a ‘solution’. Much like I often do in my assessment work, we need to drill down this overarching goal into a measurable, manageable and meaningful challenge.

Why do we need to do this? We already know something’s wrong – let’s fix it. 

We’ve known there’s something wrong for a long time. We’ve written about it, talked about it, hosted conferences about it and everything in between.

The more we talk, I fear, the worse it gets. 

Talking about it, around it, in spite of it, through it, creates a larger and more amorphous, more intangible ‘thing’ that we need to work on.

Creating a problem bigger than ourselves is the problem. 

Once the problem gets too big, the fear not only of change, but of any action is increased. This massive problem, we figure, requires a huge amount of work by people with intelligence, resources, time, etc. that we just don’t have (and, sadly, we think we never will).

We’re talking ourselves right out of any motivation to make change because we’re setting an impossible ideal. 

So, what exactly is the problem? How do we talk about this challenge in a way that makes it something that we can overcome? I’ve got some ideas, but I want to hear from you.

Comment below or Tweet me. I’d say let’s keep the conversation going, but I’m not sure that’s what we need (this time).


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2 Responses to What Next? Why Not?

  1. Anne says:

    I completely agree that we need to focus and prioritize the smaller pieces of the “wrong” puzzle. We had a meeting this morning about an assessment project and there were a lot of amazing ideas and questions brought up but several times we had to reel ourselves back in and agree that some things had to wait until the next round or become their own project. I think the hardest part is making sure that we follow up and don’t let all those great ideas fall through the cracks.

  2. […] in April of 2012, I wrote this post about the challenge of creating problems, questions and ideas for change that are bigger than […]

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