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At OUF 2017: How to Spark Innovation II

“Ten with Ken” continues from the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair. In part 2 of a 3-part series, Ken Steele talks to a dozen Ontario university leaders about creating the environment on-campus in which creative thinking, entrepreneurship and innovation mindset can flourish. In discussion, these senior administrators identified 10 key ways to help foster an environment more amenable to innovation, including ideas about people, special initiatives, organizational values and culture.

Part 1 explored ways to foster meaningful dialogue on campus, and to listen to campus stakeholders, including front-line staff and particularly students.
(See part 1)

In this episode, we hear the next 4 recommendations:

3) Seek diverse global perspectives.

Many leaders emphasize that diverse perspectives, and international experiences, help to prompt new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. We should be “militant proponents of diversity”, and should encourage staff, faculty and students to travel abroad.

4) Foster openness, transparency and trust.

“Insecurity does not breed courage.” Staff and faculty need a level of trust, often born of collegiality, for them to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. In particular, the university board and senate need strong channels of communication and cooperation.

5) Recognize and share innovative practices.

Innovation often occurs at the periphery, in pilot projects or experimental institutes. Leaders need to “showcase” innovators, even when their efforts have not been successful. Centres for Teaching and Learning offer best practices and the exchange of ideas among faculty. With luck, good ideas and an openness to change will become contagious.

6) Clear the path for innovators.

Senior leadership can’t push a top-down innovation agenda, but they can help prevent the institution from “pushing back” against new ideas. Policies need change. Resisters need reassurance. Innovators need authority. Senior admin can “run interference” like a football running back. Often innovators are difficult people for others to deal with, and leaders need to disarm the forces of resistance and negotiate a truce on campus.


Those are the first 6 ideas – but there are 4 more! Stay tuned for part 3, or subscribe to ensure you don’t miss it.

Special thanks to the university spokespeople who took time with us at the OUF. Their insights are reduced to sound bytes in this “essay” episode, but we will soon be releasing their individual interviews as standalone “bonus” episodes:

Algoma University – Acting President Celia Ross
Brock University – Provost Thomas Dunk
Carleton University – VP Enrollment Management Janice O’Farrell
Lakehead University – President Brian Stevenson
Laurentian University – Interim President Pierre Zundel
Nipissing University – President Mike DeGagné
OCAD University – President Sara Diamond
Queen’s University – Provost Benoit-Antoine Bacon
Trent University – President Leo Groarke
University of Waterloo – President Feridun Hamdullahpur (previously released)
University of Waterloo – Registrar Cathy Newell-Kelly
University of Windsor – President Alan Wildeman

Thanks also to my patient videographer, John Matthias, and to Deanna Underwood and the organizers of the OUF for allowing us to keep coming back!

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