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At OUF 2017: How to Spark Innovation III

“Ten with Ken” continues from the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair. In part 3 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.

Part 2 continued by looking at 4 more important ways to foster an innovation culture, including seeking diverse and international perspectives, promoting openness and trust, recognizing and sharing innovative practices, and helping to clear the path for innovators, running interference against the forces of resistance on campus.

In this episode, we hear the final 4 recommendations, which are in many ways the most significant for senior campus administrators:

7) Promote strategic partnerships.

Several leaders emphasized the importance of “porosity” and connection with external communities, organizations, private sector companies and other kinds of educational institutions in order to bring innovative new perspectives and fast-track innovation on campus.

8) Use budget levers to support innovation.

Sometimes it comes down to money, to provide appropriate new spaces, resources, faculty release time, incentives, and promotion of innovative new ideas. But leaders need to be cautious what they incentivize, and of course it can be difficult to shift budget away from traditional departments and programs.

9) Hire for innovation.

In many ways, it all comes down to hiring, and senior administrators have a crucial responsibility to hire VPs, Deans, and others for status quo or for change. Finding the resources to hire more young faculty members, and hiring for diverse perspectives, are crucial ways to nurture innovation.

10) Accept some risk of failure.

Academic culture has a thousand-year tradition of excellence and perfectionism. In many ways the whole system is designed to reject or suppress radical change, and that very risk aversion may be the biggest challenge going forward. To promote experimentation and innovation on campus, leaders have to reduce the stigma of failure, stop assigning blame, and promote measured, informed risk-taking. Out-of-the-box thinkers often stumble in the early stages, but will wind up making the most significant contributions to their fields over a whole career.

We will continue this discussion in an upcoming episode from the campus of Simon Fraser University.

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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