Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Move Deliberately

The secondary education system is undergoing seismic shifts, as mentioned in an aforementioned post. Tracey Dodenhoff’s discussion, University 2.0, offered another perspective; that of an entrepreneur who has parachuted into academia and is now reforming a University. She has been tasked with helping Northeastern better partner academia with business, to help them commercialize their research and learnings. Typically universities struggle with this, they are not institutions recognized for being agile and able to recognize the commercial viability of their ideas.

In the simplest sense, how do you get the ivory tower to use the word innovation, a world whose ideas can remain cloistered and armored by layers of politics and bureaucracy? Tracey recognized that the first place to start is in understanding the incentives that shape behaviors. If you can better align the incentives you can in turn change the behaviors that protect ideas that can be commercialized and expanded upon. Then one day she was taken aside and told, “move slowly, you’re a threat to people inside Northeastern.” Often, the uncomfortable changes and creative destruction that accompanies change is the crux of innovation. I asked her for some clarity on this point and she thoughtfully edited “move slowly” to say, “move deliberately.”

“You need to understand the stakeholders. Tap into their passion and dedication, you can’t fight them. Go into the situation with high expectations, your attitude will permeate.”

What Tracey is implicitly talking about is understanding and having empathy for her audiences. By listening and leveraging them as resources she can be an agent for change. Three key takeaways from her discussion:

1. Establish relationships
2. Be ready to propose new models
3. Understand internal incentive structures

In this way, she sees Northeastern University holistically, as an organism made up of many parts with slightly different motivations but aligned to grow and develop. In order to guide this growth you don’t have to necessarily move slowly, just deliberately. And with passion and high expectations.

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