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Constance Iloh

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Innovation for the Sake of Innovation? How Higher Education Is Stifling Its Market Potential

“The university is where great ideas go to die.”

One year ago I heard Krisztina “Z” Holly share this statement, which was shared to her by one of her students.

This sentiment gave me pause. Of any social institution, why would it be universities where ideas meet their end? Isn’t this one of the sites where ideas are supposed to be cultivated and nurtured?

I found myself agreeing with this student for multiple reasons, and for some of these reasons postsecondary education is still a shadow of what it could be. I list below ways in which innovation can help institutions of higher education tap into their potential.

Involving Students In the Creation of Innovation

In a recent lecture by Michael B. Horn, he shared with us the importance of businesses understanding what people hire a good or service to do. It made me inquisitive as to how this resonates with postsecondary education.

What are students hiring higher education to do?

How do we create sustainable innovation designed to better serve student needs and goals?

These two questions can only be solved by involving students in the creation process, from beginning to end. While higher education may understand students as consumers, in order to be productive in fostering innovation to serve them, students should also be viewed as important stakeholders and invaluable sources of input.

Using Innovation As a Tool for Specialization, Not Standardization

I mean this sentiment in two regards. First, innovation should be utilized by institutions as a way to further highlight their unique value propositions and core competencies. If it is innovation for the sake of competition, one might wonder at what point do universities compromise their important differences to become like other institutions.

Second, this statement pertains to serving diverse student populations. I am troubled by the rhetoric surrounding innovation in higher education as simply a scalable tool to make everyone learn the same way. This neglects the distinctive backgrounds, perspectives, learning needs, learning styles, and contributions of the individual student amongst a group of many. When we harness innovation to specialize, we free ourselves from the challenges and lost opportunities that come with standardization.

Taking Risks So We Don’t Risk Stifling Creativity

With every innovation, failure is a potential outcome. This may seem more daunting and terrifying for institutions with a lot at stake, but ideas are laden with the potential of disappointment. I have seen instances where fear of failure dictated every move in the creation process, leaving the original idea watered down and lifeless.

Such fear limits creativity, more than we know. Taking the time to foster and nurture creative ideas, separate from the pressures of always turning over a profit or getting a visible return on investment is essential. If we were to liken any innovation to a baby, it would need room to develop, the ability to make mistakes, and adapt in order for it to grow into something stronger. Moving forward, universities must go back to the love of developing ideas for the sake of ideas, where creativity can run wild and potentially flourish into something useful.

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