I was having a conversation the other day with another friend who works in higher ed communications. She was telling me how she didn’t really think much of what was targeted at higher ed folks was really related to her being at a small, rural serving school.
It went something like this, “At what point do you just say the hell with all of it? I mean, I don’t have a big budget or lots of people at my disposal. I can only do so much in a day/week/year. When is enough just enough?”
Well, I think it’s important to consider just what cutting edge is. I remember this Air Force instructor once telling me that “we don’t measure everyone’s success here on the same scale. We understand that some people start from way back and for them to reach a higher standard takes a lot more than some other people.”
As you consider your own higher education challenges, this seems like relevant advice. Not every school has to take every idea they watch on #higheredlive or read in eduguru and immediately try to implement it. It’s no different than watching a cooking show. Work with me and I’ll try to illustrate.
Celebrity chefs make it look easy. They show the right way to do it and whip it up real nice. When you do it at home, it probably doesn’t look as good and the reactions from those in your house might not match those on the TV screen. (For instance, if your kids or significant others are fussy eaters, expect grimaces…) It’s no different than trying to sell something new to your own constituencies. You’ll get some grumbling and some grimaces. Working in the kitchen will get hot at times.
What I told her is that the key to evaluating the cutting edge doesn’t have to reach some sort of bleeding edge. You don’t have to measure your award-winning project against one that cost six times what yours did at a school far away from where you are. It’s about assessing your own institutional realities, challenges and goals to craft solutions that are relevant.
This conversation prompted an email where I wrote something worth sharing here:
1. Do your homework: If you know the institution, you’ll be able to really assess what’s wrong and how to fix it in a responsive way rather than a reactionary one. Your awesome project might be great for your resume and make a great topic, but the ones that resonate actually fix problems and give us a reason to listen.
2. Find Allies: This should be whoever you work for and/or with, but the whole adage of more heads together rings true here.
3. Plan: Here’s a four-letter word that you need to learn to love. It can be easy to want to shoot from the hip and just start doing things. But you can’t know your direction or communicate it, without knowing where you want to go and why.
We can learn from experts and let their insights guide us. But when it comes down to it, you have to run your own kitchen. Small steps are often better than no steps at all, but you have to plot where you want to go if you want to get there.
The bottom line is recognizing that you can’t make someone else’s wins necessarily fit you. It doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them; pick and carve what work.