Sometimes we become so focused on making change perfect that action is never taken. Then when half-hearted attempts at change are made, they result in abandonment when faced with opposition. We tell ourselves that the mountain is too high to climb or the river is too deep to swim across or that the cause is no longer worth the effort. When forward movement is met with resistance the easiest solution tends to be giving up.
This response to change is experienced within all industries, but even more so within higher education when change involves a collaborative effort by many, often with competing interests. Recently, we have seen the rise of MOOCs, the rebirth of competency based education, the attempt at transparency through the development of a federal rating system, and the release of lists disclosing institutions that have been placed on cash monitoring. These actions are all in response to making higher education more accessible, transparent, relevant, and affordable.
The changes needed in higher education will not be answered through a singular solution. Higher education needs a variety of solutions that serve the needs of an ever changing student population. Higher education is missing an openness to trying and allowing ideas to help us fail forward. While grandiose solutions such as free tuition may produce positive results, higher education is in need of ideas that are sustainable while providing a solid foundation for the future.
Sometimes the best approach to addressing the need for change is to take action. The idea may not be perfect, but those ideas that stay on paper are worthless. Higher education needs to encourage intelligent failures. Intelligent failures are those ideas that are implemented and, while not perfect, allow institutions to learn about the needs of students and use valuable data to make necessary improvements. Often we spend too much time worrying about failing that no action is ever taken. Innovation requires risk. Intelligent failure provides the foundation for effective change.
Thomas Edison was told by his teachers that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He went on to hold more than 1,000 patents and invented devices that changed the world. We need to keep trying, if for no other reason than, for that one idea that changes higher education and for those students who are going to change the world.
How does your institution encourage intelligent failure?