Not many people will remember Advanced Memory Systems, but in 1970, they introduced the 1,000-bit memory chip ahead of their rival, Intel. They were poised as a leader in the industry. In a rapidly changing, technologically-driven climate, being the first was an advantage. By late 1970, Intel entered the market with their 1103 memory chip. They were months behind the competition and it was far from a perfect product launch. Intel engineers worked around the clock to fix the initial problems with the 1103 memory chip. By 1973, Intel’s 1103 memory chip had become the best-selling semiconductor component in the world and was being used by nearly every major computer manufacturer.
While Intel may not have been first to the marketplace, they ultimately succeeded by doing one thing well. They delivered. They were disciplined. They focused on their available resources and produced consistent quality products. Intel understood early on that while innovation plays a vital role, it means little if quality does not exist. Intel knew they developed a superior product, but the key was being able to consistently deliver and prepare for unknown marketplace changes.
Higher education is facing various factors that are changing its perceived marketplace value. The word “innovation” is being used as though merely saying it will create the needed solution. Sometimes the innovation is not in integrating the latest technological advances or building better classrooms or unbundling the educational experience. While these are all viable prospects, sometimes the innovation is in re-imagining what can be accomplished with existing resources. We tend to think that improvements can only result from adopting external solutions. This could not be further from the truth.
Intel became the world leader in semi-conductor production not because they continued to produce profound innovations, but because they continued to refine their initial innovation. They focused on producing consistent, reliable quality products. Higher education does not need to reinvent the wheel. The wheel works. We like the wheel. The wheel gets us where we need to go.
Higher education needs to reimagine the wheel’s quality and reliability as it meets a changing student population. We need to repurpose existing resources and tackle challenges using the knowledge and skills within our control. Tuition costs are skyrocketing so let’s rethink the use of existing financial resources. Textbook costs are increasing so let’s rethink the use of open educational resources. Graduation rates are decreasing so let’s rethink how to streamline curriculum and make the best use of student prior learning.
We see successful businesses and attribute their success to one overnight innovation. The truth, however, is while the innovation lit the spark, their commitment to discipline in delivering a quality, reliable product that consistently meets consumer needs is what keeps the flame burning. We cannot predict the future, but we can use the resources in our control to thrive during challenging times.
“We are ultimately responsible for improving performance. We never blame circumstance; we never blame the environment.” ~ James C. Collins