Sitting in a theater in 1986, who didn’t want to be an elite military fighter pilot who could be in a 4g inverted dive with a MiG28? After almost 30 years, Top Gun still invokes excitement and childhood dreams of flying. It’s a movie whose soundtrack made us fearless, whose flybys made us rebellious, and whose karaoke scene made us foolish. Top Gun continues to draw a new generation of fans because it connects with us on a human level. We all have had to overcome the pressures of our past as we try to measure up to expectations while confronting our deepest fears. For one hour and fifty minutes, we imagine what can happen when we trust our gut instinct, live in the moment, and learn from our failures. Then…we grow up.
Suddenly, we find ourselves “…right into the [safety zone]”. Our passions are pushed aside as we follow our schedules and punch a clock. The exciting adventure of starting up a business and pushing ourselves beyond our capabilities is replaced with the ordinary, expected, and boring. Slowly, the organization has grown and settled into stagnation. The organization continues to grow, produce revenues, and increase its consumer base, but the organization’s “why” is lost in corporate structure, processes, and procedures. The most dangerous feeling is one of safety.
It seems like this safe zone is where we should all aspire to be, in a stable, predictable organizational structure. The danger with the safety zone is that it assumes the outside world is staying the same. When what you do every day becomes ordinary, when the rationale for improvement becomes expected, and when what you do becomes who you are, you’ve entered the safety zone. The safety zone promotes a false and sometimes fatal sense of security. We become comfortable. Meetings are conducted out of obligation. Innovation becomes too risky. Improvements are made to demonstrate compliance. These complacent organizations are in danger of being irrelevant, status quo, and unremarkable. Most of all, they eventually lose consumer interest.
A shift in consumer mentality has resulted in organizations needing to communicate their “why”. This shift affects all kinds of organizations from retail, fast food, to, yes, higher education. People buy the passion behind the product first. So how can students distinguish one educational institution from the next? The answer…they can’t. The most distinguishing factor among many institutions begins and ends with clever marketing campaigns. Upon a closer look, the degrees are the same, they pledge the same quality, and promise the same support services.
Higher education is facing a difficult time of needing to prove its marketplace value while preparing students for an unknown future. In the middle of these pressures, individual institution’s passions are being discarded in favor of flying under the radar and trying to remain out of the headlines. Sometimes you should follow the rules and request a flyby, but other times, you just need to buzz the tower.
Institutions need to take a step back and look at their “why” and rekindle their unique purpose. It is impossible to see the opportunities ahead when the fear of losing the status quo prevents us from following our passion. It’s easy to be compliant when all you have to do is check a box; however, it’s a sign of leadership when an institution’s “why” defines its quality and longevity.
“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” ~ Simon Sinek
Do your students know your passion?