At OUF 2017: How to Spark Innovation I


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Ten with Ken hits the road again to attend the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair, the largest PSE consumer show in North America. This year we spoke with a dozen university presidents and their designates about the latest innovations on their campuses, trends they see emerging over the next decade, and in particular, about how college or university leaders can nurture a culture of innovation on campus.

In part 1 of a 3-part series, Ken Steele talks to a dozen Ontario university leaders about creating the environment on-campus in which creative thinking, entrepreneurship and innovation mindset can flourish. Higher ed has a thousand-year tradition of being thoughtful, cautious, and somewhat perfectionist in its pursuit of excellence. As a result, universities in particular have minimal tolerance for risk, financial or otherwise. In discussion, these senior administrators identified 10 key ways to help foster an environment more amenable to innovation, including ideas about people, special initiatives, organizational values and culture.

In this episode, we hear them discuss the first 2 recommendations:

1) Foster meaningful dialogue on campus.

Make room to discuss the big ideas, trends and potential innovative approaches. Hold off-site retreats to get people away from the everyday realities, or bring in external speakers to talk about emerging trends. (Ken is a big fan of this idea, naturally!) We hear about Carleton University’s “Leaders Program,” that brings together faculty and admin personnel to work collaboratively on solutions to “wicked” problems.

2) Listen to campus stakeholders.

Leaders must be careful to ensure they do not assume they have all the answers. Lasting, significant innovation almost always arises from the front lines, and senior administration’s role is to seek out those ideas wherever they might be. It’s vital to hear from diverse voices on campus, and especially to listen to students! Hearing from diverse perspectives, debating new and radical ideas, is in many ways core to the mandate of even the most traditional university.

Those are the first 2 ideas – but there are 8 more! Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, or subscribe to ensure you don’t miss them.

Special thanks to the university spokespeople who took time with us at the OUF. Their insights are reduced to sound bytes in this “essay” episode, but we will soon be releasing their individual interviews as standalone “bonus” episodes:

Algoma University – Acting President Celia Ross

Brock University – Provost Thomas Dunk

Carleton University – VP Enrollment Management Janice O’Farrell

Lakehead University – President Brian Stevenson

Laurentian University – Interim President Pierre Zundel

Nipissing University – President Mike DeGagné

OCAD University – President Sara Diamond

Queen’s University – Provost Benoit-Antoine Bacon

Trent University – President Leo Groarke

University of Waterloo – President Feridun Hamdullahpur (previously released)

University of Waterloo – Registrar Cathy Newell-Kelly

University of Windsor – President Alan Wildeman

Thanks also to my patient videographer, John Matthias, and to Deanna Underwood and the organizers of the OUF for allowing us to keep coming back!

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