How to encourage out of the box thinking for a moribund and some might say dying sector? Yes, I’m referring to higher education, that which was previously so respected and loved by all (er, the well healed elite, anyway), now facing decay and slow petrification from total lack of new thinking and practice.
My belief is that in the name of collegiate consultation and endless (pointless) staff meetings Higher Education has putrified all fertile conditions for visionary projects or people. Any visionary person, after dedicating an amount of time and loyalty to their institution will sooner or later leave as no room exists for any who might want to ‘try, fail, try, fail better…’ with any personally constructed vision. We only ever have creativity by team, producing camels not horses.
My own drift on this comes from my days in the music scene as a pro singer songwriter/group leader type person. To say that my managers/producers/record company people advised me against any ‘team work’ was putting it lightly. Not that they wanted to create a loathsome selfish gloatmonster, but they knew the importance of singular vision, of effortless personality and identity-led ideas. They knew the power of engagement and empathy that these kinds of ideas and people tend to ellicit. Since then I’ve grown up and worked the past few years for a Big University, and I’ve noticed time and again that they just have no clue about this, and consequently die on the cross of committee or team driven creative concepts as predictably as day follows night. (NB I’ve written another piece on Education and Rocknroll, where I argue that the latter has a lot to teach the former.)
To even try to attempt to discuss the problem of visionless-ness is fraught with pain and frustration. One is met with looks of derision, self righteous horror and an attitude about the need to be a good team player, to consult your colleagues, to know that not only you have good ideas, but all this results in is a complete inertia on fresh approaches and new thinking. No one is permitted to create characterful new projects that are identifiably theirs. The dichotomy of this is that some senior managers who may enjoy a certain level of independence in their role (or complete apathy from above) seem to be able to launch all manor of ill conceived, out of touch, poorly carried out amateur projects which would definitely benefit from their colleagues input. I’m not against team or colleague input per se (I believe passionately for example in user requirements and user success evaluation in technical projects), but for projects of vision, I think it’s often the kiss of death. Ideas by committee result in the stone tablet pledges that the Labour party recently paraded – this was almost certainly thought up by a committee.
So who gets to be visionary and independent? Perhaps I’m talking about needing to have a demonstrably successful track record of ideas which show vision. After all, if any old Tom, Dick or Jeanette was allowed to run rampant with their turgid take on inventiveness we’d probably all be out of a job very soon. No, I’m perhaps saying that once a person has succeeded beyond their ‘normal duties’ and done something recognisably unique that no one else has achieved, maybe something that had significant organic buy-in from the rest of the company, perhaps those people should be encouraged and given more freedom. Sadly, the opposite is always the case, at least in your average Big University, and those of vision leave in search of more fertile pastures.