Windows of Opportunity for Doing

By John Lawlor

A longtime client recently shared with me why he believes his institution has been able to innovate even while peer institutions seem stuck. He noted that in so many campus cultures, there’s a fear of retribution that fosters an inability to act. But if you create a culture that celebrates—and rewards—individuals who seize opportunities for doing, success will follow. Such a culture has definitely been a catalyst for success at my client’s institution, yet a different ethos permeates much of higher education: discuss and discern, discuss and discern, break, discuss and discern, discuss and discern. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The Lawlor Group has frequently advocated that colleges and universities must embrace an edupreneurial spirit of doing to create distinction, enhance value, and generate attention and interest. But my client noted that at campuses where there’s a heightened sensitivity to variance and volatility, active doing is shaped by a narrow perspective that is heavily based on the limited roles and responsibilities of individuals—which can result in miscalculated doing. (Or simply more discussing and discerning, which can ultimately lead to an institutional undoing.) Granted, sometimes the ethos of doing is simply tactical in nature and doesn’t create the synergistic benefits of strategic initiatives. But doing always can be illuminating as learning opportunities and teachable moments that lead to continuous improvement.

For better or worse, the reality of today’s marketplace conditions is forcing more colleges and universities to innovate. Those that actively create campus cultures of discussing, discerning, and doing will have a greater likelihood of thriving—because the road to success requires actively gathering market intelligence to make informed decisions about what to DO.