University Web Developers

University Web Developers

Innovation comes at the oddest times; in the middle of the night, in the shower, on a walk or even when chatting with friends or colleagues. This spark is the energy that that drives creative types; designers, writers, programmers, entrepreneurs, etc. When creatives grab hold of an idea, they can run with it until the wee hours of the morning or blow an entire weekend on it with little concern or remorse for time. It's fun. It's what makes their job fun. Many times it's why they choose their profession in the first place.

Progressive organizations embrace this type of wild-eyed, out-of-the-box innovative play realizing that this environment generates ideas, products and services that can ultimately benefit the organization itself. Then there is also the general moral boost, camaraderie and psychological benefits of working in an environment that embraces personal innovation.

It is well documented that Google, Inc. gives its engineers up to 20 percent of their work time to simply experiment with things that may not have anything to do with work. That is one full day per week to work on their wildest ideas. Not only does it spur innovation, it actually increases productivity on the regular word-a-day projects. This scenario works very well for Google, with half of their products coming out of "20 percent" time.

Bringing it to a hypothetical point... what if you find yourself in a politically-charged environment with really great people but the spirit of collaboration just isn't there... yet.  You can almost see it, like an undercurrent, but you can't quite touch it.

So I ask -- how do you establish a work environment more conducive to this type of nonconformal thinking, cross-department collaboration and innovative experimentation?

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Good question. This is a problem I struggle with on a daily basis where I work. Our political climate goes beyond apathy to outward hostility to anyone who suggests change (name have been listed as needing to be fired at public meetings in front of hire-ups). 

 

Given our problems about the only thing that has kept us moving forward is the right personalities in a couple of key places. Fortunately the top 3 people in my area are some of the best managers I've ever seen. Without them I don't know what would be done...

Chris,

 

Wow, is about all I can say. Glad you have the wonderful three.  

 

I feel I work in a culture that can evolve, however the speed of change in the tech and social areas is much faster than our cultural evolution.  There needs to be a paradigm shift at the top to embrace an environment of innovation campus wide.

 

I will be patient.

Patience and a good sense of humor can go a long way in a corporate culture that is less than desirable.

This is something I'm struggling with as well. right now. We have an IT department trying to take more of the web "pie" in their conservative (supportable, maintainable, low-risk) style. This from an university that is trying to brand itself as "innovative, unconventional, risk-taking". Thankfully we have a new associate VP in Communications who seems to really get what we should be doing with our web space.

What I'm pushing for is a vision of the web focused on the user experience, and using that to drive everything we do (even if it might be a bit inconvenient from a technical perspective).

We also have a lot of smart people working very independently. One of my challenges is working to get those people to collaborate. I think of it as trying to herd cats - our problem is that we have a lot of dogs in the way (IT managers, Communications specialists etc). Not that there's anything wrong with dogs, just that the cats don't want to play with them too much :)

I was interviewing a student yesterday who suggested something like that Google 20% concept. I'm all for encouraging our staff to come up with ideas and start working on them.

Herding cats and juggling kittens while walking through a sea of dogs.  

 

You know, if any one of us can come up with a presentation outline making a case for creating an environment of innovation and maybe even some basic steps, and or all of us could you it.  If I make this a blog post it will come off as a rant.  We need to make a case for others like us.

 

Let's keep this thread going... we may get somewhere.

Outside of my department there is a lot of that going on. The old guard just doesn't get it.

I have found in higher ed's collaborative world that innovation needs to be based on trust.  If you don't have trust, you will not be allowed to take any risk.  If your managers aren't trusted, you are in trouble.  Gaining trust has nothing to do with being "right" or "competent"...it's all about how you treat people when you succeed and how you react when you fail. Sometimes, gaining trust means doing things you disagree with.

For me, it's a matter of leadership.  Most web shops are planted firmly in the "services" category.  They don't have the ability to make leadership decisions that have meaningful impact on the business challenges at hand.  Instead, they are treated as service providers that "do what they are told".   I posted on this a while back...I think it's really relevant:

http://www.sixsimplequestions.com/2010/12/service-vs-strategy/

 

Another issue in higher ed is lack of goals.  If you can establish common, numerical goals, innovation gets a lot easier to evaluate.  For all its love of methodology and stats, higher education is really bad at establishing goals.

 

 

Rob,

Thanks for you very helpful comments and link.  I absolutely agree.  

I am currently working on a blog post or presentation titled "Web Evolution at the Speed of Change" where I review the theory of Accelerated Change, particularly how it affects our industry, and its impacted by leadership. You will notice that the second bullet (below) addresses trust as part of the authority and responsibility to initiate change.

Web technology managers require a few primary things to keep any major organization competitive at the Speed of Change:

  • The ability to stay on top of major trends   -   Time
  • The authority and responsibility to initiate change   -   Trust
  • The resources to accommodate change   -   Money
  • well coordinated oversight body   -   Cooperation
  • A nimble approval process   -   Organization
  • The permission to fail, occasionally   -   Freedom

I welcome any comments that any of you may have in this area.

Jay

 

 

 

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