One business writer whose name I could not track down, noted that in creative industries, we deal with what is essentially an all-volunteer workforce. What he meant to say is that to motivate people to work, he needs to create an environment where they are challenged, interested in problems they are solving, and enjoy working together. Otherwise talent just leaves and goes where it is more interesting. Or else, they stay, but you cannot make someone be creative. It is no longer just about pay. Money is a great motivator in the industrial society, where many jobs are routine, boring, and repetitive. Not so in the knowledge society.
Higher education is a creative industry, and the same observation applies. I realized long time ago that it is very hard to make faculty do something they do not want to do. And even if I could, people are not terribly effective in such situations. The best thing to do is support someone who already has a passion for something, or try to ignite the passion for a project I find important. People also do things out of the sense of solidarity with their colleagues or the sense of duty to the institution – this is how many service jobs are done. And this is not true just about faculty – support staff is a lot more productive and effective if they see the point of doing something, and find the work somewhat enjoyable.
However, colleges are weird organizations. They have the core of highly independent and creative workforce, but also a large bureaucratic structure that is a result of the complex logistical operations and government regulations. What happened to the higher ed is not unexpected, but still a difficult situation. Many of the creative types learned to be creative alone. They select a few things that are of interest to them, their research, or teaching, or a particular community engagement. And they shut the door. They cannot be blamed for it, because collaboration with others is time-consuming, is easily marred in politics, and just plain inefficient. I always rant about the way faculty committees often operate – meeting every month for an hour, and taking at least a year to accomplish anything.
Fun is a serious business; it is both the condition for our success and it is an important component of success. If we learn how to be creative together, we are in a great shape. First, because we will nto only retain, but attract the best people. Second, because fun is contagious, and our students will be happier here, more self-confident, and ultimately more successful in the field. This ability to be creative working with others is not just an extra bonus; it constitutes the core of a good educator.
Fun is a difficult business. Community building is like raising fragile, delicate, and exotic flowers. Many things can go wrong, and there is no good recipe. It is also difficult because of the organizational structures in place. Most people simply do not have the time, and our schedules do not easily match. Unlike young Google engineers, most of us have obligations at home. Some have to drive for an hour to get here.
I don’t have a lot of ideas on how to get there. As I said before, we should stop doing what does not have to be done. We need to become a lot more efficient and shift all routine and repetitive work on computers. And we need to set the priorities straight: this place has to be a lo of fun to work in, and this cannot be an individualistic type of fun only.