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Nov 13, 2017

How do you make things happen?

In the course of any given week, I run through several various good ideas, each could be clearly beneficial to our College if implemented. Being a witness of a new idea is special; it is the most fun part of my day, no doubt. They may come from one person, or born out of a conversation – regardless of the origin, it is a special moment that makes me feel alive.

However, what happens next is the most interesting part. It is the process of turning an idea into a project. In one’s personal life, it is an easy transition – if you decide to go to San Francisco for the weekend, you know it is doable, and steps to getting there are obvious. It is not so in the context of a complex organization.

There should be a little gap between you have an idea and the time you decided to go forward with it. Many ideas seems to be charming in their infancy, but lose their appeal later. So, it is important to ask yourself a couple of days later – is this still a good idea? My first instinct is to jump on any idea that seems unique and original, so I have to fight that urge, unless it is easy to do.

The most critical part is to figure out who will do it (and why would they want to?), can they do it, and what other resources are needed. By necessity, deans have to toe a fine line: we really want to support any good initiatives, and yet we have to be careful not to be dragged into a resource pit. Our resources are not just money, but also staff and faculty time. Those are always limited, and if you commit them to A, you by definition remove them from B. I am always suspicious to projects that are very cheap or free, unless it is something an individual faculty member has a passion and skills for. On the benefits side, we have to take a hard look – what is in it for us, the collective us? Do we get exposure, good PR, do we cultivate a potential client, a partner, a friend? Do we create value for the community, and is anyone going to know about it? These are never exact calculations, but they are literally, questions about the two sides of a scale.

Does it work? Well, in my experience, even with the most careful estimated, between a third and a half of all new projects will fail, delay, or not achieve the intended aims. I have never seen a problem with that, and it is heartening to see more and more interest in failure in management literature. Just google for something like Google failures and you will see. Check also the Fail-fast philosophy. We need to learn to fail fast, so we are not wasting time and resources on dead-end initiatives. Yet if you apply too much critical analysis, all your ideas will die before they are even tried.

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