From thinking to tinkering: The grassroots of strategic information systems

What follows is a long overdue summary of Ciborra (1992). I think it will have a lot of insight for how universities implement e-learning. The abstract for Ciborra (1992) is

When building a Strategic Information. System (SIS), it may not be economically sound for a firm to be an innovator through the strategic deployment of information technology. The decreasing costs of the technology and the power of imitation may quickly curtail any competitive advantage acquired through an SIS. On the other hand, the iron law of market competition prescribes that those who do not imitate superior solutions are driven out of business. This means that any successful SIS becomes a competitive necessity for every player in the industry. Tapping standard models of strategy analysis and data sources for industry analysis will lead to similar systems and enhance, rather than decrease, imitation. How then should “true” SISs be developed? In order to avoid easy imitation, they should should emerge from from the grass roots of the organization, out of end-user hacking, computing, and tinkering. In this way the innovative SIS is going to be highly entrenched with the specific culture of the firm. Top management needs to appreciate local fluctuations in practices as a repository of unique innovations and commit adequate resources to their development, even if they fly if the face of traditional approaches. Rather than of looking for standard models in the business strategy literature, SISs should be looked for in the theory and practice of organizational leaming and innovation, both incremental and radical.

My final thoughts

The connection with e-learning

Learning and teaching is the core business of a university. For the 20+ years I’ve worked in Australian Higher Education there has been calls for universities to become more distinct. It would then seem logical that the information systems used to support, enhance and transform (as if there are many that do that) learning and teaching (I’ll use e-learning systems in the following) should be seen as Strategic Information Systems.

Since the late 1990s the implementation of e-learning systems has been strongly influenced by the traditional approaches to strategic and operational management. The influence of the adoption of ERP systems are in no small way a major contributor to this. This recent article (HT: @katemfd) shows the lengths to which universities are going when the select an LMS (sadly for many e-learning == LMS).

I wonder how much of the process is seen as being for strategic advantage. Part, or perhaps all, of Ciborra’s argument for tinkering is on the basis of generating strategic advantage. The question remains whether universities see e-learning as a source of strategic advantage (anymore)? Perhaps they don’t see selection of the LMS as a strategic advantage, but given the lemming like rush toward “we have to have a MOOC” of many VCs it would seem that technology enhanced learning (apologies to @sthcrft) is still seen as a potential “disruptor”/strategic advantage

For me this approach embodies the rational analytic theme to strategy that Ciborra critiques. The tinkering approach is what is missing from university e-learning and its absence is (IMHO) the reason much of it is less than stellar.

Ciborra argues that strategic advantage comes from systems where development is treated as an innovation process. Where innovation is defined as creating new knowledge “about resources, goals, tasks, markets, products and processes” (p. 304). To me this is the same as saying to treat the development of these systems as a learning process. Perhaps more appropriately a constructionist learning process. Not only does such a process provide institutional strategic advantage, it should improve the quality of e-learning.

The current rhetoric/reality gap in e-learning arises from not only an absence, but active prevention and rooting out, of tinkering and bricolage. An absence of learning.

The deficit model problem

Underpinning Ciborra’s approach is that the existing skills and competencies within an organisation provide both the source and the constraint on innovation/learning.

A problem with university e-learning is the deficit model of most existing staff. i.e. most senior management, central L&T, central L&T and middle managers (e.g. ADL&T) have a deficit model of academic staff. They aren’t good enough. They don’t know enough. They have to complete a formal teaching qualification before they can be effective teachers. We have to nail down systems so they don’t do anything different.

Consequently, wxisting skills and competencies are only seen as a constraint on innovation/learning. They are never seen as a source.

Ironically, the same problem arises in the view of students held by the teaching academics that are disparaged by central L&T etc.

The difficulties

The very notion of something being “unanalyzable” would be very difficult for many involved in University management and information technology to accept. Let alone deciding to use it as a foundation for the design of systems.

Summary of the paper


Traditional approaches for designing information systems are based on “a set of guidlines” about how best to use IT in a competitive environment and “a planning and implementation strategy” (p. 297).

However, the “wealth of ‘how to build an SIS’ recipes” during the 1990s failed to “yield a commensurate number of successful cases” at least not measured against the rise of systems in the 1980s. Reviewing the literature suggests a number of reasons, including

  • Theoretical literature emphasises rational assessment by top management as the means for strategy formulation ignoring alternative conceptions from innovation literature valuing learning more than thinking and experimentation as a means for revealing new directions.
  • Examining precedent-setting SISs suggests that serendipity, reinvention and other facts were important in their creation. These are missing from the rational approach.

So there are empirical and theoretical grounds for a new kind of guidelines for SIS design.

Organisations should ask

  1. Does it pay to be innovative?
  2. Are SISs offering competitive advantage or are they competitive necessity?
  3. How can a firm implement systems that are not easily copied and thus generate returns?

In terms of e-learning this applies

the paradox of micro-economics: competition tends to force standardization of solutions and equalization of production and coordination costs among participants.

i.e. the pressures to standarise.

The argument is that an SIS must be based on new practical and conceptual foundations

  • Basing an SIS on something that can’t be analysed, like orgnisational culture will help avoid easy imitation. Leveraging the unique sources of practice and know-how of the firm and industry level can be th esource of sustained advantage.
  • SIS development should be closer to prototyping and engaging with end-users’ ingenuity than has been realised.

    The capability of integrating unique ideas and practical design solutions at the end-user level turns out to be important than the adoption of structured approaches to systems development or industry analysis (Schoen 1979; Ciborra and Lanzara, 1990)

Questionable advantage

During the 1980s a range of early adopters of strategic information systems (SISs) – think old style airline reservation systems – arose brought benefit to some organisations and bankruptcy to those that didn’t adopt. This arose to a range of frameworks for identifying SIS.

I’m guessing some of these contributed to the rise of ERP systems.

But the history of those cited success stories suggest that SIS only provide an ephemeral advantage before being copied. One study suggests 92% of systems followed industry wide trends. Only three were original.

I imagine the percentage in university e-learning would be significantly higher. i.e. you can’t get fired if you implement an LMS (or an eportfolio).

To avoid the imitation problem there are suggestions to figure out the lead time for competitors to copy. But that doesn’t avoid the problem. Especially given the rise of consultants and service to help overcome.

After all, if every university can throw millions of dollars at Accenture etc they’ll all end up with the same crappy systems.

Shifts in model of strategic thinking and competition

This is where the traditional approaches to strategy formulation get questioned.

i.e. “management should first engage in a purely cognitive process” that involves

  1. appraise the environment (e.g. SWOT analysis)
  2. identify success factors/distinctive competencies
  3. translate those into a range of competitive strategy alternatives
  4. select the optimal strategy
  5. plan it in sufficient details
  6. implement

At this stage I would add “fail to respond to how much the requirements have changed” and start over again as you employ new senior leadership

This model is seen in most SIS models.

Suggests that in reality actual strategy formulation involves incrementalism, muddling through, myopic and evolutionary decision making. “Structures tend to influence strategy formulation before they can be impacted by the new vision” (p. 300)

References Mintzberg (1990) to question this school of through 3 ways

  1. Assumes that the environment is highly predictable and events unfold in predicted sequences, when in fact implementation surprises happen. Resulting in the clash between inflexible plans and the need for revision.
  2. Assumes that the strategist is an objective decision maker not influenced by “frames of reference, cultural biases, or ingrained, routinized ways of action” (p. 301). Contrary to a raft of research.
  3. Strategy is seen as an intentional design process rather than as learning “the continuous acquisition of knowledge in various forms”. Quotes a range of folk to argue that strategy must be based on effective adaptation and learning involving both “incremental, trial-and-error learning, and radical second-order learning” (p. 301)

The models of competition implicit in SIS frameworks tend to rely on theories of business strategy from industrial organisation economics. i.e. returns are determined by industry structure. To generate advantage a firm must change the structural characteristics by “creating barriers to entry, product differentiation, links with suppliers” (p. 301).

There are alternative models

  • Chamberlin’s (1933) theory of monopolistic competition

    Firms are heterogeneous and compete on resource and asset differences – “technical know-how, reputation, ability for teamwork, organisational culture and skills, and other ‘invisible assets’ (Itami, 1987)” (p. 301)

    Differences enable high return strategies. You compete by cultivating unique strengths and capabilities and defending against imitation.

  • Schumpeter’s take based on innovation in product, market or technology

    Innovation arises from creative destruction, not strategic planning. The ability to guess, learn and luck appear to be the competitive factors.

Links these with Mintzberg’s critique of rational analytics approaches and identifies two themes in business strategy

  1. Rational analytic

    Formulate strategy in advance based on industry analysis. Plan and then implement. Gains advantage relative to firms in the same industry strucure.

  2. Tinkering (my use of the phrase)

    Strategy difficult to plan before the fact. Advantage arises from exploiting unique characteristics of the firm and unleashing its innovating capabilities

Reconsidering the empirical evidence

Turns to an examination of four well-known SIS based on the two themes and other considerations from above. This examination these “cases emphasize the discrepancy between ideal plans for an SIS and the realities of implementation” (p. 302). i.e.

The system was not developed according to a company-
by one of the business units. The system was not developed according to company-wide strategic plan; rather, it was the outcome of an evolutionary, piecemeal process that included the ingenious tactical use of systems already available.

i.e. bricolage and even more revaling

the conventional MIS unit was responsible not only for initial neglect of the new strategic applications within McKesson, but also, subsequently, for the slow pace of company-wide learning about McKesson’s new information systems

Another system “was supposed to address an internal inefficiency” (p. 303) not some grand strategic goal.

And further

The most frequently cited SIS successes of the 1980s, then, tell the same story. successes of the 1980s, then, tell the same story. Innovative SISs are not fully designed top-down or introduced in one shot; rather, they are tried out through prototyping and tinkering. In contrast, strategy formulation and design take place in pre-existing cognitive frames and organizational contexts that usually prevent designers and sponsors from seeing and exploiting the potential for innovation. (p. 303)

New foundations for SIS design

SIS development must be treated as an innovation process. The skills/competencies in an organisation is both a source and a constraint on innovation. The aim is to create knowledge.

New knowledge can be created in two non-exclusive ways

  1. Tinkering.

    Rely on local information and routine behaviour. Learning by doing, incremental decision making and muddling through).

    Accessing more diverse and distant information, when an adequate level of competence is not present, would instead lead to errors and further divergence from optimal performance (Heiner, 1983) (p. 304)

    People close to the operational level have to be able to tinker to solve new problems. “local cues from a situation are trusted and exploited in a somewhat unreflective way, aiming at ad hoc solutions by heuristics rather than high theory”

    The value of this approach is to keep development of an SIS close to the competencies of the organisation and ongoing fluctuations.

  2. Radical learning

    “entails restructuring the cognitive and organisational backgrounds that give meaning to the practices, routines and skills at hand” (p. 304). It requires more than analysis and requirements specifications. Aims at restructuring the context of both business policy and systems development”. Requires “intervening in situations and designing-in-action”.

    The change in context allows new ways of looking at the capabilities and devising new strategies. The sheer difference becomes difficult to imitate.

SIS planning by oxymorons

Time to translate those theoretical observations into practical guidelines.

Argues that the way to develop an SIS is to proceed by oxymoroon. Fusing “opposites in practice and being exposed to the mismatches that bound to occur” (p. 305). Defines 7

  • 4 to bolster incremental learning
    1. Value bricolage strategically
    2. Design tinkering

      This is important

      Activities, settings, and systems have to be arranged so that invention and prototyping by end-users can flourish, together with open experimentation (p. 305)

      Set up the organisation to favour local innovation. e.g. ad hoc project teams. ethnographic studies.

    3. Establish systematic serendipity

      Open experimentation results in largely incomplete designs, the constant intermingling of implementation and refinement, concurrent or simultaneous conception and execution – NOT sequential

      An ideal context for serendipity to merge and lead to unexpected solutions.

    4. Thrive on gradual breakthroughs.

      In a fluctuating environment the ideas that arise are likely to include those that don’t align with established organisational routines. The raw material for innovation. “management should appreciate and learn about such emerging practices”

  • Radical learning and innovation
    1. Practice unskilled learning

      Radically innovative approaches may be seen as incompetent when judged by old routines and norms. Management should value this behaviour as an attempt to unlearn old ways of thinking and doing. It’s where new perspectives arise.

    2. Strive for failure

      Going for excellence suggests doing better what you already do which generates routinized and efficient systems. The competency trap. Creative reflection over failures and suggest ways to novel ideas and designs. Also the recognition of discontinuities and flex points.

    3. Achieve collaborative inimitability

      Don’t be afraid to collaborate with competitors. Expose the org to new cultures and ideas.

These seven oxymorons can represent a new “systematic” approach for the establishment of an organizational environment where new information—and thus new systems can be generated. Precisely because they are paradoxical, they can unfreeze existing routines, cognitive frames and behaviors; they favor learning over monitoring and innovation. (p. 306)


Ciborra, C. (1992). From thinking to tinkering: The grassroots of strategic information systems. The Information Society, 8(4), 297–309.

Eduhacking – a better use for (part of) academic conferences?

In short, can we get an Eduhack style event running at ASCILITE’12? Want to help? If you want, skip to the point


Possibly the most productive conference I’ve ever been on was the 1996 ITiCSE Conference in Barcelona. (It seems the conferences have evolved from “Integrating Technology into CS Education” to “Innovation and Technology in CS Education”). Apart from my first trip to Spain, the conference introduced me to something different in terms of conferences, the working groups.

We were the first set of working groups and at that stage it worked a bit like this:

  • Someone came up with a topic – in our case “World Wide Web as an Interactive Teaching Resource”.
  • They called for participants.
  • We started collaborating ahead of the conference.
  • During the conference we (based on my vague recollection of 16 years ago)
    • Worked for a day or two before the conference proper started.
    • Did some work during the conference, including presenting a “poster” on our current progress. (apparently shown in the image below)
    • Did some final work at the end/after of the conference.
  • Produces a final document

Poster of working group

The benefit

The biggest benefit that flowed from that event was meeting the co-author of the book we wrote, which (even with its limitations) remains the most cited of my publications. Without being a member of the working group with my co-author, the book would never have been written.

Having to work with folk at a conference on a specific project, rather than sit and listen or sit and drink network, provides additional insights and connections. It can also be a bit more challenging, but nothing in life is free.

The wasted opportunity

This type of approach seems to address the wasted opportunity that is most conferences. You have all these talented, diverse and skilled folk in the one location, but limit their interaction to presentations, panels and socialising. Nothing, at least in my experience, works to bring those diverse perspectives together to produce something.

For a long time, I’ve been wondering if something different is possible.

Looking for alternatives

The ITiCSE working group approach was okay, but fairly traditional. It aimed to produce an academic paper. I was involved with the first one, it would be interesting to see how they’ve evolved and changed based on the experience.

The REACT project tried to ensure that planned innovations in L&T benefited from diverse perspectives before implementation. But like the working group idea used an academic paper as the main artifact. REACT never really went anywhere.

And then there is Eduhacking in the style used by @sthcrft and @stuffy65 at UNE and in particular @sthcrft ‘s call

do we need a cross-institution eduhack event? From my point of view, anything that’s about collaborating on ideas and possibilities has got to be better than yet another show and tell event. Who’s in?

I’m thinking: Yes and me. The question is where to now?

How might it work?

Education Hack Day describes the aim this way

The mission was simple: listen to problems sourced by teachers from around the world, pick a dozen or so to tackle, and form teams around those problems that would each come up with and execute a creative solution to solve them.

This seems to have been based on the older/broader idea of from the developer world of a hackathon. As with the UNE experiment, the focus here wouldn’t necessarily be on software developers, but a broader cross-section of people.

So a process might be:

  • Pick a conference, one that has a good cross section of educational technology type folk.
    For example, ASCILITE’12.
  • Run an Eduhack day just before the conference proper starts, probably as a workshop.
  • Actively encourage a diverse collection of folk to come along.
  • Distribute a call for problems prior to the conference.
  • Ensure that the setting for the Eduhack is appropriate (i.e. not the normal conference breakout room).
  • Have a loose process to select the problems to be worked on and let folk go.
  • Have some of the outcomes presented as posters during the conference.
  • Encourage/enable groups to keep working on the problems post-conference, perhaps for presentation as traditional papers at the next conference?

I’m sure there are improvements to be made. Who’s interested?

Herding cats and losing weight: the vimeo video

This is in part a test of’s new support for Vimeo video. The video below is of a presentation I gave at CQU this year. The abstract is below. The slides are on slideshare.


The environment within which Universities operate has changed significantly over recent years. Two of the biggest changes have been a reduction in state funding for universities and, at the same time, an increased need for universities to demonstrate the quality and appropriateness of their services, especially learning and teaching.

Consequently, most universities have developed a range of strategies, policies, structures and systems with the intent of improving and demonstrating the quality of their learning and teaching. This presentation will draw on the metaphors of herding cats and losing weight to examine the underlying assumptions of these attempts, the resulting outcomes, question whether or not they are the best we can hope for, and present some alternatives.

The video

The Innovation Prevention Department: Why?

The final keynote at ASCILITE’09 was by James Clay and was titled the Future of Learning (this is a link to an apparently earlier presentation by same author, same topic). Many aspects of the talk resonated with many in the audience, however, the one that perhaps resonated the most was that of the Innovation Prevention Department.

James, as he describes in this comment was suggesting that most organisations have one department that seems to hold back innovation. The comment reveals James’ use came from Jon Trinder (slide 6). A quick google reveals the phrase being used as a chapter title in this 2002 book. So, it doesn’t seem to be a new concept that there always seems to be one department within an organisation that prevents innovation.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that in giving a list of departments that could possible fulfill this role, James started with the information technology department and that’s about where most of the audience seemed to stop listening. Many didn’t hear the other suggestions in James’ list. From where I was sitting, as soon as IT was mentioned most of the audience started nodding their head and remembering specific examples of where their IT folk had thwarted some innovation. It wasn’t long before “the Innovation Thwarting Department” play on information technology department was doing the rounds.

As it happened, there were a couple of IT folk in the audience and another couple listening to the tweet stream. Not surprisingly, they were somewhat chagrined at this disparaging label for the work they do. Mark Smithers talks about his dismay at seeing the tweets from ASCILITE mentioning this. Nick Sharrat shares his thoughts about

the frustration I often feel when my profession is disparaged for actually just ‘doing it’s job’, especially by people who often display an incredible naivity about the real world of IT.

Not surprisingly, people don’t like being disparaged.

Is there something there?

Both Mark and Nick give lots of examples of the difficulties that IT face in doing their job. The constraints, which are many, within which they have to operate. They give examples of where the request or idea from the user is significantly flawed from a different perspective.

However, isn’t it a worry when a significant percentage of the audience at a conference like ASCILITE’09, when presented with “innovation prevention department”, immediately though of the IT department? Rather than simply explaining why IT folk are rational, professionals working in a complex environment, shouldn’t there be an interest in understanding why the ASCILITE crowd are thinking this way?

Given that ASCILITE is about computers in learning in tertiary education the folk at ASCILITE are keen to use computers effectively for that task. Given that IT professionals are be a key component/enabler of this work, shouldn’t they be getting on?

I can’t see how the two groups can work together effectively if there exists this gulf in perceptions. If the source of the gulf is understood, perhaps that will enable the gulf to be bridged.

Does anyone know of any work that has sought to document the causes for this gulf between IT and L&T folk? What about identifying strategies for moving forward?

My suggested reasons

Both Nick and Mark give a variety of reasons/problems for why/how IT function. The following is a start of some reasons that I propose for why L&T folk have formed the “innovation prevention” impression of IT. I’m doing this because I believe this is the first step in moving forward. Let’s have both sides get their cards on the table and then figure out ways forward.

I must emphasise that the following list is based on my experiences, reading and perceptions. It is not meant to be definitive and may not describe what really happened, however, they do capture my perceptions of that reality. Please understand that the perceptions people have of what goes on is what drives how they act. It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe that the reality is otherwise. People will react based on their perceptions, not yours.

I should note that I have an IT background. I’ve taught IT professionals. Some of whom have worked within IT departments in higher ed. I’ve also run a large scale IT system that was not part of central IT (though it is now).

The assumption of objectiveness, rationality and professionalism.

Nick argues that

So, next time your IT department seems to be out to get you, give them a little more credit – you need to trust that they are proffesionals making very difficult compromises.

Being a professional brings with it the aura of objectiveness and rationality. The trouble is that people are not information processing intelligences that make rational decisions. Our intelligence is based on pattern matching, our pattern matching processes are rife with biases and shortcomings. For example, the following was the finding reported by the technical team (consisting mostly of IT professionals) on the comparisons between different LMSs being considered at my institution in about 2003/2004

strongly feels that the Blackboard product has the best overall technical fit and provides the best opportunity available to meet our tactical needs while minimizing support problems and costs

. This is in spite of the observation that Blackboard had never been run on the existing infrastructure, one of the other LMS was a locally grown system that had been running on existing infrastructure for a number of years, and that a year or so after the implementation of Blackboard the institution had to invest in an entirely new server infrastructure due to problems in running Blackboard on the old infrastructure.

And that’s before we get into politics. I’m sure any number of people within organisations can point to situations where the politics of the situation has driven the decision. IT departments are not absent of politics.

Note: this does not mean that L&T folk are better, more rational, than IT folk. It’s just that both sets of people are prone to irrationality and biases.

Who specifies the needs around innovation?

Nick specifies the role of IT professionals as

to provide systems that meet the business needs. That’s ‘needs’ and not ‘wants’

. The trouble is that when it comes to innovation you can’t specify, you can’t plan. I use a quote from Joseph Gavin Jr in my email signature

If a major project is truly innovative, you cannot possibly know its exact cost and its exact schedule at the beginning. And if in fact you do know the exact cost and the exact schedule, chances are that the technology is obsolete.

It’s the emphasis on specification and planning that is in-built into most IT projects that is a direct anathema to innovation.

Limited understanding of the nature of teaching and learning.

This continues on from the previous point. IT is focused on specification, global solutions, the same solutions for all. Learning and teaching is all about diversity, variability and change. Features that do not match well with traditional IT processes. I’ve argues this in a recent presentation video (and slides).

IT assume that the same processes they use for student records systems will work for learning and teaching.

The user deficit model.

Nick’s comment about people with “an incredible naivete about the real world of IT” in some IT folk (but by no means all and I don’t know Nick so this is not meant to be a characterisation of him) demonstrates a user deficit model. i.e. the users are stupid, we need to make the decisions for them, we know what’s best for them.

This type of model is embodied in the acronym PEBKAC and it encourages a blame the user approach to thinking. Read the criticisms of PEBKAC to see how often user error/stupidity is due to the lack of quality in the IT systems.

There’s a trite little saying

There are only two industries that refer to their customers as users. The computer industry and the trade in illicit drugs.

It may be trite but it shows a mindset that can and does exist in some IT folk.

That said, there’s also a similar mindset towards/deficit model of teaching academics held by L&T support staff.

The wrong rules

While I was writing this, the following tweet came from Matthew Allen tweeted a point made by Skewes at the Broadband Futures event in Australia

the problem is not technology; it’s the rules which prevent innovation

. This ties in somewhat with the first point, but it’s also more than that.

The vast majority of the practices of IT folk arose from a period when IT resources and the ability to use them were scarce and expensive. Increasingly with the advent of social media, the cloud, SaaS etc, I think we’re seeing the rise of a period of abundance in terms of the ability and availability of certain types of IT resource (some others may remain scarce).

The rules for handling scarcity are the wrong rules for handling abundance.

Is there value in strategic plans for educational technology

Dave Cormier has recently published a blog post titled Dave’s wildly unscientific survey of technology use in Higher Education. There’s a bunch of interesting stuff there. I especially like Dave’s note on e-portfolios

eportfolios are a vast hidden overhead. They really only make sense if they are portable and accessible to the user. Transferring vast quantities of student held data out of the university every spring seems complicated. Better, maybe, to instruct students to use external services.

Mainly because it aligns with some of my views.

But that’s not the point of this post. This morning Dave tweeted for folk to respond to a comment on the post by Diego Leal on strategic plans for educational technology in universities.

Strategic plans in educational technology are a bugbear of mine. I’ve been writing and thinking about them a lot recently. So I’ve bitten.


My starting position is that I’m strongly against strategic plans for educational technology in organisations. However, I’m enough of a pragmatist to recognise that – for various reasons (mostly political) – organisations have to have them. If they must have them, they must be very light on specifics and focus on enabling learning and improvement.

My main reason for this is a belief that strategic plans generally embody an assumption about organisations and planning that simply doesn’t exist within universities, especially in the context of educational technology. This mismatch results in strategic plans generally creating or enabling problems.

Important: I don’t believe that the problems with strategic plans (for edtech in higher education) arise because they are implemented badly. I believe problems with strategic plans arise because they are completely inappropriate for edtech in higher education. Strategic plans might work for other purposes, but not this one.

This mismatch leads to the following (amongst others) common problems:

  • Model 1 behaviour (Argyris et al, 1985);
  • Fads, fashions and band wagons (Birnbaum, 2000; Swanson and Ramiller, 2004)
  • Purpose proxies (Introna, 1996);
    i.e. rather than measure good learning and teaching, an institution measures how many people are using the LMS or have a graduate certificate in learning and teaching.
  • Suboptimal stable equilibria (March, 1991)
  • Technology gravity (McDonald & Gibbons, 2009)


Introna (1996) identified three necessary conditions for the type of process embedded in a strategic plan to be possible. They are:

  • The behaviour of the system is relatively stable and predictable.
  • The planners are able to manipulate system behaviour.
  • The planners are able to accurately determine goals or criteria for success.

In a recent talk I argued that none of those conditions exist within the practice of learning and teaching in higher education. It’s a point I also argue in a section of my thesis

The alternative?

The talk includes some discussion of some principles of a different approach to the same problem. That alternative is based on the idea of ateleological design suggested by Introna (1996). An idea that is very similar to broader debates in various other areas of research. This section of my thesis describes the two ends of the process spectrum.

It is my position that educational technology in higher education – due to its diversity and rapid pace of change – has to be much further towards the ateleological, emergent, naturalistic or exploitation end of the spectrum.

Statement of biases

I’ve only ever worked at the one institution (for coming up to 20 years) and have been significantly influenced by that experience. Experience which has included spending 6 months developing a strategic plan for Information Technology in Learning and Teaching that was approved by the Academic Board of the institution, used by the IT Division to justify a range of budget claims, thrown out/forgotten, and now, about 5 years later, many of the recommendations are being actioned. The experience also includes spending 7 or so years developing an e-learning system from the bottom up, in spite of the organisational hierarchy.

So I am perhaps not the most objective voice.


Argyris, C., R. Putnam, et al. (1985). Action science: Concepts, methods and skills for research and intervention. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Birnbaum, R. (2000). Management Fads in Higher Education: Where They Come From, What They Do, Why They Fail. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Introna, L. (1996). “Notes on ateleological information systems development.” Information Technology & People 9(4): 20-39.

March, J. (1991). “Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning.” Organization Science 2(1): 71-87.

McDonald, J. and A. Gibbons (2009). “Technology I, II, and III: criteria for understanding and improving the practice of instructional technology ” Educational Technology Research and Development 57(3): 377-392.

Swanson, E. B. and N. C. Ramiller (2004). “Innovating mindfully with information technology.” MIS Quarterly 28(4): 553-583.

What are the conditions that are conducive to the creation of a variety of new ideas?

I’m currently working on the Process section of my thesis. As part of that I’m referring back to a book chapter (that was a conference paper) by Bo Carlsson (2004) titled “Public policy as a form of design”. This post is an attempt to summarise some of the points made in that chapter as they are connected to my new job.

What are the conditions that are conducive to the creation of a variety of new ideas?

Let’s start with this quote

Sometimes the first and most important policy objective is to remove obstacles to creativity and to foster entrepreneurship rather than to take new initiatives. The formation of new clusters can be facilitated but not directed. Planning cannot replace the imaginative spark that creates innovation.

He does make the point that once innovation clusters evolve, then it may be necessary for appropriate policy to develop.

Three types of facilitating policy stand out

  1. Increase absorptive capacity or receiver competence.
    i.e. the ability of folk to identify innovations and convert them into “business opportunities”. Such capacity is built through research and development, hiring of personnel, training of personnel and accumulation of experience.
  2. Increase connectivity.
    Increasing the quantity and quality of linkages within and outside of the system.
  3. Promote entrepreneurship and encourage variety.

    Given the risk and uncertainty associated with each link in teh chain, the greater the number of players, each with uncertain and divergent beliefs about the chances of success, the greater are the chances of successful outcomes. This is a game of effectiveness, not efficiency. Let the market (or the public), not bureaucrats, select the successful projects

Misc quotes

The higher the opportunity cost of entrepreneurship, the lower the qulity of entrepreneur because the process becomes driven by adverse selection. In the extreme, the only agents willing to undertake entrepreneurship are those who cannot do anything else.

Application to innovation within universities

Given the growing influence of managerialization within society and the increasing moves to standardisation and accountability within higher education it is not difficult to identify some tensions. Indeed, the tension between accountability and innovation and its negative ramifications within universities is the topic of Findlow (2008)

Limitations in academic staff development, the lack of perceived importance of learning and teaching, a focus on specific technologies and a range of other factors mean that the absorptive capacity of universities around e-learning is not great.

The connectivity is also somewhat limited due to the hierarchical structures that arise out of the same influences. The separation of academics into disciplinary sub-groups and the organisational distance between the academics and the IT and L&T folk all arise from these structures and its increasing reliance on teleological design.

The lack of connectivity and the increase in top-down approaches to decision-making is significantly reducing the variety of approaches. Obviously the pressure for standardisation and the fear of risk-taking impact upon this.

Now, there are activities that can work around this, however, the emphasis on top-down decision making will make this difficult. Unless of course someone senior can see the light.


Carlsson, B. (2004). Public policy as a form of design. Managing as Designing. R. Boland and F. Collopy. Standford, CA, Standford Business Books: 259-264.

Findlow, S. (2008). “Accountability and innovation in higher education: a disabling tension?” Studies in Higher Education 33(3): 313-329.

Learning spaces: expenditure and time spent learning

I’ve just been listening to this podcast of a keynote by Dr Phil Long. Apart from the content of the talk, this is interesting because Dr Long has just recently started work at the University of Queensland (which is just down the road from here) at the Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology.

There is much good content. I particular recommend listening through the question and answer section at the end for a story about a “student/teacher” relationship that is very inspiring.

The bit that sparks this post is also in the question and answers at the end and is interesting to me because of a nascent idea I have for some experimentation. When talking about the future of university campuses, Dr Long suggests that classrooms will become marginal and goes onto say

Most institutions, when it comes to infrastructure, spend 8 of 10 dollars on physical classroom infrastructure, and if you do any study on where students learn you will find that less than 7% of the time when they are working on class related work happens in that box. How do you spend 80% of your dollar on where students are spending 7% of their time?

There’s a growing interest at my current institution in the question of learning spaces, though much of the interest I’ve seen so far seems to be stuck about 5 years ago. The nature of my current institution is such that for a large proportion of our students, the 7% figure would actually be 0%. In some cases, a large number of our students never set foot on a campus.

And yet, much of our expenditure, our concerns, our learning and teaching practice and our management and workload calculations are built around the assumption of the classroom. Even though it is increasingly problematic.

It’s as if, in the words of Postman, that the lecture and its associated goods and chattels continue to be mythic.

Where’s the inspiration? Where’s the desire to improve?

The title and spark for this post comes from this post entitled “A night of ‘Biggest Loser’ Inspiration”. I came across it via a tweet from Gardner Campbell and in particular the quote from the post he tweeted (included here sans the 140 character tweet limit)

People follow inspiration and that’s where students will go — where they are inspired to learn, collaborate, build and innovate.

I’m guessing, though am currently not 100% certain, that my current institution will want me to contribute to creating this sort of inspiration in my new role. I’m excited by that, but I’m also concerned that it will be really difficult. When I’m looking at the difficulties I will face, the biggest is perhaps embodied in the second question from this quote from the post (caps in original, I’ve added the emphasis)


Where’s the desire to improve?

When it comes to improving learning and teaching I am a firm believer in the absolute centrality of teacher’s conception of learning and teaching. Yes, I agree that student learning is the focus, you want to inspire students to learn, collaborate, build and innovate. However, I work within a university setting and am tasked with helping improve the learning students receive from the university. In that setting the conceptions of learning held by the teaching staff directly impact upon the quality of the student learning.

Consequently, I currently believe that an important, if not the most important, aim for my position should be to encourage academics to reflect upon their conceptions of learning and teaching. The theory being, see the following figure from Trigwell (2001), change in those conceptions is the only way to achieve sustainable improvements in the quality of learning experience by students.

Trigwell's model of teaching

The problem is that for this will only happen if there is a desire on the part of the academics to reflect. If there’s no desire, it won’t work. My current institution has been going through some tough times which may make it hard to find that inspiration.

Further connections with the biggest loser

The post that started this, was sparked by watching the Biggest Loser – one of the recent franchises of reality shows to go global. Since I listened to some of David Maister’s podcasts from a recent book of this (Strategy and the Fat Smoker – there’s a good review/overview here) I’ve been pondering the connection between weight loss and encouraging innovation and improvement in learning and teaching (I can see at least a presentation and maybe some research arising from this work but it’s been put aside until I finish other tasks).

I particularly like this quote

If you truly want to succeed (and many people do not want it badly enough to make it happen) then you must never settle, never give up, never coast, never just accept what is, even if you are currently performing at a high level.

which I took from this review of the book. The review was done by a lawyer who focused on one chapter of Maister’s book – Chapter 17: The Trouble with Lawyers. The review includes this

He highlights four problems that prevent “lawyers from effectively functioning in groups:”

  • problems with trust;
  • difficulties with ideology, values, and principles;
  • professional detachment; and
  • unusual approaches to decision making (referring to lawyers’ propensity to attack any idea presented to locate and highlight its weaknesses, with the result that “within a short time, most ideas, no matter who initiates them, will be destroyed, dismissed, or postponed for future examination.”)

A list which I find fairly appropriate for university academics.

One of the observations that arise from the book is the examination of consultants and the businesses that employ them and a comparison with health professionals and fat smokers. Consultants are brought in to tell the business how to improve itself, just as health professionals are brought in to help fat smokers. The trouble is, that like fat smokers, most business people already know what they are doing wrong. Fat smokers know they need to stop smoking, eat well and start exercising. What do health professionals tell fat smokers? Stop smoking, eat well and start exercising. Duh!

Of course, consultants know that most business people know what the consultants know. Increasingly most of the business people have been through the same education processes and read the same literature as the consultants. Though the business people often have the huge benefit of long-term and in-depth practical experience within the specific context of the business. A consultant knows this and has to justify his/her fee. So consultants come in with a barrage of jargon and technologies (in the broadest possible senses) that the business person doesn’t have. However, in the end it all boils down to the same knowledge.

I can see a lot of similarities here between instructional designers (and other folk employed to help academics) and academics. The instructional designers are the consultants and the academics are the business people. I see instructional designers developing a barrage of jargon and technologies which essentially boil down to telling the fat smoker to stop smoking, eat well and exercise. Essentially telling the academic what they already know but making it so difficult to understand that the academic spends more time understanding than implementing.

Of course, this is a generalisation and metaphor with all the attendant limitations. But, I do believe there is a glimmer, possibly more, of truth. It also makes some assumptions and raises some questions:

  • That academics do know the equivalent of “stop smoking, eat well and exercise” for learning and teaching.
    Having worked in a number of positions that help academics in their teaching I’ve had an opportunity to see a large number of very different academics. Sadly and somewhat suprisingly, a fairly significant number appear to be somewhat clueless. However, I do wonder how much of this lack of knowledge or simply poor execution.
  • If they know, why don’t they follow through?
    What are the factors or reasons why this knowledge isn’t put into action? Can anything be done to address them.
  • Is there really an equivalent of “stop smoking, eat well and exercise” for learning and teaching?

It has to be intrinsic

Have to add this in before I close. This review of Maister’s book mentions the following as one of the many answers provided by Maister

Motivation must be intrinsic, not extrinsic. The biggest barrier to change is the feeling that “it’s OK so far.”

When I ask “where’s the desire”, I think this is perhaps the best answer. When the desire to improve and innovate is intrinsic to the academic, then the question becomes how does the university get out of their way and help them achieve?

But, how do you enable/encourage/create that intrinsic movitation? Can you? That’s the question I’d like to investigate.

Some initial thoughts on e-learning and innovation

Theoretically, I’m in the process of starting a new job that is focused on encouraging e-learning and innovation within a university context. The following post is an early attempt to try and make sense of this job, what it might do and how it might do it. It’s probably of little value to others, but I’m trying to be open about this.

This is still early days and the understanding will continue to grow and change. Due to the nature of human beings as pattern matching intelligences this exploration will necessarily, as arising out of my own attempts to make sense of this job, illustrate my past experiences and patterns of action. Feel free to disagree and suggest alternative perspectives.

The model

The following started out as a 2×2 framework but has evolved as I’ve been writing this post. The attempt of the model is to represent the process and two of the decisions that have to be answered went attempting a change or innovation within an organisation. In summary, the idea is that:

  • Some spark creates the need for the change or innovation.
  • This makes it necessary to decide what to do in order to respond to the spark.
  • Once what is decided it is necessary to decide how to do it.
  • How things are done can also contribute to the next or different sparks.

I’ve purposely not included numbers in the above list. Cycles can start in any of these stages and there isn’t always a cycle. In fact, some might argue a significant flaw in many organisations is a failure to draw knowledge from how things were done in order to inform the next spark. Alternatively, it may not always be possible to connect the causal cycle until after the fact.

A Change Cycle

The spark

There is generally a spark, some event, thing, or knowledge that makes it necessary to make some change or undertake some action. It might be to solve a problem or achieve a goal. The spark may not be identified prior to the change, only after. The model suggests that such a spark can arise from a spectrum with two extreme dimensions:

  1. Idealistic; and
    In this context, something at the idealistic end would generally be something created by an expert, management or government. For example last night the Australian Federal Government released it’s budget for the next year and it includes a number of projects and changes that will require strategic responses from Australian Universities. Alternatively, it might be something internal to an organisation such as the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor.
  2. Naturalistic.
    In this context, this is understood to be something that arises from the “coal-face” of the organisation. An extreme example might be an individual academic faced with a group students not understanding a particular concept.

This is meant to be a spectrum, an example from the middle might be an institution (not a single academic) identifying long turnaround times on assignment feedback.

What to do

Given a spark, it is necessary to identify what to do. What can be done to respond to the spark? Of all the different projects that might work, how does an institution or individual identify what to do?

The model represents two extreme ends of a spectrum:

  1. Fad; and
    This is where a project is chosen simply because someone else has done it. e.g. “boys with toys” represents a lone-ranger academic adopting the use of Twitter because he saw the Oprah show on Twitter.
  2. Knowledge.
    The chosen project is identified based on some theoretical knowledge – be it organisational, learning, technical etc – and its application to the local context. For example, the adoption of constructive alignment based on the ideas of Biggs.

How to do it

Having decided what to do, it is now necessary to plan how to do it. This spectrum draws on a distinction made by Kurtz and Snowden (2007) and is one I’ve used before. The following table compares the two approaches.

Idealistic Naturalistic
Achieve ideal state Understand a sufficiency of the present in order to stimulate evolution
Privilege expert knowledge, analysis and interpretation Favour enabling emergent meaning at the ground level
Separate diagnosis from intervention Diagnosis and intervention to be intertwined with practice

Snowden’s point – and I agree – is that idealistic approaches only work in contexts in which there is a clear connection between cause and effect. i.e. you can predict that if you do X, then Y will happen. Snowden points out in his Cynefin framework and associated writing that there are other contexts, that require different approaches.

Cynefin domains

Putting the model in context

The rest of the post attempts to use the above model to begin understanding the context within which the new job takes place. The aim is to help me formulate plans for the position that I need to raise with the hierarchy to get approval. It covers

  • the spark; and
    An attempt to identify factors, both naturalistic and idealistic, that are creating a need for change or innovation within the institution.
  • a list of projects.
    Based on combination of “what to do” and “how to do it” and knowledge/prejudices around the local context identify an initial list of potential projects.

Some of the thinking that follows does (or will/should) include a range of existing projects and processes within the organisation. While the new position may not be directly connected with these projects and processes it is necessary for the position to be aware of an work with those projects and processes.

This is only an initial list – it will grow and change as time goes by.

The spark

The following aims to provide an initial list of potential sparks that might be important for the new position to either do something about or at least work with or inform. I’ve attempted to group them in some initial rough categories as a way to help brainstorm:

  • From the position description.
  • Organisational strategic plans.
  • Organisational factors.
  • Government policies and other external factors.

From the position description

The new position comes with a list of accountabilities by which the incumbent will be judged. Not surprisingly, this focuses the attention. The following are drawn from those accountabilities.

Organisational strategic plans

Like most institutions mine has developed a strategic plan, but it also has a range of other organisational goals, understandings and cultures that also have to be considered. I need to better understand these.

First, focus on the strategic plan which is divided up into 8 main sections. Many of the components of these aims are the responsibility of existing organisational units. I’ll focus on the ones that appear to connect with the new job, but leave the others in but struck through. Each component is further divided into: what we need to do; how we will do it; how will we know that we are doing it well.

  1. Learning and Teaching
    • What we need to do
      • Provide a multimodal educational platform supported by appropriate technology.
      • Ensure that programs meet future industry and community needs.
      • Provide multiple pathways and a seamless fit for articulating students.
      • Improve student retention and progression rates.
      • Support collaboration within and across campus and administrative structures to ensure successful student learning.
      • Develop and reward staff capability in innovative curriculum design, teaching and assessment, and the scholarship of learning and teaching
    • How we will do it
      • Progress the implementation of the Student Learning Journey.
      • Benchmark programs against relevant industry and labour market needs.
      • Review graduate attributes and improve integration into programs.
      • Provide formal and informal mentoring for new academic and casual teaching staff.
      • Identify, develop and support learning and teaching leaders.
      • Support staff to engage in the scholarship of learning and teaching and develop innovative practices.
    • Doing it well?
      • Improved Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) and Graduate Destination Survey (GDS) outcomes against benchmarked universities.
      • Improved Learning and Teaching Performance Fund outcomes.
      • Increase in the quality of Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) awards and grants applications and maintenance of success in an increasingly competitive arena.
      • Improved student engagement as measured by the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement.
      • Improved Student Evaluations of Teaching and an increase in the number of students participating.
  2. Research and innovation
    • What we need to do
      • Support research excellence in the University’s priorities for research that contribute to the Resource Industries; Community Health and Social Viability; and Intercultural Education and that this research meets the needs of the communities we serve.
      • Develop and support a vibrant research culture and intellectual environment.
      • Enhance the quality and dissemination of research outcomes.
      • Support quality research programs to enable staff and students to achieve success and realise their full potential.
      • Provide quality, relevant services and support to research stakeholders.
      • Increase the University’s research performance.
    • How we will do it
      • Increase external research income through effective policies, training and processes and focus investment for growth in the Research Institutes.
      • Provide training, staff development, networking and mentoring for staff involved in research and reward excellence and encourage exploration and innovation.
      • Research and university leaders will work strategically with industry, community, government and other stakeholders to align research priorities with industry needs.
      • Foster an environment of active enquiry, innovative development and effective dissemination
    • Doing it well?
      • External research income to increase by 50% in the next 2 years and to be benchmarked against other institutions.
        There is an interesting split between “innovation”/L&T funding and research funding.
      • Receipt of external research investments other than research project income.
      • Improvement in the quantum of quality publication outputs registered each year by category and compared with other institutions.
      • Improvement in the University ranking for external research performance funds relative to the sector.
      • Increase in the number of research active staff by 5% per annum.
      • Increase in the number of Research Higher Degree enrolments and increase in the number of Research Higher Degree students completing on time or earlier
  3. Community engagement
  4. Domestic engagement
    • What we need to do
      • Address the shortfall in domestic student enrolments as a matter of urgency through a range of strategies to build demand, attract students to CQUniversity and improve retention.
      • Develop appropriate contemporary programs and courses to meet the needs of domestic students, increasing participation, access, retention and success of students.
      • Develop new ways to attract students to CQUniversity including building on marketing initiatives, the re-branding exercise and redressing reputational issues.
      • Develop new ways to engage with industry, business and the community via new learning initiatives.
      • Develop new educational models for the future that are aligned with our broad mission “to be what you want to be”.
      • Explore ways to increase distance education offerings and enhance our reputation as a renowned distance education provider
    • How we will do it
      • Continue the development of new suites of contemporary programs in areas of demonstrated demand.
      • Implement the new brand.
      • Improve customer service led by Navigate CQUniversity.
      • Implement Alternative Pathways in 2008.
    • Doing it well?
        By achieving our student enrolment targets (not necessarily DEEWR targets).

      • Increase in domestic student retention rates by 1% per annum.
      • 5% increase per annum in number of students entering bridging programs and progressing to award studies.
      • Increase in access and participation rates for equity students.
      • Increase the access and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  5. International engagement
    • What we need to do
    • How we will do it
      • Build staff capability in learning and teaching related to international students, especially curriculum design and culturally inclusive teaching practices which meets the needs and expectations of international students.
      • Establish priorities and encourage engagement in research through IERI (Intercultural Education Research Institute) that informs international education in areas of policy, systems, planning, pedagogy and others.
      • Develop and implement the new CQUniversity/CMS interface and maximise the benefits resulting from 100% ownership of CMS by expanding the range of academic programs at the Australian International Campuses.
      • Explore low risk delivery mechanisms and pathway linkages.
      • Increase student and staff mobility through improved Study Abroad and Exchange programs.
    • Doing it well?
  6. People and performance
    • What we need to do
      • Fully integrate the human resource strategy with the organisational strategy, via the implementation of the Management Plan – Human Resources.
      • Invest in the development of staff to ensure that they have the requisite skills and abilities to support the attainment of the University’s strategic objectives.
      • Develop whole of University strategies in support of improved staff morale.
      • Facilitate opportunities for collaborative projects across organisational boundaries. – this is interesting
      • Provide a safe workplace for staff and students and meet all Workplace Health & Safety legislative requirements.
    • How we will do it
      • Complete the organisational restructure process by end 2008.
      • Implement revised PRPD processes.
      • Develop workforce planning and succession planning tools.
      • Develop recruitment strategies to attract and recruit high performing staff.
      • Provide management and leadership training for all managers and supervisors.
      • Negotiate a new Union Collective Agreement prior to the nominal expiry date of the current agreement.
      • Encourage active staff involvement in professional bodies.
      • Conduct focus groups with staff on ways to improve staff morale.
      • Facilitate greater opportunities for meaningful communication between staff and University managers at all levels across the University.
      • Develop Service Level Agreements for the delivery of human resources services across the University.
      • Reduce the number of staff and student injuries on University property through a range of strategies.
    • Doing it well?
  7. Resources, systems and infrastructure
    • What we need to do
      • Increase revenue and decrease costs.
      • Ensure an appropriate linkage between the planning and budget functions of the organisation.
      • Ensure management has access to the appropriate and timely information and reporting tools.
      • Ensure the University has a Strategic Asset Management Plan to support our strategic initiatives.
      • Ensure the University has an ICT Management Plan which supports our strategic initiatives.
      • Ensure campus development plans are in place to support the future operational and strategic needs of the university.
      • Ensure the University has a Financial Management Plan which supports the strategic direction of the University.
      • Work towards sustainable resource management and leadership in environmental outcomes from our operations
    • How we will do it
    • Doing it well?
  8. Governance and quality

Need to find out which parts of the organisation are responsible for the above and what they are doing.

Organisational factors

Perhaps the most open to debate, given lack of agreement amongst stakeholders and some of the points about Model 1 behaviour, but just as important. Some of the following connect with strategic plans.

  • Evaluation of learning and teaching – beyond just course based and other limitations.
  • Flexibility and quality of learning platforms and technologies.
  • Actual quality of learning and teaching, administration, e-learning.
  • An emphasis on fad and idealistic dimensions.

Government strategies

  • Teaching funding linked to performance outcomes on quality, particiaption and completion rates.
  • Student centred funding.

List of projects

An early version of the model in this post was a traditional 2×2 model (with slightly different labels). While I’ve moved on from there and think the two dimensions are spectrums the 2×2 model offers some help in understanding what could be done. The following table summarises.

Sector Description What can be done
Idealistic-fads The pre-dominant mode within organisations. This position will probably have little influence on these projects as they are driven by senior management. The best that can be hoped is to provide evidence and insight to those making decisions. Focused on nature of the organisation and the experience of students and staff. Helping increase the quality and quantity of the feedback to these folk. Make them aware of the limitations of the chosen approaches. Make sure that the knowledge generated from these projects is available and used to inform subsequent projects. Be aware of the fads/trends that are rising and become familiar with them. Perhaps attempt.
Idealistic-knowledge Generally limited use at the organisational level, some use in isolated areas The insights from the projects are likely to be useful. Ensure that the knowledge is disseminated and informs subsequent projects. Be aware of the types of knowledge that can help inform proejcts and their implementation.

This is probably where traditional university “innovation” grants sit. Probably have to engage with these but the cartoon below stikes me as saying a few things about these grants and there’s also the work of Findlow.

Naturalistic-fads A common approach – often seen in lone rangers No point, ability or benefit in stopping these. Better to help inform their implementation and learn their lessons. How to do this effectively is another question. There are some connections here or perhaps in the next sector with incremental, cumulative improvement arising out of the work of the Teaching, Learning, Technology group.
Naturalistic-knowledge Rarely used and the sector I feel most appropriate for innovation around learning and teaching. Have talked previously about the idea of reflective alignment. Something I’d like to try. Perhaps there are others.

Innovation in Corporate America

Quotes about innovation and creativity

Theoretically, I’m in the process of starting a new job that is focused on encouraging e-learning and innovation within a university context. I’m still reading some of the different literature but the following quotes resonate with me around this position and how it is likely to evolve.

The purpose and place of “idea” departments

McLuhan and how innovation roles/departments are isolation wards

In big industry new ideas are invited to rear their heads so they can be clobbered at once. The idea department of a big firm is a sort of lab for isolating dangerous viruses.

This is a real danger for the new position as it sits outside the organisational structures in which the vast majority of learning and teaching occurs. Especially when this presents barriers to the following.

Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before. — Margaret Wheatley

New: The following quote mirrors, to some extent, the McLuhan quote. It’s taken from a Clay Shirky post on the future of newspapers

Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times.

The importance of failure

Woody Allen on failure

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.

Edwin Land

The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.

Thomas Watson Sr

Success is on the far side of failure.

Innovation ain’t logical

Einstein on the connection between innovation and logic

Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.

Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried. — Frank Tyger

That so few now dare to eccentric marks the chief danger of our time — John Stuart Mill

Solutions look for problems

And one I find particularly appropriate for e-learning.

We are surrounded by engineers’ folleys: too many technical solutions still looking for problems to solve.

The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions. — Anthony Jay

Pattern entrainment

As pattern matching intelligences human beings decision making is based on a first-fit pattern match with past experience. One of the reasons horseless carriage innovations.

The importance of creativity and what it is

Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted. — George Kneller

Along similar lines

It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date. — Roger von Oech

Of course, management is always important.

It isn’t the incompetent who destroy an organisation. The incompetent never get in a position to destroy it. It is those who achieved something and want to rest upon their achievements who are forever clogging things up. — F. M. Young

Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking we can get on with creating the future. — James Bertrand

Open and closed

A quote from John Cleese on open and close modes, I see some connections with the Model 1 and Model 2 behaviours observed by Argyris.

We all operate in two contrasting modes, which might be called open and closed. The open mode is more relaxed, more receptive, more exploratory, more democratic, more playful and more humorous. The closed mode is the tighter, more rigid, more hierarchical, more tunnel-visioned. Most people, unfortunately spend most of their time in the closed mode. Not that the closed mode cannot be helpful. If you are leaping a ravine, the moment of takeoff is a bad time for considering alternative strategies. When you charge the enemy machine-gun post, don’t waste energy trying to see the funny side of it. Do it in the “closed” mode. But the moment the action is over, try to return to the “open” mode—to open your mind again to all the feedback from our action that enables us to tell whether the action has been successful, or whether further action is need to improve on what we have done. In other words, we must return to the open mode, because in that mode we are the most aware, most receptive, most creative, and therefore at our most intelligent.

Argyris identifies attempts to “maximise winning and minimise losing” and “minimise generating or expressing negative feelings” as being key governing variables in Model 1 behaviour – the dominant model used in most organisations.

The things we fear most in organizations—fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances—re the primary sources of creativity. — Margaret Wheatley

The achievement of excellence can only occur if the organization promotes a culture of creative dissatisfaction. — Lawrence Miller

Difficulties of innovation

Also an aspect of pattern entrainment.

And of course, Machiavelli’s quote

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.