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What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Growth

| October 25, 2011

by Jim Bruce

This week’s reading is a piece “What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Growth” by Nilofer Merchant.  Merchant is a writer for the Harvard Business Review.  This piece is part of the HBR Insight Center Growing the Top Line.

The text of this post focuses on corporate growth, and Apple’s in particular, and, more importantly for higher education, on how you get to the future.  Perhaps the most important line in the piece is “our job … is to manage the present while inventing the future.” It’s not an either-or proposition;  it’s always both-and.  

Today, with all the pressures it is facing, higher education is at an inflection point.  And, information technology in higher education is at its own inflection point, facing all of higher educations pressures and in addition to that, the pressures of an industry in rapid change.  The phrase I just quoted, “our job … is to manage the present while inventing the future” must be our rallying cry.  We must get to the future.

To get to the future, Merchant says you have to do five things well:

1.  Master unlearning.  We all have to learn how to unlearn.  It is all too easy to take the standards, assumptions, and metrics, the way we do things,  from today and say that they apply into the future.  Not usually so.

2.  Augment expertise.  The knowledge you need for the future may not exist on your staff today.  You need to either acquire staff with the knowledge required or formally give staff the time to acquire the specific new skills needed.

3.  Pilot, invest, experiment.  Often, you have to try some small experiments to solidify where you want to go.  These experiments take time;  it’s part of “going slow to go fast.”

4.  Reward learning and cooperation.  Think about your recognition and reward/compensation systems.  Make sure that your actions recognize good work for the present and reward learning and involvement in creating the future.

5.  Know your aspiration.  What is your vision for who you serve and why?  What is your process for going forward into the future?  How do you discern what abilities you have now and how they must change to move forward?

Nilofer Merchant says that moving forward to that new world will make you uncomfortable.  It means that you cannot keep doing more of what you did to get you where you are.  You have to embrace the risk and discomfort of creating.  Nothing could be more true as we think about creating new strategic value for information technology in higher education.

Perhaps you can take time this week to think about the challenge presented here.


.  .  .  .     jim