Thinking points


Michael Josefowicz

Special Projects Manager

Communication Design and Technology

February 15, 2007

 

 

 

Thinking Points for Getting

From a process based organization to an activity based organization

 

A four step process to nurture social and intellectual capital formation

 

1. Make the activity in the classrooms visible.

 

Some of our classrooms are pockets of innovative thinking and solutions. As those activity centers become more visible and accessible for connection with similar or compliementary problem centers, the chance for scalable solutions will naturally increase. ( I am hopeful that the student newspaper will accelerate this process.)

 

 

2.Have an appropriate group focus on those innovations to see what potentially interesting emerges

 

That group should include the highest levels. They must have a picture of the range of activity and easy access to both faculty and University networks of interest.

 

 

3. Bring appropriate resources to bear to encourage organizational forms outside the classroom.

 

In my experience putting real life projects in classrooms can be problematic becuase of the conflicting goals of the instructor and the various motives for students to choose a class. The purpose of a classroom is to help every student to the best of everyone's time and ability. The purpose of a real project is often high quality completion. Often those goals are mutually contradictory.

 

 

Our students and faculty would welcome extra-currics that are rewarding. Of course some money would be necessary, but in my view, innovating a communication structure is the real bottle neck. Time is the most precious commodity. Driving for efficiency in investing everyone's time could have a surprisingly large effect.

 

 

An unintended consequence of keeping these projects separate from the curriculum is that they set the incentives away from departmental glory and focused on "solving the problem." They also simplify the logistics dramatically.

 

 

4. Set a clear set of milestones that will allow someone to make "go-no go" decisions at well defined phases of the potential project.

If a project is successful it can then be considered to go to the "next" stage. Exactly where it "goes" is critically dependent on the interests of the participants and the external environment.

 

 

The background context for this approach

 

Assumptions about executive goals

1. Increase enrollment to New School goals, without straining resources or diluting the quality of the student outcomes.

 

2. Define the most appropriate vision for design education in the emerging global economy.

 

3. Implementing the incremental changes to get from here to there, as the specifics of the vision continue to evolve.

 

 

External Challenges

1. The traditional industries that we have served are radically changing their business models. The changing business models are making it more difficult to predict the appropriate skill sets that our students will need for the most productive careers. The other problem is implementing the curriculum that will transfer those skill sets.

 

 

2. The traditional education delivery systems are also undergoing perhaps paradigm shifting changes. With much wider access to media creation tools, the unique value proposition of an elite design school will be under some pressure.

 

 

External Opportunities

1. The school's brand as an elite traditional design school seeems quite strong.

 

2. My impression is that there has been a steady increase in demand for design education in educational institutions nationwide and worldwide.

 

3. With the transition to a world wide visual and information society, the increased calls for transparency, accountability and real time information feedback, puts traditional communication and design skills at the center of value creation for the 21st century.

 

4. The continuing growth of a culture of "making the world a better place" seems to be taking hold among the upcoming generation of potential students as well as our faculty.

 

 

Internal Opportunities

1. The stated mission of the University includes the idea of changing the world." This is a relatively unusual and clear mission compared to other Universities.

 

2. A student body selected primarily on the basis of their creative passion and talent is a very unusual population, compared to comparable Universities. In my experience, a significant number of our students are driven to "make it better". "It" will vary greatly depending on the particular student and the time they are asked the question.

 

3. A diversified practice of innovation already exists. Primarily in our project based classrooms, but also in some external projects and locations such as MFADT Collab studios and

 

 

4. The traditional education world - K-12 and Hgiher Ed has recently discovered the value of "team based, project based' learning. In the best design practice, this is merely the standard way our profession does business. Our professional experience can be the basis of body of expertise that now has wide perceived value. I believe there will be numerous opportunites to monetize that value.

 

 

Internal Challenges

 

1. A legacy organization that has grown up in different times under different extrernalities.

 

2. As is natural in any formal organizational, there are many incentives and processes that hamper the ability to spend energy and focus on improving the core value creating experiencea.

 

 

Guideposts as we move forward

 

The job is to identify incremental changes that move from a legacy organizational structure that served well in a different environment to one that will thrive in the emerging environment. This might be framed as "the path from an organization based on institutional needs to an activity based organization that can maximise its unique resources".

 

 

In an activity based organizations, while the central needs of continuity and control are the givens, the primary task is to maintain those controls while encouraging the emergence of more flexible forms that create real value by better responsiveness to emerging opportunities and challenges. While it is, in principle, impossible to exactly define what this will look like in five or ten years, some guiding principles might nurture its emergence.

 

 

Focus on the two centers of value creation in the institution

 

From my point of view there are primarily two centers of value creating activity at school, everything else is overhead.

 

1. The creation of an optimal undergraduate student - faculty experience

2. The creation of demonstrated solutions, either as prototypes, or as fully scalable solutions to the problems to "bottom of the pyramid" problems around the world, but also in in the neighborhoods of New York City.

 

 

1. The student experience - networks of faculty and students.

 

The most important "teaching" student experience is in the one to one interaction of students and faculty. The most important of the "learning" student experience is the creation of vibrant networks of students with their peers and the global design community that will have a lifelong value for the lives and careers.

 

 

In my experience the majority of our students are more serious and hard working than the typical University undergraduate. Contrary to the common wisdom, art school is not the easiest way out, rather it is very, very time consuming, filled with part time jobs, and hundreds of hours on creating things. I've often heard from transfer students how shocked they were to discover this fact.

 

 

We are blessed with a faculty that primarily does not work for the monetary compensation. Even at the permanent faculty level, the comp is considerably less than they can acheive on the open market. For our adjuncts, the benefits of teaching are not, for the most part, monetary.

 

 

It's driven instead by a love for their field, for mentoring students to succeed in that field and an increase of their personal brand by teaching at a prestigious design school. Another benefit is their exposure to the next generation of stars to replenish their private practices.

 

 

Improvements in the environment in which these interactions take place are very important. To maximize the infrastrucutre investments required, they have to be informed by the needs of the primary value creating experience - the student-teacher relationship-. Given the emerging environment of ubiquitous wireless, the coming $100 laptop, and other yet-to-be-imagined changes in the content delivery infrastructure, good infrastructure planning is going to need lots of serious thought.

 

 

2. Creation of demonstrated solutions

Also referred to as the creation of social or intellectual capital.

 

Google and information transparency have redefined the value of design for the large formal organizations. Most importantly for advertising and marketing, they have changed the truth of the old adage that "50% of advertising works, if we only knew which 50%."

 

The demand for metrics that started in the financial world, is the source of the creative destruction that is moving through all media organizations businesses. It is now spreading through k-12 education, the health system and the non profit world. My bet is that it is only a short matter of time, until the wave hits University education and much of civil society.

 

We are uniquely positioned to create a body of demonstrated successful innovation. Our broad curriculum offerings imply potential access to the full range of design skills and disciplines. The deep expertise in other areas of the University imply potential access to domain knowledge in many important areas. The committment to bring these worlds together and the resources and vision to attempt it is, to my knowledge, unique.

 

 

The problem is not that potentially world changing innovation is not happening. To me it seems that we are struggling with designing a communication ecology that will connect the many pockets of innovation and creativity into a vibrant inclusive conversation.

 

 

3. A dedication to transparency and accountability

 

Clearly articulated processes, job definitions and success criteria tend to lead to a culture of trust. Based on my professional experience, it is the absence of trust, among all the stakeholders, that cripple open communication. The lack of free flowing open communications makes it much harder to develop the social capital necessary for vibrant conversations and innovative thinking and execution.