Image: Jésus Gil Hernandez, Leadership Summaries

Morriss-Olson, M. (2017) Why is it so difficult to nurture innovation and academic entrepreneurship at a college or university? Academic Impressions, March 9

Barriers to innovation and change

In the context of my series on innovation and change in post-secondary education/higher education, I found Morriss-Olson’s article interesting. It lists the following barriers to change:

  1. Risk avoidance
  2. Zero-sum thinking
  3. Accreditation
  4. Tradition and culture
  5. Leadership
  6. Internal systems
  7. Recruitment processes
  8. Faculty (self-)governance
  9. Organizational silos
  10. Success (thus preserving the status quo).

This is a pretty formidable list and may well leave you wondering whether our post-secondary institutions have the capacity to change.

Removing the barriers

Above all, I think the many barriers Morriss-Olson lists are well understood. What is lacking is agreement on what needs to be done to remove these barriers.

Morriss-Olson makes the interesting point that ‘institutional resiliency may depend more on mindset than skill set.’ I agree that mindset is important to bring about innovation and change, but I think a lot more is needed, such as:

  • an understanding of how the post-secondary education market/demographics will change over the coming years (e.g. more lifelong learning)
  • a clear vision for teaching and learning in the future (including online/blended learning and a focused approach to ’21st century’ skills development),
  • new financial strategies (e.g. new business models), and, unfortunately,
  • a fear of real threat to the existence of an institution if it doesn’t change.

I suspect if institutions can confront the four issues above, the 10 barriers listed by Morriss-Olson will be weakened or undermined, making change not only possible but inevitable.

In other words, build a compelling vision for what is needed in the future, then deal with the barriers, otherwise any attempt to change will go nowhere. For an example, see my blog post:


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