In continuing our conversation about the future, this blog will focus on my thoughts regarding a culture of creativity, curiosity, and engagement through institutional learning and collaboration.
I am thrilled to see a dialogue beginning to take shape after my last blog—some of which directly touches on the topic I would like to explore next. Two critical questions recently offered by members of the Baruch community provide the starting point:
- How do we bridge the pragmatism of solving immediate problems and the optimism inspired by dreaming a better future?
- How do we fully leverage our intellectual horsepower as an academic institution?
Bridging Pragmatism and Optimism
As we formulate grand ideas for the future, I recognize the hardships and challenges many in our community are suffering, the social disparities that are amplified by current circumstances, and the feelings of anguish—even outrage—as the College struggles to catch up with the new reality that was thrust upon us. While we have learned lessons of resilience from these experiences—not just as passive recipients but as collaborating architects of a more robust future—we need to pay close attention to the pitfalls within our system that could stymie our future progress.
Professor Arthur Lewin shared the importance of planning our short-term future while keeping in mind our long-term aspirations—“for what is good in the short term may hamper us in the long run.” He also articulated the need to devise medium-term adjustments that would bridge the two as we “stabilize to a new normal.” Indeed, there is power in attempting to envision and predict the future, and by creating a conduit for our immediate solution to the envisaged, we find ways to shape that future.
Fully Leveraging Our Intellectual Horsepower
While I have spent a great deal of time addressing the socioeconomic context of Baruch’s mission, as an academic institution our core mission remains teaching, research, and scholarship. It is through our creativity and intellect that we provide the substance of our contribution. This is why I appreciate the keen observation by Professor Thomas Teufel, who said that we are not, at present, fully leveraging our world-class intellectual horsepower with the unique combination of expertise from business, public affairs, arts, sciences, and the humanities. He attributed this to a lack of institutional self-awareness and institutional inertia. The latter is particularly crucial to be reckoned with if we are to translate big-picture ideas of the future into “purposeful, structured, sustained, and effective action,” as he articulated.
I believe the familiar framing for a learning institution offers useful insights. Stemming from organizational theory, institutional learning occurs when people in the organization continually learn how to learn together, where new ways of thinking are nurtured, and where shared aspiration is articulated and formulated—this, in turn, allows the institution to expand its capacity to create the outcomes its members truly desire.
As an example, strategic planning can be considered a form of institutional learning. In fact, the term “planning” is a means to an end, and the end is rarely the plan it generates; it is the act of collective thinking and sharing aspiration that lead to buy-in, action, and sustained change. We are due for a new strategic plan in the near future, but let’s not wait for the formal process. It is an institutional muscle that requires flexing and exercising—on a regular basis, not just every five years. That is not to suggest that we overhaul our strategic plan each year but rather regularly engage in thoughtful reflection and calibration. Consistent attention to where we are going as an institution ensures that the collaboration process remains energized and at the forefront of who we are and who we can be.
Learning to Bridge, Learning to Leverage
What if we think of institutional learning as the conduit that connects our present state of localized individual brilliance to the future state of a fully-leveraged intellectual powerhouse? We can do this because collaboration is a learned skill that requires intentionality, persistence, and practice until it becomes ingrained in the culture. Because there are both structural and psychological obstacles to be overcome—be it the difference in workload rules across schools, be it the different values and reward systems across disciplinary norms—some elements of “institutional inertia” can be addressed immediately, some will take longer, and some we may not be able to overcome.
We can, however, make intra- and cross-school collaboration possible before we make it easy. But we cannot wait for the world to be perfect before stepping outside—we must start now. I know this can be done because I spent a significant part of my career building these bridges, stone by stone, with lots of help from others. We failed enough times to learn valuable lessons, but often we succeeded—once we captured the imagination and excitement of colleagues—and that’s when the magic happens.
Learning to Find Challenges Bigger Than Ourselves
To achieve our long-term vision, we will need to methodically tackle the short-term issues as well as intentionally conceive institutional learning adjustments for the medium term that bridge the two. We will need to find new ways to interact, learn, and create—beyond how we have transformed over this last year. We will need to combine efforts where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We will need to identify challenges bigger than ourselves—bigger than our discipline, our training, and our own paradigm of thinking. It helps if we address subjects that we are in a unique position to address, such as urban centers and underserved communities. Finding topics that create synergy between teaching and research, while simultaneously connecting to our institutional mission, will allow us to fully leverage our intellectual horsepower, tackle grand challenges of our time, and prepare our students to do so as well.
While I would like every member of the Baruch community to help define the substance of our collaboration, I will start the conversation by providing a few examples, umbrella topics that seem to meet the above criteria:
- Mitigating Climate Change
- Justice in a Changing Metropolis
- Interventions in the Physical/Digital Entangled Evolution
These areas consider science, economics, policies, and the humanities as integral parts of a whole. They also reflect the powerful position of Baruch in offering a liberal arts public education with a professional school mindset. But most importantly, each allows us to come together as a whole to make a difference.
Learning to bridge, learning to leverage, and learning to find challenges bigger than ourselves—let’s move toward a true learning institution and expand our capacity to create the future to which we aspire. Let’s start the conversation today.