I love to travel but the older I get the less I like to fly. Airlines just aren’t what they used to be. They don’t even serve snacks anymore, that is unless you buy them and only with a credit or debit card. This summer my wife and I flew to Hawaii. When we booked our reservations we were seated side-by-side going and returning. Don’t ask me how, but when we went to confirm the reservations months later, we were assigned seats for our five-hour return flight several rows apart, on opposite sides of the aisle in middle seats. That was going to be a very long flight back to Phoenix.
I’ll get back to that story in a minute but I also I had the privilege this summer of traveling to Washington, D.C. as a guest of AdvancEd/North Central Association at their International Summit on Education. I heard a number of highly regarded speakers and among them was Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat. This book came out in 2005 and focused on the convergence of technology that has enabled countries around the world to compete in a more globalized economy as never before. Things have changed even more dramatically in the last seven year as explained in Friedman and Mandelbaum’s latest book, That Used to Be Us, U.S. debt is higher, jobs are fewer and people more fearful because there appear to be few good solutions to our problems on the horizon. As the book title suggests, it seems as though America’s best days are past and now it is another country’s turn. Did I hear China?
Although this world is not my home, it is my temporary dwelling place and I believe God has commanded us to steward his creation well. I believe that we are at a pivotal time in history in many arenas but particularly in the field of higher education and specifically here at the university. We have to get this right. We have a responsibility before the Lord to produce graduates who are committed to the cause of Christ, graduates who are well prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within them. This should be our most distinctive quality. It should separate us from the rest of the higher education pack in Arizona. We should be the Christian school of choice.
Why would a student choose to enroll at ACU and stay here versus attending other technology-infused, abundantly equipped educational institutions? What factors do you provide in your encounters with students that make them want become a part of what we are doing and stay here until graduation? How does what you do bring a student closer to the heart of God? In spite of all the good things we are doing, I get the feeling from time to time that other institutions are breathing down our necks. In particular they are using technology-based education to advance their mission and improve their bottom line. How do we compete with that kind of challenge?
As you ponder those questions I would like for you to consider some of Friedman’s observations about how to survive in a worldwide competitive market. One of his main points is for us to understand that average is over. Any organization must embrace the fact there is too much competition and too much change happening too rapidly for an institution to believe that it can hang in there at status quo. At Grinnell College, a liberal arts school of roughly 1600 students in Iowa, one in ten applicants is from China. There are 200 Chinese applicants for 15 spots and of those, 100 have a perfect 800 score on the math portion of the SAT* (NY Times Report Feb. 11, 2011). That is the kind of serious competition that is out there in education. To succeed in global competition for every seat in school and every job on the planet requires what Friedman calls giving that “little extra”.
There is some preliminary work that needs to be accomplished before we add anything to our plates. I hate to admit that I have watched the reality show “Hoarders” on more than one occasion. Each episode covers the stories of two hoarders whose lives have come to a complete stop because of the clutter in their homes that chokes the life out of them. Henry Cloud in his book, Necessary Endings p.7 states that “getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.” I believe the same can be said of institutions. This kind of work results in change and we bristle at the thought of it. But this is the kind of pruning that results in new growth and better fruit. To our credit ACU has intentionally made some changes and we need to remember that if we don’t change and adapt to our environment we do so at our peril.
THE SOLUTION – THE EXTRA
Now we are ready to add a few things to the plate. Friedman believes that in order for any organization to stay in the game, the individuals that make up the organization need to think like an immigrant think like an artisan, think like a waitress. (Chapter 7 6:34)
An immigrant: If you think like an immigrant, you are entitled to nothing. You have to make it on your own. You go out and earn your place in the world.
An artisan: An artisan makes things with a distinctive touch and personal pride. They carve their initials in their work.
A waitress: For this example, Friedman recounts a story of a waitress who served him and a friend at a Perkins Pancake House in the Midwest. When the waitress served their pancakes she said, “I put a little extra fruit on the side.” Friedman and his friend gave that woman a 50% tip. They knew that she had limitations on what she could do to make the dining experience a good one, but she exercised control where she had it and gave the extra that made the difference.
We can contribute the little extra spontaneously but we can also be strategic in the contributions we make on the job. Friedman recommends when considering strategic moves that we observe, orient, decide and act which is creates the military acronym OODA. *(audio book Chapter 1 26:00) Fighter pilots use this strategy to determine a course of action when they are in the air at high speeds. They don’t have time to cogitate on possibilities but rather have to think quickly and decisively or suffer the consequences of being blown out of the sky. Each of us can contribute significantly to the growth and development of ACU by making observations, making sense of the changing surrounding, making decisions within our purview and acting. The waitress in the story above wasn’t the owner of the restaurant but he took what she had control over and decisively made a difference for one of her customers. In short, she owned her job.
That brings me back to my flight from Maui to Phoenix. My wife and I decided to go to the terminal and speak to a live body a few days before our flight was scheduled to leave. I spoke to a woman at the counter who went through a list of the reasons she was unable to help me. I got lost in the rules and regulations of exit rows and employees’ restricted access to the computer. Karen and I thanked the employee for her explanation and began to walk off when she decided to give a little extra. She began banging on the keys and talking to herself and her colleagues and before we knew it she said, “You’re all set. You have seats side-by-side in the more spacious exit rows at no charge.” She had the choice to make the change that made all of difference in our experience as consumers. Each of us has the same ability to take what we have control over and give that little extra to get students on board, give them a great education and send them into the world ready to make a difference.
Throughout Professional Development, think about how you might answer these questions. Talk about them between sessions or even in your other sessions.
Cloud, H. (2010). Necessary Endings. New York, New York, USA: HarperCollins Publishers.
Friedman, T. L. (2005). The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Friedman, T. L., & Mandelbaum, M. (Authors) & Culp, Jason (Narrator). (2011). That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. [AudioBook Download] Macmillan Audio. Retrieved June 2012 from Audible Audio on Amazon.
Steinberg, J. (2011, February 11). Recruiting in China Pays Off for U.S. Colleges. New York Times.