Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

We've Never Done It That Way Before

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

We've Never Done It That Way Before

Article excerpt

In my last column I mused about Big Questions. Our current theme of innovation prompts me to think about something called Better Questions--questions at the heart of the process of change and innovation.

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Innovation is a primary focus of Phi Kappa Phi these days, as we prepare to open the competition for our new Excellence in Innovation Award in September. Unlike our other awards and grants--those made to members and students on member campuses--the innovation award is available only to accredited institutions of higher learning. The genesis of this initiative came from our strategic plan, one goal of which is to increase Phi Kappa Phi's presence and voice in the national conversation on higher education.

As we considered steps we might take toward the achievement of that goal, we sought a substantial project that would underscore our mission to recognize excellence. It was right in front of us--why not do what we're best known for, what we already do well? The Society has been in the awards business since it established the fellowship program in 1931. And so the Phi Kappa Phi Excellence in Innovation Award was created as a means of recognizing the transformative, systemic innovations for which higher education is often known.

In his recent book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (Bloomsbury, 2014), Warren Berger poses a simple formula: Q (questioning) + A (action) = I (innovation). Berger would surely share Robert Kennedy's fondness for George Bernard Shaw's claim, "Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?"

Why is the innovator's obvious first question, Why Not her next, followed by What If, and finally, How! Her critics will ask their own questions--just what does she think she's doing? (We've never done it that way before, you know.) Change can be challenging, even threatening, to individuals, organizations, and institutions. Most people don't like change, yet like it or not, over the course of their lives, they've not only seen but benefited from the remarkable changes introduced by technology and research, all of which began with innovations sparked by the curious mind of an inveterate questioner. …

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