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Kinetic Synergy

July/August 2017

By Multiple Authors

Orchestrating All-In Leadership

In September 2016, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hosted its first Collaboration Artist recognition program. The goal of its umbrella initiative, Collaborate America, is “to spark a program to inspire future generations and truly change the world … and learn from some of the greatest collaborators of our generation.”

With event honorees including the likes of the James Beard Foundation and ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, coordinators described artful collaboration as perhaps “our most critical resource in terms of the future of mankind. Imagine if [it] were taught to children and seen by them as one of the most important skills.”

Two things struck me about the Collaboration Artist concept. One, it is yet another example of the recent focus on the value of leaders working together as creative teams, rather than as groups or individuals competing for credit or recognition. When we work in harmony, we create kinetic synergy, the topic of this issue of Business Officer. Said another way, we create “Currents of Collaboration,” the theme of the NACUBO 2017 Annual Meeting in Minneapolis.

Second, included in the Collaborate America advisory committee are representatives of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, host of our annual meeting in 2018, where we will continue to explore creativity and ingenuity.

Thinking in Harmony

With evolving technology and artificial intelligence gaining momentum, collaborative efforts are not limited to the human mind. A case in point is the cover art of this issue of Business Officer—a product of Andy Gilmore’s technique of considering sound, light, and even music, to inform his designs. As a draftsman, designer, and musician based in Rochester, N.Y., Gilmore also incorporates nature to spark ideas in work that is described as “exploring the physical properties of sound and light put to form.”

Perhaps one of the best examples of collaborating to create the bold and new is YoYo Ma’s development of “The Music of Strangers,” with his Silk Road Ensemble. The world-renowned cellist sought out musicians from all parts of the globe to experiment in combining the sounds of instruments that had never before been played together—not only producing unique sounds, but also fostering cultural connections and global understanding.

Bringing such concepts to the practical world of higher education financial management and operations, this issue’s introductory feature, “Thinking Differently, Together,” is based on an interview with Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur, and focuses on their work in building bridges among individuals who are intellectually diverse. Part of that technique is to recognize that each person can bring a unique contribution based on respective talents and thinking styles. In their book, Collaborative Intelligence (Spiegel and Grau, 2015), Markova and McArthur note: “The latest research in neuroscience indicates that we are hardwired to connect, understand, and harmonize with one another. And, in a complex, hyper-speed global economy, our future depends on it.”

The balance of the issue is organized in three sections that describe collaboration within, among, and outside colleges and universities. And, whether it’s about enriching career-focused curriculum, embarking on shared services, or adding new meaning to “networked institutions,” the common goal is to create kinetic synergies that benefit students, institutions, and society.

Cohesive Campuses

For “Personal Pathways,” author Nancy Mann Jackson interviewed leaders from across Furman University, Greenville, S.C., to learn about their respective roles in designing The Furman Advantage. Mary Lou Merkt, vice president of finance and administration, and NACUBO’s incoming board chair, explains: “We believe our long history and tradition of excellent academics, experiential learning, and community engagement can be a powerful force. The Furman Advantage brings together these elements in a purposeful, four-year pathway that launches graduates with an exit plan. And we’re promising this opportunity to every student. We believe The Furman Advantage answers the value question and provides distinctiveness in a competitive market.”

Building on the description of Furman’s goal to enhance the student experience, Karla Hignite’s article “Immersion Excursion” explores learning communities at a number of colleges and universities. Sometimes called “learning labs,” these hands-on opportunities “can yield important lessons on how to lead, interact with, and learn from one’s peers. And, because of their complex physical infrastructure and systems, campuses offer ready-made opportunities for joining the academic and operational spheres of an institution to boost student interest, understanding, and success.”

Purposeful Sharing

While shared services have been part of the higher education landscape for decades, higher stakes have created increased incentive for such a business model. For example, in “Mutual Benefits,” Sandra R. Sabo writes, “The 2008 recession prompted six private colleges in upstate New York to explore shared approaches to achieving cost savings and greater efficiencies. Following the creation of the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, in 2010, the college initiated development of Health4Edu, a shared self-funded health plan that includes membership in a prescription drug purchasing coalition.”

According to Amy Cronin, executive director of the New York Six, “The collaboration has made their health-care expenditures more predictable by reducing volatility and has resulted in significant savings—close to $4 million over the last three-plus years.”

Meanwhile, “big data” has grown from a buzzword to a basis for benchmarking and better decision making. In “Multipurpose Data,” Margo Vanover Porter explains ways in which higher education institutions are using software to integrate various data systems. At the University of California, Riverside, for example, Maria A. Anguiano, vice chancellor, office of planning and budget, plans to dig down to costs at the course level. “By putting all our data sources in one software platform and creating different assumptions around how we want to allocate costs,” Anguiano explains, “we’ve been able to basically understand both our revenue and costs at the course level.”

On a multicampus level, Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, has made use of information as basic as campus bus schedules to reduce the time that students spend on the bus between locations. According to Michael Gower, executive vice president for finance and administration, the institution recently analyzed where students start their days, and where they go to classes, creating a scatter map of the entire campus, with all of the lines based on the students’ class schedules.

“It was extraordinary,” says Gower, “to see and be able to answer questions such as ‘How often did they have to get on a bus per day? Were they going from one campus to another?’ All this comes back to the need for analytics and the utilization of space.”

Synergy as Strategy

We close out the issue with the thoughtful article, “Digital Disruption,” by Peter Smith, Orkand Chair, Professor of Innovative Practices in Higher Education, at the University of Maryland University College, Adelphi.

A careful observer of all things digital, Smith posits, “New products, services, and resources are becoming available as the confluence of technology and data analytics redraws the landscape of higher education and lifelong learning. These changes and the new environment that is emerging are putting tremendous pressure on the traditional academic and business model of higher education. Understanding what the emerging ecosystem will look like and how it might work becomes critically important in the moment.”

You’ll learn much more about these developing dynamics at the NACUBO 2017 Annual Meeting. You’ll also find out about the details of NACUBO’s recently approved Strategic Plan. Itself a collaborative effort—with input from numerous stakeholder groups—the plan places value on working with other experts and leaders on five priorities:

Engage higher education institutions in undertaking necessary transformations to strategically position themselves in the dynamic higher education environment.

As Markova and McArthur note, creative professionals working and thinking in concert can “come together to do their best work in a symphony of collaboration, their individual strengths working in harmony like an orchestra or high-performing sports team.”

Let’s get started!

John Walda is president and CEO of NACUBO.


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