My two-year old son’s favorite TV show at the moment is Curious George, about the adventures of a mischievous monkey and his keeper, the Man in the Yellow Hat. In the show, George’s titular curiosity gets him into difficult situations when he tries to do things he doesn’t fully know how to do or understand. That same curiosity, though, helps him solve problems that even the genius scientists who work with the Man in the Yellow Hat can’t solve, in part because he sees and does things very differently than conventional wisdom would dictate (and in part because he is a monkey). He wouldn’t be able to have the “aha!” moments, without the “uh-oh” moments.
In his book, The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun writes, “History…is mostly a telling of success, not the partial failures that enabled success. Without at least imagining the missing dimensions to the stories, our view of how to make things happen in the present is seriously compromised.” Berkun deconstructs the concept of the “Eureka!” moment, instead, chronicling the process by which many great innovations happened as a result of trial-and-error work toward solutions over time. The gap between idea and implementation is where most people fail and give up. Berkun encourages using failure to learn and grow and keep moving forward.
Our GEIST strategic map calls us to creative innovation and purposeful transformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has required us all to put these goals into practice daily—trying new tools for and approaches to our work, teaching and learning that, at first, we didn’t fully understand or know how to do. If we’re honest, not everything succeeded or went without hiccups. But without the curiosity to explore, to push through those “uh-oh” moments along the way, and without the willingness to try and fail and learn, we wouldn’t have been able to arrive at some new “ahas!” that work for our present (and future) reality, allowing us to survive and thrive in the shift to working, teaching and learning remotely. Our newly acquired skills for serving and engaging our students through myriad methods and modalities should pay dividends for years to come.
In his inaugural address to the university in 2017, President Jones said, “To do the common in uncommon ways means living a life of possibilities.” Did we know when this year began that it would be possible for us to transform from an almost entirely campus-based university to an almost entirely online university at a moment’s notice? What else might be possible if we work together, share our triumphs and failures and continue to innovate?
As we begin returning to campus, may we not simply revert to business as usual, rather I pray we maintain the spirit of curiosity that has sustained us lo these many marooned months—possibilities abound!