Leave Some Things Behind

In an innovation workshop I was running for leaders, a leader in her university’s student experience centre described some of their new initiatives – such as more parking, increased security for women at night, a wider range of eating outlets, and more social activities. As she spoke, it struck me they all addressed the campus experience, not the wider student experience.

This is not surprising. The university’s focus is on its campus because it has a campus – a large, valuable, expensive campus that is one of the university’s biggest assets. But that campus also constrains its thinking. In contrast, online course providers like Coursera offer university-level education without a physical campus, and use that to their advantage. They attract more students and from more countries, conduct online assessments, leverage peer support, and facilitate local meet-ups for students in the same town.

It’s difficult for a university with a campus to transform into a purely online university without a campus. But it doesn’t need to go that far. If all they did was start any innovation initiative with the hypothetical question, “What if we didn’t have a campus?”, they would immediately generate a richer collection of ideas.

The same applies to you, especially with digital transformation. By all means, enhance your existing assets with digital initiatives, but recognise that as just a good start, not a transformation. Sometimes you need to discard valuable assets to make real progress.

For example, when banks gave customers the choice to replace paper statements with online statements, it helped everybody but it was hardly a transformation. It’s certainly nothing like the digital bank “Up” (backed by Bendigo Bank), which provides app-based access to much more from a transaction list than just a statement.

There’s nothing wrong with digital initiatives that change, improve, enhance, and simplify operations. But don’t be too consumed by that approach alone. As with the university example, take the time to regularly pose the question, “What if we didn’t have [statements /signs / an office / brochures / …]?”

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