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The 7 Habits of Successful Academic-Innovation Leaders

Given the pace of change in higher education today, it should come as no surprise that colleges and universities are investing in research and development labs dedicated to academic and business-model innovation. Done right, these labs have the potential to transform institutional cultures. But investing in innovation as an organizational function won’t amount to much unless the leaders charged with driving innovation are able to thrive.

At a recent conference for academic-innovation leaders called Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners (HAIL) Storm, a group of some 30 of us from a diverse range of institutions and backgrounds participated in a spirited discussion about the way we approach this work and what advice we would give to colleagues new to this role or interested in learning more about what we do and how we do it.

Inspired by Stephen Covey’s influential book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we wondered if there aren’t seven habits we possess—or should possess—that enable us to be successful. Here’s a snapshot of what we came up with:

Habit 1: Develop an Intrapreneurial Vision

Always start with vision: who are you and what are you trying to accomplish day-to-day? Remember, innovators are not market-minded opportunists. Our institutions have missions. We represent those missions and have skin in the game in driving those missions forward. And so, we push boundaries and take risks but never as solo performers. Rather, we act as trusted partners and peers to all we serve. We push boundaries but never outpace our colleagues. We are provocative but also constructive. We avoid creating crisis but have no qualms about finding opportunity in crisis—even if it means challenging the status quo.

Habit 2: Make it rain

At the same time, innovators are rainmakers. We perform magic. We scan the horizon for what’s next and are in constant pursuit of change. We value ideas for their viability and market potential—and are not afraid to seek…

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