garage-thumb.png Develop and evangelize ideas about how small liberal arts colleges can borrow from startups and the like to become more effective and successful organizations.


In some ways, higher education is like the US Senate: an institution deliberately designed not to operate too quickly to buffet it against the fads of the moment. At the same time, it has many internal parts that have almost the opposite charge: to be constantly at the cutting edge. The tension between these is not always well managed and not always a productive one.

Small liberal arts colleges (SLACs), in particular, can find themselves in a bind. In an environment shouting "adapt or die," many of their leaders, members, and supporters misguidedly believe their legacy is the protection of tradition. Administrators are ill-equipped to run the organization in new ways and are challenged by their faculty when they do. Administrators ill-equipped to parry well-intentioned but uninformed intrusions from trustees and thought-leaders who "know how to run an organization" and whose wallets guarantee them a hearing. Faculty clamor for a greater role in governance even though few of their number know anything about how to run an educational organization even in the old ways, much less new ones.

It is a frightening perfect storm of not being up to the challenges we face, but buried in it may be an opportunity. The lack of managerial and entrepreneurial acumen in these precincts may make it easier for good ideas to take the helm. Much of the status quo is stuck in its ways of not doing things which may be easier to dislodge than one that is stuck in its ways of doing things.


No Handoffs

Minimum Viable Product

Fail Fast, Fail Cheap

Rapid Prototyping

The term refers to the practice in manufacturing industries whereby a mockup or model of a part, device, or product is created using tools like 3D printing, woodworking, modeling clay, or even paper folding. The goal is to get design concepts into sufficiently realistic physical form so that designers and users can interact with it to generate ideas that will help to refine it in successive iterations.

In the higher education environment this usually means a whole sketch of an idea can be generated so that colleagues and students can try it out and offer feedback.

The main lesson for educational institutions is the need for tools and skills that allow us to take ideas we are considering and prototype them. The goal is to strike a balance between the rapidity with which this can be done and the verisimilitude of the prototype. Good tools help us to move further down the line on both dimensions and overcome the tradeoff between them.


Rapid Prototyping in Instructional Design

Every Initiative an Experiment

"Can this product be built?" Instead, the questions are "Should this product be built?" and "Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?"1