The Guy in Orange Pants

By his own admission, he’s the guy likely to show up wearing orange pants.

He describes himself as curious, focused, and engaged.  Not only that, he loves learning, reads a lot, and enjoys teaching others.

When asked to describe his personal brand, he suggests it would need to incorporate being innovative and promoting alternative solutions and efficiencies. 

And, while these qualities are those we profess to need in order to respond to our changing world, an employment history within several colleges and universities has failed to capture the head and heart of this bright, well-educated, and engaging young man. Instead, he has applied for a position as an e-learning coordinator within our small non-profit organization.

One would think colleges and universities would be the ideal employer for a guy like this. Wouldn’t they have an advantage over a non-profit organization like ours as a potential employer? Shouldn’t colleges and universities have a leg up as the institutes of the future that would attract this guy? 

Rick Smyre, a futurist who is president of Communities of the Future (, suggests that to be an institute of the future we need to think about two types of change. The first is reforming change, the second is transforming change.

Within an education setting, reforming change would be the kind of change that is based on trying to improve, refine, or make a traditional idea more effective. An example might be reducing class size or delivering classes online. This kind of reforming change is different from transforming change because it does very little to challenge the core learning experience.

On the other hand, transforming change is that which challenges underlying assumptions, issues, and knowledge. Traditionally, education has been based on the ability to answer questions about content or knowledge that is already known. However, in a world that is constantly changing; assumptions, issues, and knowledge need to be identified and connected in order to ensure ongoing innovation. Students of all ages will need to know how to identify trends and emerging patterns, ask appropriate questions, and make connections and links.

So, how do we ensure colleges and universities are positioned as institutes of the future? 

Every student and staff member needs to be exposed to future trends on an ongoing basis. This information could be incorporated into existing curricula as well as within sessions designed for the public. 

Smyre also suggests we need to foster receptiveness to new ideas, strengthen capacity for transforming rather than reforming, generative dialogue instead of debate, building webs instead of hierarchies, choices over standardization, and collaborative individualism or the need for individuals to work together with others toward common goals.

Of course, the challenge will be in accepting there isn’t a perfect model for becoming a “futures institute” as it could be many things, in many differing forms. And that, of course, is the entire point. There is rarely a one best way to do anything these days. Instead, it is more important to be clear about values, principles, and outcomes, and then to embrace the challenge and the possibilities of knowing there are many ways.

Posted on 08-12-11

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