I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sources of inspiration for student affairs services and programs and in surveying the field think we would benefit from more lateral thinking. The folks at Wikipedia provide this definition for lateral thinking: “Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.” But my primary introduction to the concept is through a book by Paul Sloane, called “The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills: Unlocking the Creativity and Innovation in You and Your Team.” It’s a good read that you should check out.
In Sloane’s book he tells the story of how at one point (think early 1900s), most retailers had a counter at the very front of the store. Customers walked in the front door and were met quickly by staff behind the counter. All the merchandise was kept behind the counter and customers told the staff what items they would like. These items were retrieved by the clerk. But one shop owner had an idea: what if the counter was in the back and all the merchandise was available to allow the customers to select their own items? Thus was created the modern retail experience, paving the way for how we shop today.
The question to you: What can we do to “flip the store,” metaphorically speaking?
While the core of what we do is strong, there’s nothing preventing us from reinventing the way we “do business.” Our approaches, our technologies, our processes, our programs, and how we think about what we do are all fair game for innovation and improvements. Perhaps this is simply a bias from where I sit, but it seems we are missing opportunities by focusing on best practices instead of “next practices.” We owe it to ourselves and to our students to think more broadly about how we function.
So, I’m on the lookout. How can we draw more influence from unusual sources? What have you seen other service industries or sectors doing that inspire you? I’d love to hear from you on this.
Cross posted on Service Design Thinking, Marketing and Innovation
Gary Alan Miller is the Assistant Director for Social Media and Innovation at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.