It’s my party and I’ll Innovate if I want to!


Today is a momentous day.  If you have read Watkins, “The First 90 Days” you know that a leader only has so much time before they are no longer new, before their past accomplishments are not weighted as much as their current situation.  JeffBirthdayToday represents that day for me.  Which is ironic, because it also happens to be my birthday…

Seemingly, my 40+ years on this planet have all funneled toward today. From my first Commodore 64 (pictured above) to my current Microsoft Surface, Apple iPad, and iPhone, technology has shaped my life.  The 30 years I spent as a student helped create my paradigm.  The 20 years as a professor made an impact.  Being a pastor’s kid, a trumpet player, and a disc golfer had ramifications.  But especially the voracious study of teaching and learning throughout my adult life, have led me to Saint Leo, Florida and this moment.

Ironically, I got off the phone this morning with a reporter who wanted to know Saint Leo’s plans to innovate, teach 21st Century students, and how my background will help facilitate all of it.  And while I can’t see the future, I predict good things are coming.  BIG things are coming!  Along with the academic team, I’ve set some BHAG’s – Jim Collins (Good to Great, 2010) notion of a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.”  Some of the initiatives around learning innovation should make some people stand up and take notice!  But I think it’s important to say that as much as I hope to bring to Saint Leo, it’s not about me.  Truly.

When Dr. Kirk made me Saint Leo’s offer, he made it clear that this was fertile ground for learning innovation.  At the time, I was being considered by a significantly larger school with a juicy title, big office, and staff, but where the ground was likely overworked and the acreage was ten times bigger than Saint Leo.  He said, “You might get 1 big idea to come to fruition in a lifetime at that giant school…here, you’ll weave a tapestry of dozens.”  Indeed, that has proven to be true at every turn thus far.

How can I say that after only a few months and after only setting a vision, not really implementing anything?  Let me throw out another Jim Collins concept - ‘Brutal Facts.‘  As an outsider, I was able to come to Saint Leo with a fresh eye, an objective ability to see what was working and what was not.  And so, after a few months of intensive study, digging, data analysis, and investigation, I presented some ‘brutal facts’ to my peers and the President.  There was surely some amazing stuff to celebrate along the way, but rapid growth and just-in-time fixes had amassed a lot of problems with process, policy, and politics.  And every time, the reaction was the same.  “OK…how do we fix it?  Where do we go from here?  What’s our move now?”

Keep in mind, these are the kinds of meetings that keep a person up for days ahead of time.  As one executive said, “You’re the neurosurgeon who is telling us we have cancer.  But you’re also the guy telling us how to remove it and become stronger.”  Ugh.

And so, as I set up my agenda for learning innovation success, I also helped Saint Leo get back to our Hedgehog concept.  (That’s the last Collins reference – I promise.)  But it had very little to do with me.  All I really am is a messenger and a pointer.  I’ve seen dozens of learning innovations in all 50 states and across 34 countries, up close and personal.  I’m a curator of other people’s success.  I picked up a seed here and there – a video idea in Western Australia, a synchronous idea in San Francisco, a conference idea in Berlin, etc – and I looked for a place to plant those seeds.

I found that fertile ground in Florida – who knew?  (It’s always the last place you look…)

And so, as I celebrate yet another birthday, I get to start watching a bunch of new life grow.  These innovations, like plants or children, are just seeds right now.  Very soon, most will bud.  And because of the fertility in the ground at Saint Leo, in time, they’ll take on lives of their own.  Lives that align with the mission of the school and with the notion of learning innovation.

I hope you’ll follow us and watch.  It should be a great ride.

Good luck and good teaching!

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

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