Being the dean #3

The dean is action-orientated. Solutions are key to the dean. While exploring solutions may take time, we need to focus on how we reach a goal best. This demands a sensible measure and a transparent procedure, and a clear recognition of futile tasks.

Universities are just as any form of organisations build on the constant exchange between people that are goal orientated, and people that are process orientated. While a certain diligence is key in creating solutions, many processes are endless, depending on the people involved. Therefore, it is key to me to find the right balance between these two extremes, the sheer endless maelstroem of admin trying to eat our time, and the head in the cloud professor who “just wants to work”. I feel for both groups. I think we have to learn where our strength are (mine is not in filing out forms), and have to cope with the weaknesses (again not filling out forms). While this is trivial fortune cookie wisdom, much of the frictions we have in daily academia are still rooted in this simple fact. I think it is very easy to process a problem endlessly, while it is quite hard to make the first step towards a solution.

On the other hand it is clear that creativity needs time, and also needs repeated failure. Well, maybe it does not need failure, but it may certainly build on it. I might now continue telling you how we need speed, or creativity, or creativity, or speed. I have however a different take on this. I think engaging in action-orientation takes experience, yet also depends on your mindset. Lets start with the latter-the mindset. I think while some people seem to be born for reflection, some others are born for reflection. Some people seem to tick more top-down, while others are more bottom-up. Where these two clash, there is often tension, yet also moving forward. Experience is more tricky. I think people tend to become more effective over time, building experience. This is very helpful, yet can also create a disharmony between experienced and in-experienced people.

When people become very experienced, they seem to accumulate knowledge on such an epic scale, that they create action almost by reflex. This is actually the time, when it is most pleasant to be the dean. Working with these fast-thinkers is an extreme privilege, and a great pleasure. I learn a lot, and hope to become more efficient myself. I can highly recommend to lower ranks to observe experienced thinkers and build enough trust in themselves to just observe how these fast tinkers create action. To me this is one of the core levers in how we can move academia forward. Let’s build experience to empower fast thinkers, or at least let’s try to learn how we can create action.