The Courage to Change

President Mark Putnam understands that true collaboration is hard but it’s always worth the effort.

President Mark Putnam understands that true collaboration is hard but it’s always worth the effort.

Most meetings are not memorable. From time to time, however, something happens that sticks with us. We remember the circumstances not because of the content of the discussion—but for the moment of discovery. For me, these are usually circumstances in which a single phrase can change everything, for better or for worse.

Years ago, I served on a project team to prepare for the implementation of a new campus-wide administrative software system. My role was to offer insights into the organization, along with various business needs the system would serve. The project lasted for months, and as it matured there was less and less tolerance for innovative thinking. Gradually I became less popular with my more technically focused colleagues as I often thought of an adjustment that could serve the organization well. One day, as we were reviewing the scope and schedule of the project, a team member said in exasperation, “We will get this project done on time and on budget, as long as we don’t have any more bright ideas.” The project indeed was completed on time and on budget, but it failed in many respects to serve the broader needs of the organization.

By contrast, I was in a meeting a few years later with a different set of colleagues considering the possibility of developing a new educational program. This was a seasoned group of leaders, and we were quite equal to the task presented. As we deliberated, one of our team members looked at the rest of us and said, “We know we can do this, and it’s easy. So let’s try something hard.” We all smiled and took up the challenge for the sake of being demanding of ourselves and pushing our thinking to a higher level. Ideas surfaced, and our ambitions were more fully expressed. This project also was completed—but at a level of success beyond what we would have anticipated.

Each challenge and opportunity we encounter usually presents us with a range of options. Sometimes it makes sense to keep it simple, remembering that perfect is the enemy of good. Yet there are those occasions when, if we don’t push for something more, we lose out on a chance to do something great. Discernment is what separates the two, and it takes collective wisdom to determine the best course.

I admire those who push themselves, those who seem willing to step outside a natural comfort zone. Central has an amazing history of developing people who build the courage necessary to say, “Let’s do something hard.” It begins with students who study abroad, undertake a research project, try out for a team or ensemble or run for office. It extends through alumni who become leaders, grow businesses and stimulate creativity. Together, we embrace the possible. For the courage to change is Central.

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