I worked with this great salesguy once, a guy named Jeanne (je-nay). Think Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, but with a wicked sense for product marketing thrown into the bargain. The engineers in the company grew to have a grudging respect for this flawlessly tailored sales dude with the slicked back hair, because listening to him helped them move beyond cool technology to create products people would actually buy.
Among his many principles was one we called Jeanne's Law. According to the law, if you want to make a product that will sell, then you have to make sure that it's:
- Easy to buy
- Easy to install
- Easy to maintain
Not many products of any kind satisfy the Law completely. Cars are hard to buy. Ceiling fans are hard to install. Pools are impossible to maintain. Making a run away product is no mean feat.
Now I realize that it borders on crass to think about higher education as a "product", but the other day, as I was watching our new provost, Dr. Betty Capaldi, outline her plan for improving student persistence at ASU, I couldn't help thinking that Betty's vision for improving ASU's online services has a lot to do with making it easier for students to make educational decisions.
As I listened to Betty discussing how:
- welcoming freshmen into majors immediately,
- improving the online tools that help a student measure their progress toward a degree,
- and creating a more effective ways to browse among programs of study,
would have a dramatic impact on student success, I couldn't help but think about the intersection of Jeanne's Law and amazondotcomification. Because for me, Betty's plan translates to making ASU's brand of higher education easier to buy, easier to install, and easier to maintain; all by dramatically improving ASU's online environment.
And that's where IKEA comes in.
If ASU were IKEA, it would only have the first floor; you know, the warehouse part. IKEA furniture has to be put together, and on the warehouse floor all the individual pieces of bookcases, closet organizers, coffee tables, chairs, couches and every other component of IKEA's brand of Scandinavian interiors are arranged according to the warehouse rules. It's by no means apparent, from any of the information available down there, which of these individual parts might go together to make a Billy bookshelf or a Hopen wardrobe system. There's just a collection of loosely related parts, available for you to take in whatever combination you want.
Not unlike the way ASU presents its courses, arranged according to the departments that offer them. It's not all that easy down there on our warehouse floor to see how a given set of courses is going to fit together to create a career in nanobiology or law or something else that would ignite your passion. Sorting them by department makes all kinds of sense to the folks doing the teaching; but it's certainly not the most straightforward way to think about what's right for you as a student.
Of course at IKEA, you don't shop on the warehouse floor. You shop on the second floor, in the showroom. I like IKEA's showroom. The showroom is where all those slats and knobs and pieces of pressboard come together to make things people might want to buy. Without the showroom, you have to be either gifted, lucky or an insider to know how to make the individual bits and pieces come together to make anything. But in the showroom you can see whole living rooms or offices, building your desire for tables with names like Jokkmokk or BjorKudden. And right next to each item in the showroom you can find the list of the exact pieces you'll need to make one for yourself.
Betty's system will be like a showroom for ASU's higher ed products. Instead of wandering around the course warehouse, trying to figure out how the individual courses go together to make an education, Betty's system will help students browse through -- and ultimately choose -- courses of study related to their interests that prepare them for futures that excite their passions.
And if, after choosing several courses, a student changes her mind, Betty's system will help them choose a new path, and make the most of the courses they've already taken.
Of course my biggest gripe with IKEA is availability. You pick an item from the showroom, get the list of parts that you'll need to make it, and head for the warehouse. You grab one of those wheely carts and start hauling the pieces out when it happens. It never fails. After you've already hefted, dragged, and shoved 6 of the 8 parts you need onto the cart, you discover that one of the crucial pieces is out of stock. No Matteus Desk for you today.
This happens to our students too. Imagine how frustrating it must be to be a few courses from graduation and not be able to get into the courses you need. Or to be excited about investigating a new career option, only to find that all the introductory courses in your interest area are full. Hearing Betty's committment to enrollment planning as a vehicle to drastically reduce these occurances was music to my ears.
So Giddyup I say...I can't wait to get started on this. It's a revolutionary opportunity. Looking forward to working on it with you all.