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“After foreword”: Crisis and Creativity

August 20, 2020 Robert D. Kelly Colin Stewart

Suddenly the world stopped, and higher education realized just how creative and innovative they could be. 

Higher education has faced many challenges over the years, but never have we faced anything like this. Almost every campus has transitioned to virtual classes and the foundation of higher education has been disrupted. Every campus has been forced to think differently about how to best educate, engage, and support students while balancing the impact of the pandemic on our lives. This is an incredibly challenging and tragic time for the world and there is not one person who has not lost something or someone from the crisis. And while we cannot see the light at this point, there is hope, there are opportunities, and so many unique options to be creative.

About a month before the book (Disruptive Transformation: Leading Creative and Innovative Teams in Higher Education) was slated to be released, the pandemic started to unfold and we all realized that our lives were going to be dramatically altered. Since the crisis unfolded, the editors and authors have had opportunities to engage in Disruptive Transformation in ways we could not have possibly imagined. The editors asked the authors to share suggestions, reflections, and stories on their experiences. Throughout this “after foreword”, there are themes that center on hope, innovation, leadership, and courage. Each reflection brings a sense of vulnerability, questioning what the new normal looks like, and encouragement for the future.

Rethinking Everything-Robert Kelly

In the midst of finding a way to manage (and enjoy) the entire family at home (all day), teaching children, finding time to exercise, read, reflect, pray, prepare meals, check on family and friends, and reconnect to the truly meaningful things in life, work, albeit virtually, work continues. And our jobs and the roles we play on our campuses have continued with a vengeance. And while work continues, there is a heartache for the loss of community, seeing students and colleagues faces, a frantic and necessary sprint to online education, a longing for events and traditions that typically end the academic year, the disappointment from being deprived of the excitement of milestone celebrations and a non-stop assault on ways to mitigate the financial loss of millions of dollars, all of us in higher education have weathered a storm, for which the effects will be with us for years.

While managing this pandemic, we’ve seen glimpses of coaches, counselors, ministers, programmers, faculty, administrators, and mentors offering clarity, insight, new ideas and sparks of brilliance. At the same time, colleagues are trying desperately to hold on to the proven methods of excellence in education, teaching program delivery, student support and mentoring. At this time, all of us in higher education need to rethink everything. And this shift in thinking has to occur in a way to maintain the financial stability of the institution. Do we go down the road of furloughs? Significant budget cuts? How do we bring a lense of equity to a decision that could fundamentally change the university? What do we retain and is there an opportunity to do things differently? And most of all, how do we quickly manage change and difference?

I say quickly because there is this hunger for some sense of routine or expectability. There is a desire for things to return to a normal and we often sell ourselves short by not thinking we can handle ambiguity. And while that is understandable to want to anchor ourselves in something familiar, we must remember that in general, we were not always happy with the old way of doing things. Colleagues are working terribly hard. Students were stressed out. Faculty complained of teaching loads or confusion about service expectations? We were constantly trying to do more with less. We are battling a public perception of colleges and universities having infinite resources and addressing a growing concern on the value of higher education’s contribution to our economy.

So the real issue is how do we create a new normal, a new standard way of advancing our mission? How to be more transparent? How to remain in touch with our values and mission so that we can rethink an educational experience we know works and the world needs? How do we do this and continue to bring innovative and creative approaches to higher education? And what was so great about the way we did things again?

I think a razor sharp focus on open and civil discourse that brings about the notions of care for one self and others, especially when the viewpoint might be different, unpopular or even from an unexpected source. Rethinking higher ed is a reason we wrote this book...not only for the good times in higher education when enrollments are strong and there is great belief in our value; but for the challenging times too, when we are competing for limited resources, tension is high, and ambiguity is all around us. These are the times we need to think deeply and differently and the times we need each other to talk with, to vent to, to strategize with and to see things anew. Most of all, these are the times we need to more meaningfully embrace what matters in our lives. We need to aspire to fundamentally learning something new and try new modes of educating. We cannot be afraid of failure. Maybe, just possibly, this crisis in higher education is a chance for us to reset the environment, as we have reset our homes and our lives. It could be that we abandon a let go of the stress, anxiety, confusion, and excess in higher education and embrace ambiguity. What was so great about “normal” anyway? Now how do I make a face mask out of a t-shirt again?

Unprecedented Norms-Cissy Petty

Crisis moments create opportunity. Problems and crisis ignite our greatest creativity and thought leadership as it forces us to focus on things outside of the norm.” Sam Cawthon

Outside the norm. The new normal. This unprecedented time.

As I sit outside, in a makeshift office, on a brilliant sunlit day, I realize as you do that our lives are forever changed. These last few months have introduced us to discover what it means to chart new territories. By iPhone, email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn or other digital technology our increased presence and communication with one another is the new long distance—virtual. What we usually convey with our eyes or tone of voice cannot quite be captured through a screen. Our leadership now is transmitted by word, image, and sound. We are learning to be present without presence.

While this new normal thrusts us into a variety of reactions--from facing fears to creating opportunities--the leadership gift lies in how we solve problems in distinctively creative ways. This is a time for creative thought leaders in our field to reimagine our student-centric work. We have the responsibility to deconstruct old ways of seeing our field and forge forward to discover new ways of living and learning within our colleges and universities.

The creative question that lingers for me on this chilly, sun-drenched DC morning is: What is a university and/or college anyway? We have long answered that education doesn’t just exist with bricks and mortar. New ways of pedagogy arise every day and now we are seeing that the age-old classroom lecture is not the only way to deliver education. Is living in a quad room on campus the only way students can connect or is that what “we” do because they are first-year students and we want them to “connect.”

Even as a crisis storms, creative leadership calls us to ask the hard questions, all the while knowing there are no easy answers. The creative leader introduces untested, untried opportunities while at the same time giving the team tested and tried assurances that our field will remain vibrant not irrelevant. Our field will continue to deliver students a compassionate, well-lived destiny of people being with and for others.

Quick Change Management-Art Munin

The past few weeks we have seen the field of higher education move from IF, to CAN'T, to HOW.  First, we spun our wheels wondering what we are going to do IF this becomes a pandemic.  During this time there was plenty of denial among many of us, myself included.  The next step was CAN'T.  This was us not being able to see beyond the traditional confines of what being a higher education student, staff, and faculty member means.  Then we came to HOW.  The infinite supply of creativity that exists in higher education kicked into high gear and we sought to remake the student experience in less time than ever thought possible.  We have been responsive, nimble and yes, creative.  While it has not all been smooth and seamless, the resourcefulness of our field has displayed our ability to persevere.  We have proven that higher education is not a place, it is an idea.  It takes creative leaders to show the way forward when the safety of our traditional confines melt away.

Innovation in the time of crisis-Steve Tyrelll

The immediacy of challenges that can bombard professionals in the midst of disruption caused by a crisis calls for us to lead with decisiveness, transparency of facts, calm and empathy as we strive to bring our constituents back to some sense of normalcy. In the midst of a crisis, there is also an importance to document well the actions taken and decisions made so that in the post-crisis period; we can also conduct an assessment of those actions through a comprehensive debrief. Important lessons can be learned to facilitate improvement in the future.

The desire to return to a sense of normalcy in the future is a rational response and reasonable reaction for all parties experience significant crisis. However, creative leadership in a debriefing period can also provide us with an opportunity to do a critical analysis of what institutional structures perpetuated in the past warrant sustaining in the future. The explosion of on-line learning as a means to provide education during crisis will likely produce unexpected outcomes and allows us to questions what past educational strategies and structures are worth returning to and which could be shelved and replaced with new educational frameworks and service delivery approaches that have emerged in a crisis and should remain as the “new norm.”

Adaptive and Social Capital-Bridget Kelly and Natasha Turman

Now more than ever, during unprecedented times, leaders must harness their adaptive and social capitals to thrive. As higher education learning and work environments become digital and remote, and social engagement necessitates isolation and distancing, students, staff and faculty are traversing new terrain in higher education. Adaptive capital (Turman, 2017) allows leaders to assess their environment and adjust or adapt their practice to align with the context and dynamics of the environment. Within the context of higher education, this will require leaders to re-imagine supervision with remote workers; utilize different instructional pedagogies; and call forth untold amounts of creativity and grace. Online programming will require out of the box ideas in order to include all, especially those without access and experience in virtual learning spaces. Each decision made will be historical because there is no precedent. Leaders who lean into this new terrain, create and disrupt notions of business as usual. Finally, leaders may harness social capital (i.e. a supportive and encouraging network of individuals; Yosso, 2005) to assist and navigate uncharted territory. Leaders’ professional and personal communities that are inclusive, diverse and equitable, can help foster novel practices that are sure to have transformative impact (Kelly & Turman, 2020). 

Creative communal and humanizing leadership-Eileen Galvez

For the past few weeks my colleagues and I have gone from crisis management, to caretaking. As Covid-19 continues to harm our global communities, it has been hard to asses what to do in our roles as priorities have quickly shifted to health and safety. We have had to send most of our students home, and the few that remain do so because our campus remains the safest haven for them. Many universities have been forced to rethink and truly embrace what it means to be a global university. For us, the social inequities pre-existing Covid-19 have been exacerbated. Low-income families that already lived paycheck to paycheck are either experience wage losses and/or are considered essential workers placing their health and safety at-risk in order to pick our fruits and vegetables, provide us health care, keep our transportation going, and many other things that remind us what a privilege it is to be able to work from home.

In light of all of this, I have asked myself, “does our work matter?” This coming from a sense to not want to add on to our students’ stress. However, even as I’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible as to offer students pay for work that is optional. Meaning, guaranteeing them pay regardless of the work they do or not, since, any type of financial stability is now more important than ever. Yet, each time, the students I have the incredible privilege of working with have reminded me that in this moment, serving their beloved communities is a lifeline to them. Once again, the more open we are to hearing our students out and not just assume what is best for them, that is when we open up ourselves to the creative leadership that is required of us today. While working hand in hand with our students, we have been able to do some pretty cool things. From taking the initiative to translate our university communications to Spanish and Portuguese for our Latinx and Latin American families, to creating online spaces for our graduating students to offer reflections through Zoom, to inviting faculty to share their home recipes. Some of my colleagues are starting podcasts, virtual escape rooms and so much more. Through these initiatives, I have found that community is not predicated by physical spaces. It is the people, our cultures and our sobreviviensa that propels us forward.

I have recently heard gratitude, not only from our students, but from our highest level of administrators on campus as they state how our cultural centers are leading the university in holding community. I was not surprised to hear this. In my role, I have the incredible responsibility of directing a Latinx cultural center. Some of the most creative people and programs on campus stem from our marginalized communities working with and around the systems that have historically and continuously excludes them. If you want to learn about creative leadership, become active in your on-campus cultural resource centers. You will learn that leadership doesn’t have to be framed as hierarchical. Creative leadership can be communal and humanizing. We need this, now more than ever.

Harnessing Creative Flow-KC Mmeje and Domonic Rollins

During a time where much has been upended, we can feel all over the place. Chaos, confusion, and challenge become normal, and in its midst we still must lead. How?, one asks. There is not simple answer, especially when so little feels like it is at our disposal or at the ready. Yet, there is always the creativity we have inside, and if harnessed it can be a powerful resolve in these difficult times. Here are some tips for for getting into the creative zone when all else is awry:

  • Create habit or routine for the basics so the creative can emerge. If everyday activities take more effort than usual there will likely be no room left for the creative.
  • Stimulate your creative energy through activities that let your mind wonder freely. Novel ideas occur to us when our brains and bodies experience spaciousness.
  • Play. Our creativity is deeply connected to the spirit of play. While it appears as not useful during stressful times, play is key to kickstarting and maintaining our creative energy.
  • Rift. Structure is our safety net during chaotic times; it’s useful. And, our ability to go with the flow, improvise, and adapt is also important. Take the time to simply rift on ideas or thoughts with others to exercise your creative muscle.
Inspiring quick change management and creative solutions-Patrick Love

I have engaged with my staff during the last couple of weeks in specifically encouraging them to see this crisis as an opportunity to try new, different, outlandish, even crazy ideas that in our now lost normal times would not be considered. Unfortunately, I have found that in times of stress and crisis, people's field of view narrows and tunnel vision sets in. Such stressful times do not engender creative and innovative thinking. I try to fight against that tendency. In order to do that, last week I established an incentive program. Here's the text of the email I sent to my staff:

While we know that we are living through a crisis and at the same time trying to serve our students and the institutional community, I also want to encourage everyone on the staff to consider this an opportunity to be fantastically innovative. We are being forced to do our jobs in different ways, so it really gives us license to try radically different things. So, I want to encourage everyone to come up with crazy, creative, outlandish ideas for accomplishing your outcomes or outcomes of the greater unit, division, or institution. I encourage you to think of engaging, fun, and entertaining ways to serve students in this online virtual environment.

And to provide incentive for this, I will send a $20 bill to the person who comes up with the craziest idea each week. Send me your ideas when you come up with them. Then every Thursday I will review the ideas, identify the crazy ones, and then pick what I think is the craziest (Decision of the judge is final!!). I will share that idea with the division and send that person $20!

Disclaimer: while crazy, they have to be within the realm of possibility. So, the Director of the Career Center being filmed riding an elephant down Main St. to promote the Career Center is beyond the realm of possibility. But the Director on a horse....

So, spend time in unit meetings talking about crazy ideas. Go online to websites that help people generate creative ideas. Download an app that helps generate ideas. I look forward to sending you my money!!

Creative Connection-Amanda Stewart

“The most basic human desire is to feel like you belong. Fitting in is important.” Simon Sinek.

Fitting in. Belonging. Mattering. All concepts that as educators, we are familiar with. Students are asking themselves “do I belong here” through every interaction with us as educators and as campus communities. The pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to make sure that students still can answer that “do I belong here’ question, while navigating Zoom calls, virtual instruction, and the stress of uncertain times. How are we making sure digitally that students know they still belong?

One of the dangers of technology lies in the tendency to forget that there is a human being behind every single screen. A human with energy, fears, questions, and feelings. Every post made on social media is sending a message to students about how their campus, their home, is responding to this crisis. Every email sent from the institution is communicating messages that are both challenging and important. Every communication from a faculty member is telling students more than just a deadline.

What is being said is just as important as what isn’t being said in these messages.

If we don’t think creatively about what those messages look like and lean into communicating empathy before we communicate facts, our students and their sense of belonging will be impacted.

A personal example of this in action happened to me a few weeks ago, sitting in one of my final doctorate classes on Zoom. As she wrapped up class, the faculty member looked right at the camera and said to all twenty of us: “I’ll be checking in with you. Share your life with me.”. It was in that moment I was reminded that she cared about me as a whole person, not just about my half-frozen-Zoom frame amidst twenty others. She cared about me.

Connecting creatively digitally can be as simple as being intentional about the words we are using. It can mean more video messages, it can mean helping students feel seen on Zoom. It can mean asking students about their lives and really listening to the answers. It can mean inviting students to be a part of messaging at the University level. Students are the best ones to tell us what they need to hear right now.

When everything is uncertain, everything that is important becomes clear. Our students are the most important audience, let’s continue to communicate with them like they deserve, especially digitally.

Actively Choosing Creativity -Brandon Common

A few weeks ago, I was on a zoom meeting with a student discussing her transition to work from home and receiving online instruction. I listened as she vented about the lack of preparedness of some of her faculty and the mixed messages she felt like she was receiving from the university. At the conclusion of her soliloquy I told her that after successfully completing a masters and doctorate and working in higher education  for over a decade, nothing had prepared me (or anyone else) for this—a pandemic! As our conversation continued, I attempted to assuage her fears by assuring that it would work out one way or another.  Later that day as I reflected on the advice I had given her I began to ask myself, will it work out? Are students receiving what they need, what they deserve to still be successful and to feel whole? At times like this we need creativity more than ever because it's how we keep going. If we can’t imagine new ways to engage our students then how can we expect them to flourish in these uncertain times? I continue to be in awe of the amount of creativity that is happening in higher education and hopeful that this crisis will fundamentally change how we do our work. As we continue to navigate in extreme ambiguity I hope all choose creativity over familiarity and boldness over conventional processes. I hope this episode in the history of higher education creates a new way of thinking for all of us.

Leading from the Head and the Heart: A Simple Model for Turbulent Times-Joseph Zolner

The unprecedented and likely paradigm-shifting implications of the current COVID-19 global pandemic pose a dizzying array of challenges to higher education leaders.  As this piece was being written during the outbreak’s early stages, numerous crisis leadership check-lists, “how to” manuals, and other virus-management-related admonitions were appearing on a daily basis to guide leadership decision making.  While it is both impressive and promising that current world events have prompted such an outpouring of resources, I sometimes feel that the sheer volume of available information can also prompt feelings of information overload and leadership confusion.

This brief note offers a simple model on which higher education leaders might rely to shape their thinking and guide their actions under our current conditions of uncertainty and challenge.

Although no two crises are alike, I would suggest that most elicit a reasonably-predictable set of both personal reactions and leadership implications that can be placed in two broad “buckets”:

“Facts” – the data-driven, empirically-informed, and institution-specific set of strategies and actions needed to address the crisis effectively.  Attending to this set of more rational and data-derived issues is what I call leading from the head.  A sampling of the leadership questions/challenges falling within this category include:

  • How can the campus crisis management plan be executed quickly and effectively?
  • How will the crisis impact the institution’s ability to achieve its mission, goals, and objectives?
  • What steps are required to maintain (or adjust) all critical institutional functions?
  • How should any heightened institutional risk triggered by the crisis be mitigated to the greatest extent possible?
  • What actions are needed to ensure the future health, safety, security, vitality, and productivity of my colleagues and my institution?

“Feelings” – the reasonable, understandable, and very “human” set of reactions that are to be expected during times of acute uncertainty, anxiety, vulnerability, fear, and stress.  Attending to this more personal and emotionally-charged set of forces is what I call leading from the heart.  A sampling of the leadership questions/challenges falling within this category include:

  • How does the crisis affect my personal safety and security and how am I reacting to these threats?
  • How will my future safety and the safety of others who matter to me (both personally and professionally) be assured?
  • How is the crisis impacting colleagues who I work with and care about and what can I do to help them?
  • What should I be doing to promote adequate self-care while also attending to the needs of others?
  • What actions are needed to ensure all those impacted by the crisis are treated with respect, sensitivity, caring, compassion, and empathy?

I further suggest that a temporal dimension must also be considered during times of crisis.  Higher education leaders should attend to immediate challenges and responsibilities – steps that need to be taken immediately or in the near term to reduce threat and promote stability – while also developing crisis mitigation and recovery strategies that will play out over the longer term.

These four dimensions – facts/feelings and immediate/longer term – can be easily depicted in a 2x2 matrix.

After Foreword - Disruptive Transformation Image 1

My simple model posits that, to manage a crisis situation more effectively, leaders should develop tangible plans and take explicit actions to address challenges in each of the four boxes within the crisis leadership matrix.  Doing so will foster a more balanced, nuanced, and multi-faceted leadership approach that encourages equivalent consideration of the rational and the affective, the professional and the personal, the reactive and the proactive, the strategic and the tactical.

Drawing on personal experience, I close with two suggestions for executing this more balanced leadership approach during times of institutional turmoil and crisis:

Seek both “creative” and “traditional” ways to address institutional challenges.

For many, the word “creativity” conjures up notions of originality, distinctiveness, novelty, and innovation.  In other words, to address unprecedented challenges most successfully, our “facts” orientation to leadership may suggest that things must be done very differently than in the past.  However, given the uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and stress that inevitably accompany a crisis, it is also important for the leader to foster – operating through his/her “feelings” orientation – a sense of predictability, stability, and comfort.  While creative new solutions are to be encouraged during a crisis, my experience also suggests that, to the extent possible, such solutions be framed in the context of “traditional” and more familiar institutional policies, practices, protocols, and rituals.

Open, transparent, and redundant communication is the coin of the realm.

Particularly during times of crisis, access to information (i.e., what I know and you don’t) takes on immense importance and currency.  Therefore, periodic, two-way interaction (briefings, informal virtual and/or physical gatherings, Q&A sessions, e-newsletter updates, social gatherings, etc.) that honestly conveys both what is known and what is not yet known/decided is an absolute must.  When developing a robust, “four-box” crisis communication plan, I believe you will be best served by following guidance offered by Molière (a 17th-century French actor and playwright): “Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths.”

Creative Ripples -Anna Gonzelez

On March 11th, we announced that our campus would be conducting our curricular and co-curricular activities online and that we would practice social distancing. A week later, our governor instituted a statewide stay at home order.  How does one lead their division and team to ensure that we continue to provide mission critical service and programs to our community at a time of crisis? The answer is to be creative and have courage.

During times of crisis, creativity and courage goes hand in hand. Leaders are expected to have answers, to know what people are supposed to do, and to know what will happen. Moreover, the decisions that we make are supposed to have the right outcomes. Courageous leadership coupled with creativity means that we are able to think out of the academic box in terms of solutions.  For example, transforming our high touch college into an online community seemed impossible. Yet, we’ve been able to do it and in fact, have provided more opportunities for greater connectivity with students and their families holding forums, programs on YouTube and Zoom, and even an e-career fair.  And it is also important to note that creativity doesn’t just mean relying on technology as the solution.  For example, no amount of technology can replace the moment when one receives the diploma from their president or when 40 year alumni come back to see and reconnect with their friends.  Creative solutions could be about making changes to policies towards room and board reimbursements or the postponement of major events such as commencement and alumni weekend.

This type of leadership ultimately encourages one to not get caught up with obsessing about failures. Rather, it is important to gather and use data, to weigh risks, and to find solutions that may come from their own industry and also from areas external to higher education.  Finally, during a crisis, it is even more important to not sacrifice the long term health of the institution by enacting short term solutions. Remember that any decision you make and actions that you take will have long term impacts. Being courageous and creative in a crisis should ensure that the campus emerges healthy and successful.

Disruptive Transformation--Michele Murray

Socially distanced. Empty streets and grocery store shelves. Overwhelmed hospitals. Work by Zoom. School at home. COVID-19 has ushered in real life circumstances usually reserved for dystopian fiction. And yet, here we are… swallowing our fears and facing down the crisis of this global pandemic alone, together. The effects of this novel coronavirus may very well be the most disruptive force any industry has encountered in living memory. And yet, just as the title of this book suggests, the disruption has invited innovation, creativity, and, perhaps, transformation.

This morning, as I prepared for Day 15 of this strange new existence, NPR featured a story about Twin City Die Castings Co. heeding the call to shift from manufacturing automobile pistons to supplying much smaller parts to fit much-needed ventilators (Malone & Duffin, "Episode 987: The Race To Make Ventilators", 2020). The usual time line for a conversion like this, the report said, is 12 weeks. Instead, the company completed the task in three days. Their can-do spirit, as expressed by CEO, Todd Olson, was one-part exhilaration over making history and two-parts humility about becoming part of a life-saving, global supply chain that came together in a moment’s notice. “Our biggest moment in 100 years,” reflected Olson.

The news segment reminded me of the old adage: Necessity is the mother of all invention. And it caused me to think differently about all that has transpired over the last several weeks in my workplace and at colleges and universities across the country. Like Twin City Die Castings Co., my institution spent mere days, not months or years, converting our traditional, residential, liberal arts education to a remote learning model. The change did not emerge from desire or some grand strategic plan but from an immediate, aggressive need. The experience has been, and continues to be, exhausting. Crisis, by its very nature, is not enjoyable. But as I considered the parallels between my experience of a campus transitioning at lightening speed and the experience Olson described, I found that as demanding and stressful as this period has been, it has also afforded bright sparks of creativity and collaboration. Out of a pressing need for instantaneous operational shifts has emerged a way of proceeding I would not, could not have imagined before.

Over these last weeks, it has been as if my campus colleagues have been following the same sage advice to never waste a crisis. I have been amazed by the ingenuity of my colleagues across campus and the organic development of so many cross-functional teams. Our collective commitment to our students is driving new and innovative methods for delivering the closest facsimile possible of our brand of education in an online environment. And our collective commitment to the health of the institution and to one another is inspiring a level of generosity and willing sacrifice. Perhaps in something akin to how I heard Olson’s description of his company’s quick pivot from car parts to ventilator pistons, my experience has been one part exhilaration and two parts humility as well.

Not surprisingly, my immediate campus experience has been replicated on campuses all across the country. How do I know this to be true? Because during countless conference meetings with colleagues across the country, participants detailed similar events and decision-making unfolding at their institutions. In every meeting, my professional colleagues have consistently demonstrated resourcefulness and resolve, and this community of professionals has allowed me to crowdsource solutions when my own creativity was failing me. For their generosity in sharing ideas and their contributions to collective problem-solving, I am very grateful.

The chapter I contributed to this book is about the spiritual experience of creativity and innovation. I wrote it almost a year ago to the day. Never in the writing process could I have imagined the unprecedented era in which our global community finds itself today. Yet even in these most trying of circumstances, I am profoundly aware that I have witnessed near-miracles born of a shared commitment to students, to their education and development, and to one another. Time and again, people have given of themselves—of who they are at their core—to develop responses to a heretofore unheard of situation. Evidence of the spiritual dimension of creativity has surrounded me from the beginning of this current crisis. I tip my hat to NPR and to Olson and his business associates for providing an occasion to pause and notice.

Moving Forward-Colin Stewart

As I have been processing and reflecting on this experience, I am thankful for my career in student affairs. It is that ethos of care, innovation, compassion, and transcendent level of service for our students and community that is required of all us. As this has unfolded, I have experienced a combination of sense of gratitude, disappointment, optimism, and discouragement (sometimes in the same hour). I was once told that when campuses change direction, we should think of the campus as a large ship making a turn in choppy waters. Under the current state of the world, that metaphor doesn’t resonate with me. When I think about higher education, I think about innovation, change, possibility, inspiration, and hope. I see campuses playing a pivotal role in the years to come and see student affairs as critical to the success of higher education. Our campuses can be thought leaders and leading our communities. With that, I hope that as we move through this crisis and opportunities for creative action, we remember what and why our institutions exist in the first place.

For me, our campuses need to be focused on all of our students. We need to remain locked in on this goal! With that in mind, we need to be effectively communicating with all members of our community and recognize that communication may look different and require different approaches. Communication is critical in times of crisis and needs to be regularly communicating through multiple vehicles. It is important to utilize your entire team to support the campus response and the path forward. For some situations, team members need to be given flexibility, for others, they have strengths that you did not know could be useful. We need thoughtful collaboration, trust, listening and empathy to forge ahead through this time.

Humor can also play a critical role in how we respond to an ongoing crisis. The human body can only stay so stressed for so long and your team needs to be able to both laugh and cry as we support each other and our students. There will be mistakes, failure, and frustration; humor can help your team get through this. As leaders, it is critical to create environments where your team members feel safe and humor can help pave the way.

Everyone (including myself) wants to know what lies ahead...At this point, there is still an excess of fear, grief, and despair. It is times like that we must have faith. To quote Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight, “it’s always darkest before the dawn” (Nolan, 2008). Higher education can be a beacon of light for our students and provide a creative vision for the future. As we look ahead to uncertainty, we need to provide our students, our faculty, our staff, and community with direction about what the plans are for moving forward. All of us recognize how quickly things can change and there needs to be a balance of the strategic, creative, and critical perspective moving ahead.

Disruptive Transformation: Leading Innovative and Creative Teams in Higher Education
Colin Stewart, Ph.D. and Robert Kelly, Ph.D. (Eds.)

Malone, K., & Duffin, K. (2020, April 2). Retrieved from

Nolan, C., Bale, C., Ledger, H., Oldman, G., & Kane, B. (2008). The Dark Knight. 2-disc Blu-ray ed. [United States]: Warner Home Video.

Turman, N. T. (2017). Centering the margins: Elevating the voices of women of color to critically examine college student leadership (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Database. (Accession No. 10287230)