Ideas to solve real-life business issues  can come from anyone in the organization. These ideas need to be heard.  Many blogs and  social business books  discuss the benefits from tapping in the collective knowledge of employees within an organization. Books like The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees and Smart Business, Social Business: A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization emphasize the idea of  learning, adaptive organization built on collaboration and communities to promote innovations.  The diverse work that we do and the collaborative culture we promote in student affairs leads me to believe I think we should/need look for opportunities to involve all staff in finding ways to improve how we serve students towards their learning and personal development.

One opportunity that comes to mind is to have friendly competitions called “innovathon”. By no means is this idea new or unique. Companies such as Facebook and Google have hackathons designed for fun and social purpose but also with the goal of producing usable products. Universities like UCSB have contests for budding entrepreneurs to build new products/services.  While not a novel idea, I think it does provide some tangible benefits Here are some initial thoughts on this concept:


To promote sharing of ideas from any/all student affairs employees (staff, students) with the end goal of solving actual business problems.


  • Coaches/Mentors   – These could be Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO) or those familiar with university processes. Their role is primarily to guide the individuals/teams and serve as resources. They should have minimal input on the ideas themselves.  The ideas need to come from fresh or different set of perspectives.
  • Teams  – These teams shall consist of student workers and professional staff (number of team members can vary).
  • Selection Panel  – A panel consisting of students/staff responsible for the initial and final selection of ideas/products  to be implemented.
  • Executive Project Sponsor – Vice Chancellor or a SSAO.


  • Development of innovative but implementable products & services
  • Provide students and staff insight on how the university process works as part of their professional development.
  • Opportunity to work with other employees/students  in the division beyond the scope of their job responsibilities.
  • Opportunity to work with senior executives and managers (coaches) which could lead to mentor/mentee relationships.
  • Morale booster for the organization and those involved.

Required Resources:

  • Funding to implement selected ideas.
  • Department’s approval for employees to work on their projects.


  • Invitation to the competition will be communicated to the organization  (email, social media, posters). Invitation will include rules and guidelines.
  • Teams submit a proposal (general description) of their ideas and submit it via email to the selection panel.
  • Selection panel reviews and choose ideas to be considered for further evaluation phase.
  • Selected teams and their proposals are assigned coaches. The teams will be provided some time (tbd) to work on their ideas and prepare for a presentation.
  • Selected teams will present their proposals to the selection panel and the Executive Project Sponsor.

I hope the general concept  shared in this post can spur some creative opportunities for your organization.  I would love to know if you have done a similar concept in your organization or if you could add more details to the ideas in this post.