What happens when you put a group of CIOs, a group of post-secondary students, some vendors and some professors in a room together?
This is not the opening line of a joke. It was the setting of the latest “One Million Acts of Innovation” events lead by The Access Group’s Taimour Zaman and Tridel CIO Ted Maulucci, an initiative I profiled in the latest issue of CIO Canada. One of the big areas they’re focusing on is education – in particular, how the various stakeholders within business and academia can become better partners and further each other’s needs.
What transpired was not the usual series of PowerPoint presentations and panel discussions but a series of audience break-out conversations. The organizers would pose a leading question or two and ask us to turn to our neighbours and trade ideas. It was a little like the old Mike Myers’ “Coffee Talk” with sketch on Saturday Night Live, except that everyone took the topics very seriously and were highly engaged. By that I mean, the question had barely been asked when the noise of people talking reached such a hubbub I felt like I was in a nighclub, not the offices of Miller Thompson, LLP.
I believe these events are supposed to be semi-private so I won’t go into much detail about what was offered. In general, though, I kept hearing ideas or suggestions that sounded like various ways to redefine the corporate internship, which of course is how many companies work with the student population today. I’m not so sure that internship programs need that kind of overhaul. Although I’m sure the quality of the learning and treatment of interns and co-op students varies widely from company to company, what emerged as a consistent concern is that business leaders aren’t listening well enough to students. This exacerbates the generation gap and doesn’t help prepare our future leaders for their inevitable responsibilities.
Two thoughts from me, which I didn’t get a chance to air during the event: Perhaps we should turn it the other way around. When a new person takes on the role of CEO, many of them take a few weeks to do some job shadowing in various departments. Perhaps IT leaders and their business counterparts could take a similar tack. What would happen if they spent a few weeks in a university as a student, working in a study group and trying to solve the kind of problems but to today’s generation? They would almost certainly be different than the homework they were given in school, and the interactions they would have in collaborating with these students might tell them a lot about the younger generation’s approach, attitudes and aptitude for the work force. Sort of student-led internship for executives.
The other thing that came through was that the relationship between companies and students is a lot like the shift that’s happened in enterprise IT around cloud computing. Much in the way that IT managers used to buy hardware and software once and then run it, we tend to teach students in school for a given time, hire them and expect them somehow to maintain their fresh perspective, their enthusiasm and energy. With cloud computing and related technologies, IT has moved to an on-demand model. I think companies are beginning to need an on-demand approach to sourcing student creativity and contributions. Call it education as a service, perhaps, or talent as a service. Even if this is the only act of innovation that leads anywhere, it would be enough.