Blog Post

4 Books to Inspire Change in Academia

Albert Einstein once said "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."  Academia is currently in the midst of a great deal of change and, I fear, they won’t be able to adapt to this change without an infusion of ideas from outside the academy.  Here are some important books that might provide some new useful ideas.

Drive by Daniel Pink:  This book discusses motivation and illustrates the importance of cultivating intrinsic motivation as opposed to external motivation.  As educators we need to recognize the importance of tapping into what are intrinsic motivations for our students as well as ourselves.  The external motivation of grades, test results, and outcomes will not be sufficient to motivate students for long-term lifelong learning.  To help students with that educators will have to tap into intrinsic motivation.  

Uprising by Scott Goodson:  This book is about “movement marketing” and addressing how the formation of movements can lead to important changes in society as a whole and what can be done to foster these movements.  Education reform has now taken on the form on just such a cultural movement and colleges have a role to play but only if they understand what is going on in the broader movement of education reform and recognize how to positively embrace these changes.

The Seven-Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler:  Semler is the leader of a revolutionary company called Semco.  Their organization and company policies often fly in the face of conventional wisdom about how a company should be run and how much autonomy employees should have.  Semler epitomizes the idea that we need new thinking to solve old problems.  As he puts it,  there's "something fundamental about organizations and … leadership that makes it almost impossible for people inside a business to change their own industry.”  To be educational leaders in the coming years, colleges and universities are going to have to embrace ideas outside of their domain.

Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton:  This may seem a surprising book to recommend to educators but his chapter on education is well worth reading and understanding.  As de Botton puts it educators have premised their activity on the flawed notion that simply telling students something through a lecture once in their late teens and early twenties will have long lasting educational value.   As de Botton points out, there's a great difference between a sermon and a lecture!  Religions realize that to truly educate people you need ritual, repetition, an emphasis on the practical value of lessons.   While educators often give lip service to these, they are not as good about practicing them.  Educators could learn a lot from preachers and priests about how to administer lessons!

It's often easy to dismiss ideas from those who are not experts in your own field.  But, ignoring useful insights from outside one's own discipline can turn out to be short-sighted and blinding.  There are many, many good works being published which could offer new ideas and ways of thinking about what we, as educators, do in the classroom.  




Thanks so much for this and your other recent posts. I've added many of them to our FutureEd collection at as great resources for our community as we think about how to innovate and shape the future of higher education, pedagogy, assessment, etc. 

Thanks for getting involved in this discussion!


Two more names to put alongside that of Ricardo Semler: Dee Hock (wonderfully self effacing guy - just happened to make plastic money work) and Jean-François Zobrist (first thing (literally on the first day) he did when he took over FAVI was get rid of the personnel department. These good folk actually understand the game. There are probably folk like these scattered in HE but they are buried under too many layers of corporate managerial bovine excretory byproduct.