Institutional Revolution from Within

Among the obstacles to creation that Twyla Tharp lists in her book The Creative Habit, “Other People” ranks as a principle hindrance. “But people sometimes let you down,” she writes. “For every person who inspires you and pushes you in the right direction, there is often another who is ‘missing in action,’ either because he’s unreliable or simply closes you off rather than opens you up.”

The politics of any profession are frequently the most mystifying and frustrating aspect of a job. People in all walks complain about their bosses’ lack of creativity. They complain about their colleagues’ ineptitude. There is usually someone doing something wrong in any office environment.

But work politics require that an individual takes responsibility and initiative for her environment. In the case of RISD’s John Maeda, however, the individual began to outshine the collective, to his detriment.

Academe is a notoriously traditional institutional structure that rewards seniority and departmental cooperation. Doubtles Maeda’s resume made him a strong candidate for the role of president. However, Maeda’s “newfangled” (for a university) communication techniques left his colleagues feeling ostracized and ignored. A blog post may address an issue but it does not address the person with the issue.

Maeda seemed able to hold on to his post largely because the administration inserted a buffer of “new deans, the reorganization of mid-level academic administration and more collaboration among deans, faculty and the provost’s office, according to the Brown Daily Herald.

In the end, Maeda’s presidency will likely be good for RISD, and at the very least attract a lot of attention for the school. But the task for Maeda is one that Brian Kelly of AppNexus well defined in his interview with the “Corner Office.” Kelly said, “The challenge is to not end up with this cultural rift between the inner circle and everyone else. “ It’s just that in academia, that inner circle is more of a sanctum.

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