Finding inspiration

Walking around campus this week, the signs were clear: The academic year was coming to a close. In South Campus, I saw parents packing minivans outside residence halls. At the Ohio Union, students scrambling to use every last cent on their meal plans. In the South Campus Gateway, my fellow communicators putting the final touches on Commencement communications plans.

At a university, the end of the academic year is a natural place for us to stop and think–a chance to reflect on the past year and think about what’s next.

In many ways it’s hard to believe that my team (Multimedia Content within Editorial Communications) has only been “official” since July 1. I’m grateful to work with a talented group of people who work together to try new things; they’ve made this a fun and gratifying 2013-14 academic year.

I’m also thinking a lot about what lies ahead.

I see our success as directly tied to innovation: If we want our audiences to pay attention to content on osu.edu and social media, we need to frequently try new things.

All of this has me thinking a lot about inspiration. (Hokey, perhaps, but true: I’ve asked my team to use the subject line “inspiration” to share ideas, great content and multimedia projects we’d like to emulate.)

The questions on my mind: How do we come up with our best ideas? Where do we look for ideas? And–most importantly, I think–what’s the best way to cultivate an atmosphere conducive to trying new things?

Some thoughts on the inspiration behind some of my favorite projects:

Find something great, and tweak it to work for Ohio State. I love NPR’s social media. When they started a Friday Facebook push, asking fans to share the best part of their week, I took notice–and thought about how Ohio State could adapt it to fit our brand. The plan my team came up with: During November, we’d ask Buckeyes to tell us what made them proud to be a #BuckeyeForLife. See the results.

Don’t get stuck in higher ed. Seeing what our peers and aspirational universities are doing is great. But sometimes, the best digital projects come from outside higher ed. Looking at news sites like the nytimes.com, blogs, newer online magazines, trendier sites like Buzzfeed, sports sites. When we turn ourselves into “the audience,” we remember what resonates with us as humans. (When I find something I love, I’ve got two questions: What drew me in as a user? And how can we make it work for Ohio State?)

Be strategic–but don’t overthink things. In other words, get out of your comfort zone, early and often. Obviously, you’ve got to have an overarching vision and a reason why you’re trying something new. But to me, inflexibility is the enemy of innovation; at some point, you have to dive in and be prepared to learn on the job.

Be ruthless, like Google. Remember Google Wave, the great new thing that was going to take over email, photo sharing and life as we knew it? Probably not. It didn’t take off and Google killed it, just as they more recently discontinued their iGoogle home page. Trying new things should mean being willing to walk away from what’s not working.

Make innovation a regular part of the job.  Got ideas? I’d love to hear them.

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