Part of the What if? series by Kim Moistner-Bartlet
Inspiration and information for the Residence Life professional
O.K… I admit that telling someone to “wing it” – you know, carry out some type of task, program or event with little to no planning – may not sound like great advice. But sometimes, especially in the world of higher education, a little “winging it” every now and then could do us a lot of good.
Higher education is filled with lots and lots of planning. We attend standing committee meetings and planning meetings all in an attempt to orchestrate and deliver programs and services. We create two year plans and five year plans to direct the efforts of offices and departments on campus. We pride ourselves on getting everyone’s input, doing lots of research and making plans for all of the possible outcomes. Seems logical…but is it? In their book, Rework, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, caution us that too much planning is simply a waste of time. Fried and Hansson are the founders of 37Signals – a trailblazing software company that produces products used by millions of people around the world. In their words, “Unless you’re a fortune teller, long-term planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.” Rather than committing so much time to planning, Fried and Hansson urge professionals to pick up opportunities as they come along. Improvisation is the key to success. Why improvisation? The reality is that when doing something new, you have the most information about it as you are actually doing it, not before you’ve done it. In the end, planning is simply educated guessing. Their advice: Give up the guesswork and stop obsessing about planning. While it’s important to contemplate the future and set goals, to create lengthy, detailed plans isn’t the best idea. After all, most of these plans end up sitting in a file cabinet in our office. Making decisions right before you do something is more beneficial than doing so months, even years in advance.
As a professional, I’ve always been more of a “winger.” I liked to institute new things as the need arose. I was never a “Let’s put a committee together to further examine this idea and create an implementation plan for next year” kind of gal. If a great idea was proposed, I’d work with staff to bring it to life ASAP. Why wait? The concept of putting things off for a year or so to allow for long term planning never really clicked with me. I’m sure I drove some people on campus batty as I, along with my pioneering staff, were constantly introducing new concepts and/or re-shaping existing ones. Put things off for later? Nah! Do it now. You owe it to those your serve. Why make them wait years for something amazing when they can experience it in a few weeks or months? When I reflect on my professional career, some of my proudest moments were during those times when we seized the moment and brought a great idea to life. What if you permitted yourself to “wing it” every now and again? Heed the advice of Fried and Hansson, “Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.”
Kim Moistner-Bartlett – Big Idea Enthusiast & Kimembee Founder
Kim Moistner-Bartlett blended her experiences in business and higher education administration to create Kimembee, a leadership development company. Kim has held positions in First Year Programs and Residence Life at a number of institutions including The University of Southern Mississippi, Temple University, Philadelphia University and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She has received awards for her innovative presentations, most notably in the area of customer service within higher education. Kim received her Masters Degree from Ball State University and her Bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.