ITS Weekly - 10 March 2017

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Headline of the Week: What Important Truth Do Very Few People Agree With You On?

Peter Thiel is a controversial figure. He is the person that offers to pay select young people to NOT go to college. He has characterized higher education as a “bubble” and anticipates its bursting. Despite his criticism of higher education many of the issues he has are actually important goals we have for our students. For example, he characterizes as myth that a degree from an elite institution sets you up for life. He says, no, you need to be able to continuously learn. Woohoo! That’s precisely what we hope our students will master during their time at Luther College. We want them to pursue lifelong learning and to be very good at it! He has a particular mental model of what higher education is and only some of that model applies to Luther College. He has not cornered the market on truth.

He was a founder of PayPal and other startup companies. He is also the author of the book, Zero to one : notes on startups, or how to build the future which I read through this past week. It was recommended by a long time co-worker at IBM, friend and deer hunting buddy, Bill Berg. I got access to it via the Iowa Library Alliance of which Luther College is a member. It’s a short book and a quick and interesting read. I’ve returned it so I know it’s available.

The book is all about startup thinking and inventing the future through leveraging technology and especially from the perspective of venture or risk capital. Success in Thiel’s book is all about creating new dominating companies that are (nearly) monopolies and the measurement is profit. That’s an important business point of view but surely not the only point of view.

Inventing the future is top of mind as Luther College thinks about its next strategic plan. I read this book from a strategic planning for Luther College perspective. A very helpful question that Thiel encourages entrepreneurs to think about is “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” If your idea is aligned with everyone else’s thinking that will not lead to his idea of success. I do emphatically agree you have to be different (from your cross app schools) and in ways that your customers (prospective students and their families) appreciate to the point they will chose your offering (chose to enroll in Luther College). I think this question is a great one to help think about ideas that can lead to this sort of differentiation.

At this point in the strategic planning process we are transitioning from gathering information and ideas and moving towards the synthetic portion of the process. Our goal is to enumerate a handful of ideas that we can focus on for the next several years that will lead to additional differentiation in the eyes of prospectives and their families.

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Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Zero to one : notes on startups, or how to build the future by Peter Thiel

Thinking too highly of higher ed by Peter Thiel, November 21, 2014, Washington Post

Peter Thiel Thinks You Should Skip College, and He’ll Even Pay You For Your Trouble by Tom Clynes, February 22, 2017, Newsweek

ITS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the ITS Blog:

Notes from ITS Council

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ITS Weekly is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of Information Technology Services at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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