Alumni Council Column: Innovation and Leadership

The world is constantly evolving and those afraid of change risk becoming obsolete. Rapid innovation – driverless cars, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, etc. and business model changes can disrupt entire industries, e.g. Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods. 

Sometimes, these changes are obvious and the industries are ripe for disruption. One such example is how streaming videos disrupted cable TV companies. Other times, the changes are less predictable or occur slowly over a longer period of time. In either case, the willingness to rethink the status quo is critical to staying relevant.

Many organizations now prioritize innovation as an imperative for survival. Innovation is a mindset which can take many forms. People often associate innovation with startup founders who dramatically changed the world, such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Arianna Huffington. However, anyone can be an innovator. Unsung innovators are highly valued by employers for their ability to launch new tactics that improve customer engagement/loyalty, address unmet needs by developing new product enhancements, or improve efficiency by simplifying a process.

Admittedly, organizations tend to be less innovative than their employees. The ability to innovate at mid/large organizations often depends on the internal support an innovator can create among the “non-innovators.” One way to do this is to present an innovation as the natural next step to address a customer/business need or problem instead of something out of the ordinary with astronomical expectations.

Communicating the need for the innovation throughout an organization will increase your chances to create lasting change instead of a becoming viewed as a pet project.

Colgate University is developing the next generation of leaders by teaching students to be these change agents. One example is the early commitment to entrepreneurship, as shown by the strong student involvement in the Thought-Into-Action (TIA) Incubator program. This initiative has benefited Colgate students and the community by launching a number of for-profit-startups and non-profit charities (see last week’s Alumni Council Column: “On the Benefits of TIA” Maroon-News article by Tim O’Neill).

Under President Brian Casey new traditions have blossomed; the lighting of  Willow Path, and legacy traditions, such as the Torchlight Ceremony, are evolving alongside the needs of the current students. Throughout Colgate’s almost 200 year history, Colgate has continuously evolved including the diversification and globalization of the student body, developing a first class education by attracting well-respected faculty, encouraging a tradition of excellence in Division I athletics and an evolving campus life to align with student


As an Alumni Council member, I am proud to partner with President Casey on strengthening Colgate and fostering a strong academic environment. I look forward to Colgate’s ongoing innovations in preparation for graduating the next 200 years of world leaders.