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Instigation capital

September 12, 2011, 7:30 am

I’m reading Poke the Box right now, an interesting monograph by Seth Godin on the power of initiative and risk-taking. One of the concepts he invents in the book is “instigation capital”:

What can you invest? What can your company invest?

  • Financial capital—Money in the bank that can be put to work on a project or investment.
  • Network capital—People you know, connections you can make, retailers and systems you can plug into.
  • Intellectual capital—Smarts. Software systems. Access to people with insight.
  • Physical capital—Plant and machinery and tools and trucks.
  • Prestige capital—Your reputation.
  • Instigation capital—The desire to move forward. The ability and the guts to say yes.

– Godin, Seth (2011). Poke the Box (p. 12). The Domino Project. Kindle Edition.

He goes on to say that instigation capital is the most important kind of capital in the new economy, because “the half-life of insight or an innovation is short and getting shorter” and that doubling your capacity for other forms of capital no longer doubles the effectiveness of the results, as it used to.

Traditional institutions of higher ed have staked their existence on certain kinds of capital — mainly, it seems, the intellectual, physical, and prestige kinds. But the traditional bastions of higher education need also to pay attention to their development of instigation capital, because it’s in the use or disuse of that kind of capital that the future of the academy stands or falls. Some colleges lag the big-name places by a wide margin in traditional capital but are able to make up for it in instigation capital, and are increasingly thriving.

I think especially of community colleges, which are a rapidly-growing force in higher education and which by their very nature are forced to be innovative to an extent that larger universities are not. You will not find Nobel prize winners at community colleges, but you will find a lot of innovative and effective approaches to education that, I think, ultimately provide a better education to more people. I came to Grand Valley State from a tenured position elsewhere partially because GVSU has that same palpable drive of innovation and instigation (while also having some first-rate minds and facilities around).

A lot of people talk about the so-called higher education bubble, which seems to me at its heart to be an issue whether the benefit offered by higher ed’s usual sources of capital is greater than or equal to the cost (also in terms of capital) paid for it. The missing piece seems to be instigation capital. Institutions that adopt forward-thinking policies and embrace intelligent, student-centered risk-taking will beat the bubble and thrive. Those who don’t, won’t.

What do you think?

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