The Era of the IT Executive: 25 CIOs Speak Their Minds

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Shawn Nason

Xavier University

How does your vision for innovation reflect Xavier’s core values?

Xavier University was founded by a Jesuit, and promotes Jesuit values. Its original founder, Ignatius Loyola said to his followers: “go forth and set the world on fire.” And that’s exactly what we’re doing do here at the CFI. We’re igniting it. For me, the reason I went into innovation and left the world of finance is I was tired of having to have the conversations about cost reductions or budgets. I thought, what’s the opposite of that? It’s becoming a creator. It’s being the one who creates stuff so we can make money. Then I don’t have to have those conversations. So we built the whole model around it. When we talk about that whole ignite, inspire, connect and transform, it’s changing people’s mindsets. And what I ultimately want is to see what we do at the center bleed over and become one with the university. 

What is your approach to correlate business risk with innovation delivery?

The great thing about it is they no longer say that 80% of what you do in innovation fails; they now say only about 50% fail. So at least our numbers are coming down. If you get better and better at innovation, you shouldn’t fail as much. I think we have a great leadership team, a great president, and it’s really helping them understand what the risks of innovation are; and switching the mentality from return on investment to return on innovation. Starting to build metrics around return on innovation. We have to teach students it’s OK to fail. No matter when it falls apart or when things look bad, you have to keep going and you may have to tweak it. It’s really about the spirit of innovation. You put something out there, you tweak it and then you tweak it again. Most of innovation is really what I call renovation. Go in and look at your processes and tweak them. That’s innovation. In the world of innovation, 80% of my job should be about renovation and 20% of my job should be about transformation. Because the renovation aspect will keep the risk lower, and as you build that trust, you can go out and do those wild things around transformation, and say, let’s invest in this. If it fails, it fails. It’s teaching Xavier’s leaders about the different aspect of risk.

How does your definition of success change with that risk in mind?

A metaphor for innovation is the San Andreas Fault. That’s truly what innovation is. It’s tension between what we think is safe versus what risk is. I spend a lot of time with my team helping them redefine their definitions. When someone’s always chasing the dollar, and inflation hits, what happens to your self-worth? It drops even more. What happens to investments? To look at them as a return on investments, that’s a value, but it’s a value that’s going to be going away. We know that 40% of the top 100 companies won’t survive because they’re looking at ROI under an old lens. It’s looking at opportunity differently; not at the cost of what could I lose, and not at all of what can I gain. We’ve got to look beyond these definitions because that’s what has defined business, and limited business, for centuries.

There are universities closing every day because they just can’t make it. Cost of higher education is going up. If higher education is not set up with a new model, universities will be closing their doors every day because people are asking themselves: why do I need to go to a four-year institution? I work for higher education so I believe there is a value to higher education, but what about trades? We definitely need to open our eyes in higher education and redefine what we have always seen as success. 

 

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The Era of the IT Executive: 25 CIOs Speak Their Minds

16 of 27

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