The Zero Sum Game

While speaking to the manufacturing industry, W. Edwards Deming once said that competition is our ruination and that cooperation is the only path to success.   As scholars, we must learn to value excellence in its many and varied forms such that we might achieve the broader and more lasting impact that our constituents are increasingly demanding of us (and that we should demand of ourselves). Our individual and disciplinary-based monolithic views of “excellence” put us in competition with each other, as we each try to promote our own slim view of “excellence” with the hope that our view will prevail and that our work will be regarded with greater favor. However, these small games tend to obscure the opportunity: if we can embrace excellence in its many forms, we can improve our ability to discover and to teach. — allowing us better serve our communities and brighten the future for higher education as an important and valued institution.

As an example, I once sat in a room with three scholars who were discussing the idea of “excellence in scholarship.” One scholar promoted the idea of excellence as “top tier peer reviewed academic publishing,” while another promoted the idea of excellence as “non-textbook book publishing” and the third promoted the idea of excellence as “work that directly improves practice.” In the room, there was a clear sense that each was promoting their view while attempting to diminish the competing views. It occurred to me that each of these views of scholarship excellence was correct, but the competition between the views prevented us from moving beyond the basic definitional argument. With a shared broader view of excellence in scholarship, these scholars could accomplish together much more than the sum of what they could accomplish by themselves. As Deming said, cooperation is the only path to success. We simply can’t have a “one size fits all” approach to the business of scholarship in higher education. This is a critical problem that we must face.

Categories: Scholarship

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