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By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker

A new generation of solution seekers who have grown up with nonstop technological innovations are now challenging the mindset of tradition when they hit college. When these young adults encounter inefficient online registration on campuses, they want to fix the kinks or find a way around the old legacy information systems. Ariel Kaminer’s New York Times article “Student-Built Apps Teach Colleges a Thing or Two” illuminates this instinct for innovation that is blooming on our college campuses today.

The colleges train the students in programming, and then the kids turn around and use that training to work around or undermine the old fashioned, tired information systems. The unexpected surprise for colleges and universities is this: These students don’t think in terms of having to ask permission to create and implement a better way of doing things. Technology has become a steadfast centerpiece of education, and the yearly profusion of new bells and whistles has taught kids to think in terms of options, not dead ends. The young who are used to instant gratification want to develop work-arounds, rather than put up with inefficient systems that ask them to wait.

Got A Problem? I Have An App For That!

When Rutgers University student, Vaibhav Verma met a virtual closed door during online registration for the most popular courses, he “virtually” opened it! Instead of wasting time petitioning teachers for an open spot, or standing in line outside the classroom, Vaibhav created an app. Not only did it save him from tedious legwork, it increased his chances for success. His web-based application prompted the university’s registration system to ping him with a message the moment anyone dropped out of a class so he could grab the open seat.

Mr. Verma’s personal solution became a macro solution for 8,000 people by the following semester. If he had asked for permission from the university to implement the innovative app, it might never have seen the light of day.

But some ideas don’t make it past the drawing board. For example, when Brown University student, Jonah Kagan wanted to build a website to guide students in selecting unusual electives, he was derailed. The university wouldn’t provide the enrollment figures he needed to complete the project.

When Does Innovation Need Permission?

There can be times when innovation needs permission for practical reasons. In Ariel Kaminer’s other New York Times article, “Tech-Savvy Baruch College Students Seek an Edge in Registration,” we learn that when 19 Baruch College students in Manhattan tried to customize an online program to enroll in their favored courses, the digital traffic “threatened to crash the computer system for the entire City University of New York, of which Baruch College is part.”

There are other times when innovation is good even though it may be inconvenient for some.

Harry R. Lewis, director of Harvard’s undergraduate computer science department said “Students are always more entrepreneurial and understand needs better than bureaucracies can, since bureaucracies tend to have messages they want to spin, and priorities they have to set, and students just want stuff that is useful. I know this well, since students were talking to me about moving the Harvard face books online seven years before Zuckerberg just went and did it without asking permission.”

Does innovation have to wait for permission? That may be a moot question, because it doesn’t appear that it will.

Create a Haven for Innovation

If colleges can make their campuses a safe place to share and launch ideas, not only can they benefit, but students will be better prepared for the world ahead.

Students will enter a changing corporate world where the smart companies are fostering innovation. While it may not be in full bloom yet, this trend is definitely growing. Kate Burgess’ article, “Encouraging Entrepreneurs Keeps Companies Forever Young” says, “Google has gone a step further and applied the (innovative) notion across the organization, encouraging all staff to dabble in pet projects. One of the successes of this approach was the development of Gmail.”

Today’s global culture has inspired innovative thinkers. They will be the next generation of entrepreneurs who grow our economy, improve everyday life, and change the world.

Do you think innovation needs permission?  Does it need guidelines?  We welcome you to join the conversation in the comments section below! 

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Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.

Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.