Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Saved by the zombies

Of course I sleep with my iPhone next to me. Who doesn't?

This morning I planned to sleep late and go into work late.  As I awoke a little before 8, I reached for my iPhone ... and there was a message from the dean from 7:42 AM.  Urgent: He was going before the Regents at 9:30, and did I have some data for him.

I did not have the data.  Not in my bed, not on my iPhone ... and not in my office.  It didn't really exist.

This was my first dean-related fire drill since I took this job in September.  My credibility was on the line.

I did what I normally do when faced with something that looks limiting: I reframed it.  On my iPhone, in my bed, I wrote the dean a note that explained that what the Regents were asking him about was limiting, too small, and that he should answer it giving the following (qualitative) information, which was much more sophisticated than what the original question asked for.

I then threw my clothes on and ran out of the house to try to get to work in time to dig up the nonexistent data, calling a member of my team so she could get started on it.  Some colleagues also chimed in with some data.  I had pretty much nothing, but at 9:30, I took a break, knowing I'd done all I could do.

Then I started following the Regents meeting on Twitter ... and found that at about 9:30 students dressed as zombies did the Thriller dance in order to protest fee hikes.  All the usual clean-up ensued, delaying the session.

In fact, the dean didn't go on until about 3:30.  I was confused to see that the discussion was about diversity, which, while important, was not on the agenda and not what he had asked me about.  Actually, the Regents started by asking him one question about diversity, and then they argued among themselves.  Twitter then showed that the item the dean was there for was voted on and over, and they moved on.

When I ran into the dean later at work, he showed me the briefing that the Regents had had, the briefing that he saw this morning when he emailed me.  His piece was breakthrough, both for the university and for all schools like ours -- and the agenda had highlighted it as a potential problem, essentially putting a bullseye on his back.  He was ready to be mauled.  He needed my data as a shield.

Instead, the zombies delayed things so much that, after taking the time to air their criticism of the university's diversity, the Regents approved the dean's request without discussion.  And there was much rejoicing on our parts.

And the dean thought my reframing was brilliant and wants to incorporate it into school strategy.  It might not have been the shield he would have needed, but I passed my first dean's fire drill.

I am quite grateful that we were all saved by the zombies.

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