Not to brag, but Intead is a pretty great place to work. When the team gathered at an all-day retreat earlier this fall, I was reminded why I love what I do. I work with some really interesting and insightful people. And the work we choose to engage in is something I’m so proud of.
While Ben and Iliana are presenting at NACAC in Baltimore this week, I'm stepping into the Intead blog to offer some perspective on how you might step back from your day to day and apply some big picture thinking. The Intead team invested some serious and playful energy in a full day off-site retreat to push us all forward.
I know this tale sounds familiar, so let me back up and be clear as to why it’s anything but, I’m new(ish) here as the marketing communications director, but definitely not new to student-focused marketing or team dynamics.
When you engage with a team that clicks, you know. This is one of those. And our clients notice it, too.
The retreat, led by our fearless leader, who you absolutely do know (Ben, of course!), was an immediate and personal introduction to all the internal members, even those streaming into our Boston-area event from Portugal and India. Until the retreat, I hadn’t actually yet had a chance to sit in one room with everyone on our international marketing team all at once. I’m so glad we took the time to do it.
It’s amazing how easily the banter flowed regardless of distance. Having worked at tech start-ups and large marketing agencies with global presence alike, I know it requires special effort to make distance and valuable communication work. But here, it’s clear that people are the priority, which makes connecting so much easier and genuinely enjoyable. If you’ve worked with us, then you know just what I mean. And if you haven’t, let us show you!
The retreat gave us each time, space, and encouragement to explore how we tackle business challenges as individuals as well as a collective. And yes, some of the “business” problems involved linguini and marshmallow. But we got real, too.
Read on for a couple of salient strategic growth recommendations around points of tangency and infinite games. Yes, this relates to your work in enrollment management.
By design, the Intead team retreat forced us to pause and think deeply about not only our own boutique marketing agency orbit, but about the myriad needs facing the higher ed industry and our clients. These challenges are not small.
The enrollment cliff. Affirmative (de)action. Nontraditional students’ nontraditional needs. China. And so many others. But we firmly believe in the guiding principles of higher education and so, like you, are committed to our focus on building inclusive diversity and supporting student success at all levels. Pursuing these goals is exactly the thing that delivers institutional stability, cultural stability and financial stability.
And with these lofty goals in mind, we dove deep into two key ruminations that I found helpful, and maybe you will, too. They have everything to do with your strategy. Or rather, how you approach it.
Finding the Points of Tangency
Perhaps you've ready Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. A great read addressing the real-world challenges of cultural integration when Hmong immigrants seek to live in the U.S. When describing why she researched and wrote this novel, Fadiman writes, “I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where the edges meet. I like the shorelines, weather fronts, international borders. There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency, you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one.”
Not only did this "point of tangency" concept resonate as the new director of teams involved in shaping segmented marketing strategies, but this mindset is particularly pertinent as higher ed institutions like yours seek new markets to tap and new student pathways to build. And sometimes working with a knowledgeable partner just outside the fray can make all the difference. We take pride in our deep research, and I’ve always appreciated the hybrid art-meets-data energy that you get working at or with the Intead team.
Playing the Infinite Game
This is an idea promoted by inspirational speaker and organizational development consultant Simon Sinek. He gives a concrete example of companies approaching business initiatives with differing mindsets of finite vs. infinite games. Sinek tells the story of working at two education summits, one held by Microsoft and another by Apple. At the Microsoft event, he observed that the vast majority of executives spent the vast majority of their presentations talking about how to beat Apple. They were playing a finite game. Their aim was to win at a game where they perceived defined rules and a clear end with a winner or loser. They were playing to win.
You may not be surprised to learn that at the Apple summit, Sinek noticed that 100% of the executives spent 100% of their presentations talking about how to help teachers teach and how to help learners learn. They were trying to serve their ultimate customers by being better than they were before.
Apple executives perceived an infinite game where there are not defined rules. You simply aim to out do yourself; be better than you were yesterday.
You can guess which of the two companies was struggling. Hint: it wasn’t Apple. The finite framework is easy to fall into because looking at your peer group makes absolute sense tactically speaking. Strategically, however, your eye should never leave your students. Improve your relationship with them and the stakeholders (faculty, support staff, key partners) who all create student success. How can you act today to become better at achieving your vision tomorrow? That’s the key.
The retreat was so worth the day away from the office. And as a newcomer to this amazing boutique marketing agency, I must say that I’m on board with Intead’s people-first approach. It’s honest. And it gives individuals an opportunity to find themselves in the crowd, whether at a boutique agency or as a student on campus. I’m really glad to be here.