Image of a wooded pathway blocked by a fallen branch symbolizing tough problems

Tackling Tough Problems: Part I

In The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost celebrates the value in going where others have not. In higher education, you can have that experience by taking on the problems no one else wants to address. Tackling these tough problems is good advice – we share three reasons to encourage you to take on those challenges.

Image of a wooded path blocked by fallen tree trunks, symbolizing the difficult path to travel in solving the tough problems on campus.

You’ll likely be the only cook in the kitchen.

If no one else wants to address the problem, then you likely won’t have competitors that seek to chair the committee. Campus leadership may even give you free rein to build a team to solve the problem – allowing you to select staff with the knowledge base and positive attitude to work together effectively.

You’ll become a ‘go to’ person for the more challenging problems.

When (not if) you succeed in taking on a tough problem and finding a solution. . . decision-makers notice. And behind each set of tough problems that are visible to the masses is another layer of problems that only a subset of people know about.  With some experience, campus leadership may begin to seek your opinion and assistance with those other challenges.

You can build on your accomplishments.

If you plan to stay at your current institution for a long time, tackling tough problems keeps you relevant. And if you are planning to leave (or aren’t sure when you might)… well … solving problems no one else has been able to address helps you assemble a list of significant accomplishments to share at future interviews. Perhaps this work could be a bridge to real professional growth!

Suspension bridge from wooded hilltop to wooded hill top. Getting across would be solving tough problems, ,indeed.

Our Take

There’s a reason no one wants certain campus problems. But there are likely very good reasons why taking some of them on would be a terrific professional move for you. If you want to be noticed, sometimes you have to go where no one else has been willing to tread.

Tell us about a tough problem you’ve addressed on your campus, or one you’d like to solve. Maybe another reader will have some helpful advice. At IEHE, we’re always interested in helping colleagues connect.

Be sure to catch our follow-up blog Tackling Tough Problems: Part II coming soon!

The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE) innovates and improves higher education standards through our strategic research, publicly available resources, and partnerships with colleges and universities. We provide extensive expertise on data strategy, IPEDS, institutional research and student success to drive institutional effectiveness.