The elephant in the meeting room: a role play scenario

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This elephant is a biggie and quite sensitive.  As I really want to hear from both sides of the fence – you are welcome to comment anonymously. I’d just like to know if  in your reply and in the course of your work you would consider yourself the innovator or the administrator.

This scenario is ripped from the sidelines – a composite of people’s experiences that I’ve read about, listened to at events or read about in research.

Here it is:


You are so passionate about the particular methodology and/or technology that has sparked your interest that you invest considerable personal time in advancing your skills and knowledge – as well as the time allotted at work.

While colleagues come in on most mornings talking about the various entertainment and sporting events they’ve been to or television shows they’ve watched, you come in excited about a new level of learning you’ve reached, new discoveries, hard-won knowledge. Most of your colleagues nod and smile, some might give you an attaboy/attagirl. You invite them to set up a time with you to learn more. No one does. You blog about your work. No one from your organisation comments.

Finally you present your project or findings like the gift it truly is to your organisation.

Here is what you hear them say:

Fantastic! Now X is in charge of this area, so you’ll need to bring him/her up to speed and we can’t have you being the only one who knows how all of this works so you’ll need to set up times to train everyone else during work hours and we think you should get input from this project manager and that senior officer. And this work will feed into the paper that A and B are authoring and the presentation I’m giving next month. Could you get me some screen shots to use in it? Well done!


Your institution just doesn’t seem to be moving forward or open to change and trying new things. A staff member approaches you and sets up a time to show you his/her work in an area of interest to you. You’d allowed some time for this person to do so on the clock but hadn’t had a huge budget for it.

You love it. And want to ensure that the people in your organisation who need to be stirred up and energised are. You also want this work to feed into other projects you’re doing, be of maximum benefit and provide opportunities for collaboration and growth.

There is also a risk that the innovator is the only one who knows how things tick – and that is a big risk. Brain drains can impact all organisations – whether education or business sector. So mitigating this through knowledge sharing is critical.

So you praise the work and explain the next steps to ensure that the organisation as a whole benefits. And the innovator seems reluctant – almost truculent – when you suggest these steps. You paid for this person’s time – what they do in their own time is their business. You have a right to expect a return on investment, don’t you?

Okay, here are the talking points:

  • What motivation and recognition could and should the administrator provide to the innovator?
  • Should the innovator be named in the presentations and papers that are based on his/her work?
  • Should the innovator be consulted regarding how the work is presented?
  • What professional return should an innovator have a right to expect?
  • What ROI does the institution have a right to expect?
  • When does collaboration start to feel like exploitation?

2 thoughts on “The elephant in the meeting room: a role play scenario”

  1. Sheesh trust you to give us easy questions! The number of times I’ve been in one or other of these situations is quite amazing. Generally as the innovator with an exploitative administrator. So now you know the answers I’d give… %)

  2. Thanks Ted! : )

    I don’t think all administrators necessarily try to exploit – I think they the good ‘uns want to share what the innovators are doing and need strategies to ensure it’s done via a win-win scenario.

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