Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Classes this quarter

Here's one worth mentioning. My digital journalism class from winter quarter is back, but has morphed into "new media entrepreneurship." The class is taught by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ann Grimes, who covered Silicon Valley in all its entrepreneurship glory. The entrepreneurial here refers more to the commitment of the team -- everybody is invested in the success of the enterprise -- than figuring out a business model or funding. That may come later, however, as business school students are considering taking on the financing as a project. In the meantime, Stanford will fund it.

The aim is to create a news Website out of a site the communication graduate students formerly used to post their stories assigned out of various classes. It got little readership outside the communications department. It correctly has been identified as a missed opportunity, and now a handful of students, in 10 weeks, hope to transform it. The first class session left students divided: should it become an excellent aggregator of calendar and Stanford news and local blogs (valuable because this place is very decentralized; nothing is aggregated), or should it become host to a new media journalism site by the grad students. The obvious answer is it needs to be both. Be useful (with aggregation) and be surprising (with good journalism).

The reason I like the class is it's another heavy dose of the world of new media. So weekly we take tutorials in Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Flash etc. Plus, Stanford hired one of UC Berkeley's multimedia professors to come over for this quarter. I'm grateful for another dose. We've been introduced to a subscription site called www.lynda.com that has good tutorials. More as I learn more here. I am finding that some of the tutorials require no sign up; I am guessing the better ones will require the $25/month subscription. But if you made it your mission, you could learn a lot in a month. There may even be group-use discounts, for a newsroom, for example.

Another class that is interesting to me is out of the GSB, graduate school of business. It's called high-performance leadership, and it is introducing a new model. Gone is the "heroic leader" (sort of like Mom or Dad on the job, the one you expect to have all the answers). So is the participative leader, who gets lots of input from staff but makes the final decision. The new form of leadership is "shared responsibility." Here's the description from the course catalog:
Although many leadership approaches will achieve good performance, it is the premise of this course that the assumptions underlying traditional approaches to leadership frequently block excellence. This course will present a new approach that sees leadership as a joint responsibility of members and the leader. Implementing this new definition requires strong teams, shared vision and mutual influence relationships. Class time will be spent describing this approach and exploring how both leaders and members can build such teams, make vision real and relevant and develop mutual influence relationships.
The main role of the leader is not to think up the answers, but to create an environment that draws out the best from everyone, because survival in a competitive environment depends on it. Another tenet of this approach is that leadership comes from everywhere in the organization, if the ecology is healthy. That's the path to survival in the complicated times we live in, or so the MBAs at Stanford are learning. Sounds true in the news biz.

I'm also taking Islam and the West, taught by a fascinating professor, Abbas Milani from Iran, a true scholar who puts today's Middle Eastern awkwardness (that's putting it too mildly) into context historically. In two class sessions I've learned more about why the West and the Orient look askance at one another than I have gotten reading all the news accounts of the war.

I was unceremoniously bounced out of a class today; even Knight Fellows have limits. It was US Global Decisionmaking; the prof, a very famous guy here, decided no auditors. The class is small, there's no hiding from him, so I guess I'm out.

But it's not all books. I'm back in sailing this quarter, taking racing; I hope I can stay in the boat! And wine tasting 2. More of those good California wines.

Oh, one more item in a full day. At lunch I caught half a session on Creative Commons, a form of licensing that allows photographers, writers, musicians to share their work for non-commercial use, while retaining control over the material for commercial use. It's a big global movement, because the creative tools are in so many hands now. You can search the Internet for creative commons licensed-material, which you can use free for noncommercial purposes. Read about it here .