Getting Buy-In on Big Creative Ideas at Marquette University

How do you get buy-in from leadership on big, creative ideas?

Tim Cigelske, Director of Integrated Content at Marquette University and author of The Creative Journey, returns to the Enrollment Growth University show to talk about the hero’s journey, the creative process, and how to get buy-in from senior leadership on big creative ideas.

The Hero’s Journey and What It Means for Big Ideas in Higher Ed

Watch any Disney movie or read any myth, and they tend to follow the same steps. But in those steps, there’s always opportunity for new surprises, opportunities, innovations, twists, and turns. So the key is to open your eyes. 

Ask yourself: What stage am I in right now? Am I in the stage where I see the problem? Am I in the stage where I’m crossing a threshold into an unknown? Am I in a stage where I need to seek mentors or friends or a team? Am I in a stage where actually just need to buckle down and focus? 

“When you recognize these patterns, that gives you an anchor to hold on to,” Tim said.

The Importance of Seeing Your World

Every movie starts with the idea of what’s called the ordinary world. It’s a kingdom, it’s the Pride Lands, it’s Simba being held up to see the world – that feeling like everything is in its right place.

In the next phase, you see that things are actually going wrong. It could be something that really jolts your world or it could just be someone whispering in your ear. But you know in your gut that something is not right. 

“If you’re new, it’s easy to see this,” Tim said. “If you’re the young cub, someone who comes in from the outside world, you could see the problems. But the problem is when we’ve been on the job for long enough, you start to become blind and habituated to the ordinary world. And you start thinking that this is just how things are done or things will never get changed.” 

The first step is just to open your eyes and try to discover the problem. Every place has a problem whether you know it yet or not. So in the Hero’s Journey, before the hero accepts the call, there’s the refusal of the call.

What stage are you in? Do you want to go on this journey or you kind of resisting it because you’re afraid it might be too difficult?

How Do We Spot Threshold Guardians and Get Past Them?

When you try to get to the next stage in the Hero’s Journey, there’s always going to be a monster, an obstacle, or something blocking your path. It could be a troll or a locked door in a myth. That obstacle is called the threshold guardian. 

There are a few threshold guardians in higher education. Someone’s going to just slow things down in bureaucratic process. Someone’s going to say that can’t be done.

Someone’s going to say, “We don’t have the budget for that or that’s not our job.”

That’s normal.

“Expect resistance right away,” Tim said. “If you think you’re just going to walk in with your beautiful idea and everyone will say ‘let’s do it,’ that’s not going to happen.” 

You will save yourself frustration if you expect in your first step in the journey that you’re going to encounter one of these threshold guardians. In the structure there’s multiple ways to get past or overcome this guardian.

You can be a trickster, distract the monster, and quickly run past it and implement your plan. You can overpower them with your strength. You can get multiple people on your side and outnumber them. Usually, though, these strategies produce short-term results.

A better solution is to get the threshold guardian on your side. You’ve probably seen in movies where the hero convinces the guardian to join their team. 

“So if you can think about getting your boss, another department, the budget director, someone like that on your side,” Tim said, “showing them why it’s more effective to help you solve the problem, that can be a longer term solution.”

It’s helpful to stop thinking of the threshold guardian as someone who’s your enemy and instead remember that they can be a powerful ally.

Recruiting a Team to Go on the Journey with You

In nearly any movie, there’s a team. And often that team doesn’t start off as best friends. You get someone tagging along and they’re annoying. Woody and Buzz, for example, were enemies when they first started in Toy Story, and then they became best friends. And that became the whole theme of the Toy Story trilogy and then Toy Story 4.

“When you are recruiting your team or thinking about your team,” Tim said, “the people in your team may not be people that you initially click with or people that you like.”

When you get those emails from someone that you find annoying, or from someone who doesn’t see your point of view, consider that he or she could be the perfect person for your team because they think in a different way. They have a different network. They have a different skill set. They may see things you don’t. When you think you have the perfect solution, they can point out ways to actually fix the problem.

Think about all the characters and myths in Disney when you’re assembling your team. You may not be best friends with your team members, but you may form an alliance that makes you stronger in ways that you didn’t have when you were a lone wolf.

Next-Steps for Moving Your Big Idea Forward

“The first chapter in my book is just called Go,” Tim said. “It’s the idea of the power of starting.” 

It goes back to the Newtonian idea of objects that rest tend to stay at rest. And objects in motion tend to stay in motion. 

“But if you get going, if you take that first step, if you make your first connection, if you reach out to the first person, that’s where you start,” Tim told us. “And then know that it’s going to be a long journey. It took two and a half years to write my book. Know it’s not going to happen overnight. A Disney movie is an hour and a half to two hours for a reason. So expect bumps, expect obstacles.”

It’s not going to go how you planned it, but that’s what makes it fun. A journey gets boring if it takes the exact same path, and it’s completely predictable. So expect the unexpected and get out there and do it.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Tim Cigelske from Marquette University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.


If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

Eric Olsen

Eric brings more than a decade of award-winning creative brand development, marketing analytics and higher education experience to Helix Education. Eric is a graduate of Bradley University and earned his MBA at Lewis University.