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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

Education Innovation

Dec 01 2017

The most helpful topic for an Innovation Center blog would seem to be examining whether innovativeness can be instilled in people the way installing computer programs enables us to do different things, and if so, how is it downloaded, or learned?  Is there a single Skill Set underpinning all the other attributes that are identifiable in the majority of innovators, short of the few savants floating around, and even there?  Do innovations like the light bulb and Internet arise out of nowhere, or evolve as species do: putting similar things together again and again, and how is that done?

“I wasn’t convinced about the stony solemnity, that you couldn’t get into the higher branches of thought without it or had to sit down inside these old-world-imitated walls…  After all, when the breeze turned south and west and blew from the stockyards with dust from the fertilizer plants through the handsome ivy, some of the stages from the brute creation to the sublime mind seemed to have been bypassed, and it was too much of a detour.”                        
The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow p.300          


Debate has raged for virtually eons about how to best educate the people who will run the world for us when we run out of gas or just get tired of towing the line.  I’d say this calls for a study. 
This is a pretty typical university, barring extraneous considerations like the amount of foreign students because that debate has been waged virtually everywhere.  What are the three most significant events in history pertaining to what an education should or shouldn’t consist of?  Socrates being condemned to death comes to mind right away, followed fast on its heels by Moses supposedly being found in a raft crib on the Nile by a servant of the royal princess and raised as her own in the Pharaoh’s court.  And then we have, of course, Jesus proclaiming in effect, To hell with protocol; just follow what I say, if that isn’t too figurative an interpretation or excessive poetic license.  The rest that I know of are equally departures from the status quo.  And blime, but just look at the effect they had.  Where would the world be without Plato and Aristotle, the prophets and disciples of the Bible and other sacred texts, and all the rest that followed from them, even if you personally never read them.  Virtually all of science and art are similarly departures, often as not met with resistance. 
Here’s another study waiting to happen, if anybody’s interested in such things; some might call it a corollary of the first one.  Surely, some students here must wonder what is the difference between an education here and more highly regarded ones, by and large, notwithstanding that some departments are up there with the best.  The next question is whether the professors know.  The third is whether students wonder whether professors know, and if they do, why they don’t teach what students at those other universities are taught, the same way they’re taught.  Not that people here haven’t made remarkable—in some cases, spectacular—achievements, as have many a student from their education here.  I would guess, though—purely a guess—that more students at what are known as top-tier schools do such things and do better, for themselves, by and large.
I’m reminded of athletics coaches pointing out, when I did the rounds of such schools with my twin sons, that it isn’t the faculties or facilities that make the difference, as most folks mistakenly think, but the other students, themselves, who get to go there more because they demonstrated some unusual ability, approach, or angle, than their grades and SAT scores.  They would be more apt to have a broader knowledge base or deeper understanding of some parts of it than students elsewhere, to have acquired their unusual ability, approach, or angle on whatever information comes their way.

I’ve harped throughout these posts on one facet of education—the use of anecdotes and analogies, which has been linked with productivity of every kind at every level—that is oddly missing in business and other social and natural science educations, and not even taught directly, as such, in the humanities, just by hapstance through the works examined there.  Old saying: it’s never too late to learn, unless you don’t wonder about the differences between there and here, them and you, nor even why you don’t wonder about it and what else you don’t wonder about, which they do, and I addressed in the previous post, “Innovate Your Fate.”
The Adventures of Augie March is as much about business as family and the rest of everything that occurs in life.  So is Balzac’s Lost Illusions, which came up in the October 13th 2014 post, “It’s All in the Game.”  Even Flaubert’s Sentimental Education would fall into that category, as does most of Dickens’, Zola’s, Dreiser’s, Lawrence’s, Faulkner’s, and Philip Roth’s novels.  A multitude of lesser novels in early and mid-20th Century, when businesses expanded on a massive scale throughout the economy and country, are more specifically about business. 
What you are learning in class here is how to do the various things that business managers do.  Like the rest of life, the personal aspect of how those things are done, based on the qualities (and deficiencies) of your character is the real difference between how well you perform and other people doing the same thing, and the composite of what all the managers and both your subordinates bring to the table likewise is the difference between how well businesses perform overall.  Naturally, the ones who get the best out of themselves and their teams, rise up the ladder of responsibilities and rewards.
A lot of far-reaching business books have been written along those lines, for sure, but the tricky thing about character development in both writing and life is its association to other things in every facet of society and history, which the masters of fiction do far more thoroughly, profoundly, vividly, and clearly than business authors.  You learn from them how they do that to bring such things to bear on any given matter at hand, yourself. 

Back to square one: how well you do that is a function of how well you understand and practice what I have been calling The Uniform Structure of Information: every—I rrrepeat, EVVVERY—book and article, business or fiction, constantly uses anecdotes and analogies to illustrate the key points they make.  Sounds simple enough, but look again: the pecking order of literary immortality, let alone business success, is a function of well even the best of the best at that perform that seemingly plain and simple process.
Check it out, is all I ask.  I’ve mentioned oodles of literary masterpieces and equally insightful critical studies of them throughout the posts.  Warren Bennis and Jay Congers are two of the best business authors, who come to mind right away, for writing about personal qualities influencing business abilities.  Amazon will lead you to others, but better yet, the good old Dewey Decimal System, if you’re of a mind to visit the library and see which books stand alongside theirs there.

Stony Brook University Innovation Center, Stony Brook, NY 11794-3775

Phone: 631.632.7171
Fax: 631.632.8181