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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

Improvisation and Innovation

Apr 16 2019

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? 



The initial allure of computers, back before they had little practical personal use for people and phones were just phones, was increasing productivity, so people could either earn the same as they were in less time, or earn more in the same time.  Didn’t woyk out that way.  Au contraire, by and large, we woyk more and oyn less.  Oy!
            As for all the hoopla about their benefits to our personal lives now that virtually everything and everyone is hooked up to them, 35% of students can’t even graduate high school, 50% in most major cities, and upwards of 70% in some like Houston.  I couldn’t say whether those numbers are increasing, nor divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure, alcohol, drug, and credit card addiction, and chronic illness and suicide are worsening, but they’re horrendous enough, as is. 
            Do we not educate people like we used to, or do computers and the like just make people not care as much about what they’re doing and the people around them, be those the people they continually deal with a few minutes at a time at work, their colleagues, or even their family, and what becomes of us because of that?  Have the auspiciously named Androids and iPhones snatched our souls, much the way primitives are leery of photographs, not out of blind superstition as sophisticated moderners commonly think, but because seeing them supplants our actual memory of ourselves, our experiences, and other people whose photographs we see.

I am beset by people incapable of the slightest innovativeness at every toyn, requiring me to guide them through the steps necessary to accomplish tasks as simple as requesting authorization for a minor medical procedure, scheduling an appointment, checking in for one with a gadget that has to be calibrated before I see a doctor, or getting my insurance billed correctly, each of which required a minor improvisation from what they usually do, so it occurred to me that the ability to improvise is the basis for being innovative in all kinds of ways, perhaps in any way at all.
           Improvisation, itself, is innovative, BUT … doesn’t necessarily lead to ongoing innovations, any more than innovativeness necessarily begets improvisation skill, BUT … one’s ability with either facilitates having ability with the other if someone is mindful of the need for both and conscientiously uses them whenever they’re called for.  Some people refer to it as flexibility BUT … improvisation requires a special kind of flexibility: seeing what other people want from you, not just what you want to do for them.  Some people refer to that a empathy, which is probably touted a million times a day, BUT … truly identifying with someone else, as though being them, the way novelists and playwrights get inside other people’s mind and heart so well that we are convinced they are autonomous, goes far beyond merely empathizing with them from outside.  They get inside other people so well that we are convinced they are autonomous, real beings, as alive as ourselves. 
            Sound silly?  I gotta be kidding, right?  Someone with an MBA in Innovation still needs to learn all about and know ‘ow to do WHAT?
           That’s right, folks.  Guess What: you still have to sell each and every tidbit of every detail of every innovation you come up with: to your colleagues, your bosses, AND your clients, and to do that ya gotta seem like you’re doing it for them, not to them.  Maaaybe you won’t have to, BUT … if ya can’t and have to leave that to someone else, you’re severely handicapped, and life’s tough enough, even with prob’ly the ten millionth MBA, not to set out being forever behind.  So why isn’t there even a single course on sales?  There IS.  It’s HERE! 

I’ve addressed continually throughout previous posts how language skill is the basis for innovativeness of all kinds, and described in detail the steps for acquiring and mastering it.  I’ve often mentioned a quip by one of the founders of Organizational Development, Chris Argyris: People don’t talk about what they see; they see only what they can communicate.  You of course can’t improvise what you don’t see, and therein lies The Point of this post: if you plan to inculcate innovations in an organization, or at least your team in one, don’t focus only on innovativeness or improvisation, but the language skills that enable people to see where they are needed, in the first place, recognize in a heartbeat what needs to be done, act on it and communicate it to everyone it involves.
My guess is you can make a nice living just focusing on that in medical practices.  BBBUT they’re largely run by major hospitals these days, you object?  I spent six hours in Stony Brook Hospital’s Emergency Room a couple of weeks ago after a suspicious EKG at my primary care annual physical.  When a nurse called the following day to ask how I’m doing, I requested the results of the lab test to tell if I have a clot somewhere.  Can you GUESS where I’m going with this?  It wasn’t done.  The nurse who drew the blood forgot to hit the task button when he emailed the requisition to the lab, AND the lab forgot to ASK the nurse what to do with my blood.  Nothing occurs in isolation.  If something as rinky-dink as a lab test gets overlooked, one has to wonder what else does there, and multiply that times everywhere else, just in the metro area.
The Problem is also rampant in call centers, on which all kinds of businesses depend.

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

Phone: 631.632.7171
Fax: 631.632.8181