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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

Innovation: It's Not Just for Projects, Anymore

Jun 10 2014

Glad Tidings.  Welcome to the Innovation Center blog.

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? 

Like many educators, I went back and forth from teaching to the workaday world more than once.  I often begin classes telling students to listen with one ear to what I am saying, which was variable; with the other, to how I am saying it, which remained constant from lesson to lesson.  You can see, for example, that I’m already likening verbal composition to series of equations.
We know how species evolve, but how does that help us understand how information is most apt to evolve into innovations, much less how formulating information that way may improve our physical and mental well-being?  If (as Nike touts) you have a body, you’re an athlete, just as true is it that if you have a brain, you’re an innovator.  I aim to prove it … and provoke you into making me improve it.

I began my professional life at the firm of Raymond Loewy, who is often described as having designed the 20th Century.  From the IBM logo and keyboard, Coca Cola logo and bottle, even NASA habitat designs, we can hardly sit down, use an appliance, or open a box of crackers or cereal without his presence being felt.  Nowadays, a firm called IDEO dominates industrial design.  It didn’t take long for clients to have them re-design their businesses, not just their products.  Their CEO, Tom Kelley, by no coincidence wrote a book called The Art of Innovation.  All design is not necessarily innovative, but all innovation is done by design, if only in all the preparation necessary to not just Expect the unexpected, but Accept—perhaps even Access it.  Intervention and innovation are related the same way.
We call the programs that run computers, like JAVA, COBAL, and BASIC, languages for a reason.  Language runs our mind.  For all that we think, learn—and communicate—visually, audially, and kinetically, we largely describe and explain those things verbally with each other.  A picture may tell 1000 words, but is little use without the words, one way or another.

Opening up ten books or magazines of different kinds is instructive in that regard.  Look past the content on the surface of the pages, which is all we’ve largely been reading to get past the next test or meeting, at their underlying
design, and what I call The Uniform Structure of Information pops out at you like the 3D images of a whale or frigate behind the brushstrokes of those camouflage posters.  Yes, there are essays, stories, and lyrics, but all information is different blends of them.  Anecdotes illustrate key points, with analogies between one or more elements of each anecdote and events or objects similar to them from the world at large that are common knowledge, using what you already know to understand what you don’t.  Those experts don’t have to think about the process; the process in fact thinks—deriving innovations—for them. 

If A=B, B=A.  Relating unknowns to constants likewise enables someone to see how what they don’t understand is similar to what they already know.  We learn to classify all kinds of things according to common characteristics from Kindergarten past graduate school.  Since that is the one Common Bond between every expert, The Lesson Within the Lessons is obviously The Key Skill of All Skills to learn.
Last Friday, for instance, I received an alert that Apple stock hit 650, and searched for the likelihood of it reaching 700.  An article by Jim Woods at posed his answer in terms of those who questioned whether Michael Jordan and LeBron James would win championships: we suspected they would; just weren’t sure how soon
I turn 65 next month and am eligible for a 50% property tax reduction on my December bill, but my mortgage bank would be charging me the full amount in the interim, not knowing that.  Very adult, experienced staff at my town tax assessor’s and tax receiver’s office (who tried bouncing me back you know where like a radioactive potato) said they couldn’t provide confirmation of the tax reduction for me, so I can avoid advancing the bank $6000 it won’t need, come December.  It’d almost be funny that people go about doing things one way for decades, so they think it’s the only way, and something can’t be done because it never has been, however much sense it makes, till someone lays the situation out for them in terms they re-cognize, but I suspect even Donald Trump questions an unwarranted payment that size.
A few equations later—3rd Grade math, at most—they called agreeing to provide the confirmation, and of course the bank said it couldn’t be done again, but did.
Stress kills, so they say.  The steps I took were like the vertical hangers from suspension bridge cables, removing stress from the roadway.
I was moseying around the Dept. of Commerce in D.C. some 20 years ago when Re-Engineering the Corporation seminars were being broadcast there.  So much for Solutions Oriented training.  Re-Engineering the WHAT?  Having objectives without being objective is what Cervantes described as chasing windmills.
Am I just cagier than most, and more persistent?  You can move your chair into your desk from in it, but moving it to another level—or idea—from that chair, is a tough row to hoe, much more easily done from outside the chair as a Third-Person narrator of anecdotes with analogies to one or more facets of them.  Distancing yourself from the matter at hand provides a wider perspective with more information to apply to it.

We’ve been taught that for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.  When you proposition someone to think outside their norm, or box, they recoil; the rationale may be explicit to you, but is only implicit to them.  When the rationale, on the other hand, is made explicit for them, people are by the same token drawn in.  Call it Myers’ Third Law of Emotion.  Needless to say, a mind that’s inert tends to stay inert, as well.  If you can’t put 2 and 2 together, nothing much else adds up.  How can you turn negatives into positives if you can’t relate one thing to another, to begin with?  Why just get a life when you can design one all the time?  For every inaction, there is similarly an equal but opposite reaction.
If life is what you make it, as they also say, reality is only more so.  Our ongoing topic will be that how you create (excuse me, design) and communicate the reality you are in, moment by moment—both of which are forever rife with opportunities for innovation—not only determines what you make of your life, but affects your health and very state of mind

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

Phone: 631.632.7171
Fax: 631.632.8181