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New Tech Blog: Max On Media
Max On Media is a technology-based blog written by Burke Liburt. Burke Liburt is the co-founder and CMO of SynchroPET, a biomedical device company that has licensed patented nuclear imaging technologies from Brookhaven National Laboratories. He has developed marketing strategies at television groups (Dun & Bradstreet/ ABC Television) and at his own multi-media company. Read Max On Media Now!
Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

Mind Over Matter

Jun 28 2014

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 child is father of the man”
            William Wordsworth, from “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”

An uncle had a matching set of ivory with gold and crimson trim volumes of Plato’s Dialogues and The Maxims of Marcus Aurelius, right next to his Lazy Boy chair.  Every other weekend, we and other relatives visited them.  My cousins were a little older and a lot crazier than me, so I sat there and browsed around.  Plato seemed like Mad Magazine without the funny pictures.  I could foresee from The Maxims, however, why Russell Crowe took the name Maximus in the movie, Gladiator, many years later, presumably in homage to his beloved emperor, who wrote the book.  The Maxims guide anyone to maximize their capabilities.               
            Around the same time I tuned in—I think around 8 or 9 years old—I realized that I wasn’t turning out like Henry Fonda or Gregory Peck—Russell Crowe wasn’t born yet—but there were Charles Atlas ads at the back of many comic books, who turned himself from a 98 lb. weakling into a fair replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David.  My next door neighbor bought the pull up bar and dumbbells.  I never touched either.  Neither did he soon thereafter.  I spent most of my time after school in the playground down the block from where I lived, throwing a rubber ball against the wall, or a few years later, practicing basketball.  I got dubbed Midnight because the cops (in playground vernacular) had to shoo me out when the bouncing ball was keeping the neighbors up, and became close enough to the local gladiator for a filmmaker to describe me in terms that even a normally immodest former scholastic athlete didn’t recognize.

Millions of people work out in gyms in several ways.  That’s part of the beauty of it: changing the routine.  Millions more take children to athletics, music, or dance practices, throughout their childhood and adolescence.  How many ever give two minutes’ thought, in all the time they spend doing exercises and drills, or watching their children do them, to whether they can actually work out their MIND the same way, which affects EVERYTHING they do: how well they communicate, relate to people, manage their life, their work, and how well they actually LEARN in the first place—not just about new systems and products, but comment by comment over a conference or dining room table—even how well they do their work out.
            The almost funny thing is, everyone breaks down their workout into various specific components, and exercise increasingly specific muscles with a method based on common characteristics, anticipating for instance that more sets with less weight or resistance will achieve certain results, and fewer sets with more weight or resistance will achieve other results.  Every task works the same way, broken down into more specific tasks with more intricate details.  Tremendous time and effort goes into systematizing how all those tasks work together.  Think about it: do you put any time and effort to how your mind processes information?  People go around the gym with a water bottle.  All kinds of information—about people, places, emotions,  time frames—slips through your hands like water when you don’t grasp its structure.

Most of the words on a page, for instance, are prepositions, conjunctions, articles, and other connective forms holding the nourishing information together, the way the kernels of corn or wheat in a field are largely hidden by the leaves and stalks that hold them.  You can train your eyes to separate the kernels of knowledge like a reaper, and answer questions about a written passage without having to review it again and again, the same way you can learn to dribble a ball without looking at it.  One of basketball’s many cruel ironic analogies to life is that the more someone has to watch the ball while dribbling, the harder it is to avoid losing it, as when customers throw salespeople a curve that their flip chart doesn’t address, or the people who do the work that businesses produce throw managers a curve that their powerpoint presentations don’t cover.
        I mentioned last week how Sound and Sense work hand in hand, and acquiring, developing, how improving that symbiosis is a skill set like playing a sport or musical instrument, and that both athletes and performing artists do exercises and drills to improve the same attributes.  The previous week, I mentioned a few details about what I call The Uniform Structure of Information, to which I alluded again above in different but similar terms, with regard to the way structures enable us to retain and access objects like water and information.
Several clinical and industrial studies have proven that people retain and use information better when it is illustrated with anecdotes and analogies, as the best sportscasters, doctors, accountants, and car mechanics do.  The original study, by P.W. Thorndyke, was aptly called “On the Influence of Narrative Structure in the Retention and Use of Information,” in the Journal of Psychology, January 1977, and indicated that it holds up even compared with people who have prior knowledge of what is on tests.  You don’t have to count the number of anecdotes and analogies that everyone around you uses, to see whether it correlates with their productivity at every level; an industrial psychologist already has.
All retained and used information doesn’t beget innovations, but you’d be hard-pressed to get innovations without them.

It’s just a theory at this point.  So was the world being round and revolving around the sun, once. If you separate the components of information that I’ve indicated, and focus on using them, then piecing them together, the way you may exercise your forearm and bicep, then your whole arm, and make an effort not to overlook them when you communicate, you and the people with whom you communicate will retain and use your information and theirs better.  Apply the same principles that people use to improve their physical fitness, using longer periods of focusing on one component, for example, the way someone uses larger weight to improve their strength, and shorter periods, the way someone uses smaller weight to improve their stamina.
            Of course, our thoughts and feelings and the stream of events going on around and inside us are harder to grasp than a barbell or a muscle.  Learning how to learn and communicate are different than learning math, science, accounting, software, or fitness, but they’re done the same way: taking the puzzle apart and putting it back together.  Few people just ever give any thought to those two most significant determinants of their well-being in society, their family, and themselves.  Maximize them as much as you can.  Innovate yourself; others will surely follow.


Funny that nothing came up when I searched, “How many people do what they majored in college?”  When I see “I’d rather be fishing” bumper stickers while driving to clients, I can’t help smiling and thinking, “That’s exactly what I am doing!”  Everything is like history, any of the sciences or arts if you learn how to apply everything you know (and love) to whatever it is you are doing.  One more time: that innovation will lead to innovating whatever it is you do.

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

Phone: 631.632.7171
Fax: 631.632.8181