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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

Innovative Re-Viewing: Disruptive Information

Aug 11 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? 

 

                                    “'Where are your books?—that light bequeathed
                                      To Beings else forlorn and blind!
                                      Up! Up! and drink the spirit breathed
                                      From dead men to their kind.'”                                               

             from “Expostualtion and Reply,” by William Wordsworth


FBI Agent Mulder of The X-Files TV show, had a poster on his sequestered office wall with the words in large print over a UFO sighting, “We Are Not Alone”.  The relationship between inner space—our mind—and what is known in other circles as the heavens, is as old as the ages.  Long before Picasso was inspired by Einstein to create Les Demoiselles d’Avignon cubistically, described in detail in Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty That Causes Havoc, by Arthur I. Miller, the ancient Hebrews devised a conceptualization of reality as inner space, while the ancient Greeks conceived a diametrically opposite outlook of reality as sensory perception, a thorough exegesis of which comprises the first chapter of Erich Auerbach’s monumental overview of Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature.  IF you do not feel the presence “of those who were truly great,” as Stephen Spender put it, what you may need is not to study harder; just a different way.
I mentioned in the June 28th post that “Several clinical and industrial studies have proven that people retain and use information better when it is illustrated with anecdotes and analogies … even compared with people have prior knowledge of what is on tests.”  Makes one wonder why millions of hours are spent reviewing information in classrooms and offices every day, without two minutes being devoted to learning how to review information that way first.  Throughout the posts, I have made an effort to inculcate how that is done.  There is as much more to using illustrative anecdotes and analogies than meets the eye as the rest of … whatever discipline you are focused on pursuing.
For example, in the July 13th post, I referred to an interview with Steve Inskeep of Morning Edition, the most listened to radio program in the country, in which he discussed the significance of slowing down the news, to how well listeners not only comprehend the events described, but can learn to apply that modification of a commonly experienced process to other tasks that listeners perform, themselves.  One of my sons, who is in osteopathic school, was visiting me soon after I wrote the post, so I suggested bringing the issue up in one of his classes with regard to slowing down medical examinations.  His knee-jerk reaction, what with all the hubbub about the pressures on doctors to work ever faster under the ever-tightening noose of Managed Care, was that doctors would have to be less thorough if they conducted examinations slower, so I harkened back to an old mentor of mine’s in the workaday world once commenting that a master craftsman accomplishes tasks with the least amount of motions necessary, somewhat akin to the legendary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright’s dictum that “less is more.”
I ask you, gentle reader: if it is a father’s role to instruct, is it not every bit as much a son’s prerogative to rebut?  “That would come later with experience,” my son argues, I can only surmise, for arguing’s sake.  “True though that may be,” I concurred, he most assuredly surmised, only for concurring’s sake, “how on earth,” I ask, “is that to come with experience if one doesn’t first learn something about it in their education, and devote a certain amount of thought to acquiring and refining that skill?  Is it not more likely to come sooner, if at all, develop more soundly, and become smoother, the closer one examines the concept, like the rest of medical knowledge you cover in school?  I would think that a professor will welcome the opportunity to delve into the matter, and admire the foresight of a student who broached it.”
I shared a story about attending a mortgage broker conference some years ago with the foremost such trainer in the country at the time, named Dale Vermillion, where a whole office of brokers turned around to me when Dale mentioned the fable of “The Tortoise and The Hare,” with regard to hurriedly hopping over steps in a process, and losing the race every time, as I’d told those stalwart fellows after many a conversation with prospective clients, myself.
My son is a tough audience, what can I tell ya, but maybe, just maybe, the right opportunity will present itself to introduce the concept in class or privately with a professor, or gestate by itself in his mind while going about his studies and hands-on work without his even being conscious of it.  That’ll teach him to try to put out my Disruptive Information with his own Disruptive Fire!

The July 23rd issue of The New Yorker had an absolutely staggeringly written article—some might say, review, as of a play or film—you can find at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/23/the-disruption-machine?currentPa&mobify=0 called “The Disruption Machine,” by a Harvard professor named Jill Lepore.  In an equally knee-buckling essay, “Thinking As A Hobby,” William (Lord of the Flies) Golding posits that there are three basic levels of thought: brute prejudice, contrariness, and encyclopedic thinking, which puts matters in perspective with the rest of what is known in the world.  Jill LePore puts the whole Disruption Movement—some might say, Mystique, but Machine really is the perfect word for it, for the way a machine runs and makes things happen by itself—in historical context, allowing the light she casts on the topic to reveal the chinks in the shining knights’ armor, at the forefront of Disruption, rather than poking holes in it, herself.
The article begins with a funny story about a job while a graduate student, copying extinct mainframe computer codes onto already now extinct personal computers, then working as the assistant to an assistant for the professor who invented Disruption as a Discipline, to coin an oxymoron.  After fascinating further background about The Origins of Disruption, as Darwinists might say, she cites the NY Times 2014 Innovation Report: “Today, a pack of news startups are hoping to ‘disrupt’ our industry by attacking the strongest incumbent—The New York Times.”   She then analyzes “the rhetoric of disruption—a language of panic, fear, asymmetry, and disorder,” as for example how “A pack of attacking startups sounds something like a pack of ravenous hyenas,” then puts that into the context of the whole history of ideas about society, how “Every age has a theory of rising and falling, of growth and decay, of bloom and wilt: a theory of nature,.” which “tend to involve decline, a fall from grace” until “The eighteenth century embraced the idea of progress …  Fast forward to “Our era has disruption…  It’s a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation, and shaky evidence.”
And that, as they say, isn’t the half of it. 

But you don’t need the likes of Jill LePore to tell you that all that glitters is not gold.  Visit pretty much any junior high school, and you’ll see Disruption Galore, only the tip of it showing.  Why?  Because they’re adolescents shedding the skin of childhood, not yet in command of their newly forming faculties.  Change is inherently disruptive.  Get used to it if you like, but don’t be hoodwinked into thinking you can control it any way but the level-headed process that Jill LePore and the happy few others of her ilk use to show us what we don’t understand in terms of what we already know, through illustrative anecdotes and analogies.                                                                                                                                            

Epiblog: The poem that opens the post is part of a dialogue in a story, if you hadn't noticed, with expository information, as well.  I can't think of any of the 2000+ songs I've recorded that isn't.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        



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