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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

What's Love Got To Do With It

Sep 30 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? 

Who doesn’t yearn for love?  Who doesn’t wonder, not too long out of the box and frequently thereafter if it really exists, and if so, how does it work?   If love, like life, is what you make it, how do you?  ‘Cause let me tell ya, having been at this for nigh-on half a century, amongst friends and family who likewise are, this is one slippery cookie.  Most everybody gets some love.  Holding onto it, by all accounts, seems to be a very tricky business.
One thing is certain, if you examine the portrayals of people in love throughout literature, and the higher up that ladder you climb, to the likes of Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare, the more decidedly certain it is that innovativeness appears to be a critical factor, if not the critical factor, spurred on by one’s devotion to love and the happiness that love provides.  Maybe Dante isn’t such a terrific example, considering that his grand innovation involves an unrequited love, but it is one heck of an innovative way of depicting the many-layered cauldron that one must simmer to be worthy of love.  The Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, provides a similar example in modern times.
hat isn’t to say, of course, that all innovators make great companions, nor that all wonderful companions make great innovators; just that in this regard, as companions, couples either have to continually innovate or lead lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau put it, together.
Innovation taketh many forms.  So doth attentiveness, for example.  Someone may have 1001 tricks up their sleeve along those lines, but if their companion isn’t equally attentive to discern them, their companion is throwing their pearls before swine, as they say.  A performer—and what is work, if not performing—has to warm the audience up and keep them leaning.

 The great film director and writer, William Wyler and Robert E Sherwood, had something to say on the subject, relevant to innovation, in The Best Years of Our Lives.  The fact that there are YouTube’s of several scenes in the movie speaks to its significance as a well-told tale.  Most serious film buffs consider it amongst the best of them all.
The story follows three soldiers, who come home to a small Midwestern town after WW II.  The adult daughter of one falls in love with an unhappily married one, who flew there and shared a cab ride home with her father.  When her parents confront her about getting involved with a married man, she snaps at her father, “You’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in love!”  He replies, “Do you hear that, Millie?  I’m so old and decrepit, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to want someone … desperately.”  The daughter drops back into formulating their lives anecdotally: “It’s just that everything has always been so perfect for you,” and provides a few details.  “You never had any trouble of any kind, so how can you possibly understand how it is with Fred and me?”  Her mother reiterates her comment: “We never had any troubles,” then after a brief pause continues, turning to her husband, “How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart?  How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me, and that we were all washed up?  How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?”  Notice the sturdy triangular framework of the mother’s comments, first referring to herself, then her husband, then both themselves but implying that everyone is confronted with that challenge.  It is a sequence from First person to Second person to Third Person, using the very nature of language to support her premise.  Re-Engineering Your Life—innovating one day at a time, as they say—never ends, and it begins with how constructively you use language.
Not all innovativeness is verbal, of course, but the process of using mathematics to describe, understand, and explain events is similar to language in many ways, as noted in several earlier posts, and even seemingly purely visual innovations—Charlie Chaplin sticking forks in rolls and making them dance like feet on legs in The Gold Rush comes to mind, for example—likewise put, or pit, two similar but different things (like people) or events.(like ocurrences involving people) together in ever new ways.
I wouldn’t be the first to note that all relationships between people are political to one degree or another, at one time or another.  The always astute Jill Lepore describes “the heart of politics” in The Story of America, Essays On Origins, as “describing how things came to be the way they are in such a way as to convince people that you know how to make things the way they ought to be.”  One might well say that the heart of innovativeness is likewise being able to change the way things are to the way they ought to be.  In other words, putting two similar but different things together, again.
Before you can do the math, you have to know the formulas.  I’ve harped about using illustrative anecdotes and what they consist of, throughout the posts, and how our mind innately seeks out analogies to the characters, actions, settings, or time frames in our dreams.  In other words, innovativeness is innate.  Why then are so few people that way?

In what has to be the most authoritative edition of Plato’s Dialogues with commentary, B. Jowett comments about the persistence of silly, downright bad jests in “Cratylus,” albeit adding that  “and yet among them are found, as if by accident, principles of philology which are unsurpassed in any ancient writer, and even in advance of any philologer of the last century.”  A few of those faux pas peppered in with the meal across a dining room table, and folks nowadays start to wiggle their toes with one eye on the door already.  Innovativeness vanishes the same way.
I was telling a bank branch manager the other day about a silly—one might almost say, dumb—thing I’d done earlier with an important personage at a conference she was running, who kept kissing old friends who were passing by on the cheek.  Fool that I am, feeling foolish biding my time alongside her, till we had a chance to talk if the stream of kisses ever subsided, which is why she invited me, I stuck mine out and asked, “Is there something wrong with me?”  Who knows?  Perhaps this distinguished lady set the whole thing up that way, to see how readily I mingle with people in her milieu and dive into the swing of things.  In any case, it didn’t do me any harm.  She didn’t bring it up when we spoke again two days later, and she hired me.
The banker knew my “act” well already.  We’d had oodles of laughs while handling business matters several times, so I asked if he noticed among his colleagues a propensity to hide behind a mask of professional decorum, which they think maintains an appearance of strength, whereas In Reality people see through it as an indication of weakness, being afraid to let people see their REAL self.

That real self, which people hide behind a mask, is the innovator you were born with.  A thousand workshops, magazine articles, and books try to coax it back out.  They all use the process I have been promoting here.  Question: how can you use their good advice if you lack the one skill, without which they couldn’t explain it?
I won’t go so far as to say that it’s also your only hope of finding true love, but I will say that it’s mighty hard to wholly have faith in it, otherwise, or whomever you are in love with not to suspect that something is awry.




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