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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

Innovations Waiting to Happen: Gearing Up for the New Year

Dec 09 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? 


CapitalOne is a pretty sophisticated operation  Soon after the financial debacle, when banks were closing left and right or being absorbed by other ones—those too big to fail, so they could do whatever they like—meaning we were too small to matter, which many people were apt not to like, I opened an account with my sons there, and asked the officer who handled the paperwork to switch the automatic payments received and withdrawn to and from several companies in my other account .  He said they couldn’t do that: I had to contact each company, have them send me the forms again, and send them back with the new account information.  Astonished, I pointed out the above, and asked, “And you’re going to make it difficult for people to open an account here?”  Two days later, I explained the situation to a different officer in another branch, who said to give her three days to give it a whirl.  I half-kiddingly told her we should make the commercial promoting the innovation when she pulls it off.
Fast-Forward six years, and I finally relented to the idea of 1 ½% cash back on their Signature Visa credit card, rather than the 1% I get with American Express.  Can you guess where I’m going?  I’ve been making several payments regularly on the American Express card, but CapitalOne doesn’t offer the option for me to have them automatically switched to their card.  Just another piece of paperwork to save me time and make them money.
Don’t you find it hard to believe that no one at that huuuge, sophisticated operation thought of that?  Does anyone think that the hassle of switching all those automatic payments doesn’t play into the resistance of many people to get their credit card, or can’t also envision that as part of their many commercials?  I’m a literary man; I don’t even make any pretense to business savvy.  WHY do I SEE these Innovations Waiting to Happen that no one else doth?

Everyone learned a certain amount of math.  Nothing you ever figured out, past Sixth grade, equaled anything but by EQUATING certain constants with certain unknown variables, which the increasingly complex mathematical PROCESSES that you learned, enabled you to FIGURE OUT.
Everyone is also much smarter than we give them credit for, but just as even the greatest performing artists and athletes took (and continually take) lessons to be that good, everyone needs to be taught how to apply everything they’ve learned and experienced to everything coming at them all the time, in ever new ways. 
When I asked the woman who designs the marketing pieces for a financial services firm I worked with, to think of target markets like day traders, to send the mailings to, she said, "I'm not a financial person; my background is design."  Guess what their main financial workshop is called: Financial Planning Made Easy BY DESIGN!!!  In a million years, no one else there would think of suggesting to her, nor would she ever notice, that DESIGN = DESIGN.  Goethe and Beethoven weren't buddies just because of their notoriety.  They knew they were doing the same things with different tools.  ALL DAY LONG, she's doing something OTHER THAN what she REALLY KNOWS how to do, because she never saw that they're ANALOGOUS!!!  Why?  Because in 16 years of schooling, no one ever taught her how to do that!  Nor did the MBA's and IT super-certified people there.

What if everyone in every company put ONE idea about bringing their knowledge or skills to bear on some other aspect of the business, AND from this you create calendars for each department with the ideas FOR that department generated by the people in other departments—or suppliers and clients, alike?  Is that a walk-off grand slam, or is that a walk-off grand slam?  What a great promotional item: a calendar with Operations, Finance,  Marketing, Administration categories, for people to put suggestions about EVERY DAY, which then get compiled for those departments to use AS calendars the next month!!!
Is there any department at any university that isn’t subject to Administration, Finance, Marketing, and Operations?  Is there a business that ever looked at the Innovation Center website or availed itself of our services, that wouldn’t find such a calendar handy?  Do I hear someone in the Innovation MBA program seeing this calendar as an Innovation Center fund-raiser?

Benchmarking is one of the most common practices in business, most often associated with Team Building, although I never made a study of it.  What’s the point of having teams if they don’t compete on some level?  Records are made to be broken, as they say.  I and everyone in a half-manned office got a $15,000 bonus—twice—for breaking a company’s sales record.  CEO’s commonly add three 000’s to that.  The reason the top firms recruit students from the top colleges for fast track positions is that to have gotten there, those students have over many years raised the bar and are used to doing more work better and faster than their counterparts elsewhere.  An artist doesn’t just transform reality when he represents it; the process of doing so transforms the artist at the same time.  So does a student, who’s on top of his game.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the laws of composition are as inviolable as those by which the physical world is composed.
By the same token, what’s the point of having teams if everyone doesn’t contribute to their success?  The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team was ranked #2 in the country at the time I wrote this.  A commentator mentioned that what makes them so difficult to defeat is that each of their starting five players can score.  One would have thought that every player on the top 50 teams can score, and all of Division 1 at that.  Likewise, innovate in every department of a business.  Nothing levels the playing field in business like upgrading people’s communication and learning skills; not just how well their computers do.

You don't need to know whether a study proved that people actually spend more time, avoiding improving their learning and communication skills, and concocting ways to compensate for their absence, instead, than learning them properly would take, if you take into account the time lost doing everything without them, not to mention doing things more than once, and those that don’t come to fruition because they weren’t done as well as they would have been.
I doubt whether anyone has made a study of this, either, since the Superintendent of a local school district prohibited the Assistant Superintendent of Instruction from testing my hypotheses that the musicality, with which students spoke in class, can be correlated with their performance on standardized tests, but the Superintendent wouldn’t allow it.  One would think that it also correlated with innovativeness in the workplace.  Anyone know how many hours Americans spending working out in gyms; how many on the musicality of their speech?  Everyone keeps getting told that listening is more important than speaking, but if people listened to themselves half as much as others, the world would be a far happier, more productive place. 

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