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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

What, Innovation Contagion?

Jul 14 2015

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? 

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

from “Among School Children,” by W.B. Yeats


I am the founder of MAAA, Mocha Almond Addicts Anonymous.  Not to make light of serious addictions—but what the heck, they say that laughter is the best medicine—our 12 steps are check the shopping circulars for where Edy’s Ice Cream is on sale, grab your wallet, put an ice pack in the cooler bag, open the garage door, turn the key, back out, drive to the store, and you can figure the rest out.  After however many years their Mocha Almond Fudge has been in exitence, and Shoprite was the only local store that carried it, I was advised that they no longer do, went online to Edy’s website, searched the flavor to see what other store might, which indicated that none—I repeat, none—do within 25 miles, the radius that the website searches.
If you’re at least of college age, you’re familiar with the concept of what is known as a “chaser”: one substance taken in fast upon the heels of another.  That be Edy’s Mud Pie, so I searched that flavor, and came up empty again, called Edy’s Customer Service, and was advised to ask the frozen food manager at the store.
“What’s my name?” I asked the representative.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Precisely!” I replied.  “I’m Joe Nobody; you’re Edy’s.  Don’t you think it would be more effective if you asked than I did?
“Would you say you spend several hundred dollars there a year, all told?”
“I’ll give it a shot,” I relented for a change, knowing where she was going.  The woman was on her toes, alright.  She was a match for Leibniz, any day.

Lo and behold, turned out she was right.  ‘Twasn’t the first time I’d been on the prowl for a Mocha Almond fix, by a long shot.  Safe bet, the Edy’s lady knew whom I’d be dealing with.
“I know you,” the frozen food manager said right off the bat on the phone.  “It’s me; Dennis.”   Apparently, being known meant something to him.  We were his customers, not the darn store’s.  To paraphrase Michael Corleone: It wasn’t business; it was personal.  “I’ll see what I can do,” he added sympathetically.  When I asked about the Mud Pie, he flatly stated that Edy’s no longer makes it.  When I mentioned its presence on their website list of flavors, he pointed out how often things are not what they seem—on websites, as elsewhere—and told me to call in a few days.  I was reminded of the esoteric gadget guy in the James Bond movies.
As it happens, I wasn’t far off.  When I called again, identifying myself as The Mocha Man, he said it was in his “gun,” as he put it, BUT … his contact at Edy’s was on vacation, so I’d have to call back the following Tuesday to see what’s what.  The circulars come out the week before the sales, so we were right on target despite the delay, anyway.  And guess what: he had Mud Pie in his gun, to boot.  Even the gadget guy is surprised with what turns up, from time to time.  I thought better of asking what the gun was; questioning how his domain worked somehow didn’t seem appropriate, as though its mystique was part of his mojo.  Why mess with success?
Come Tuesday, it wasn’t on the delivery truck for one reason or another.  I ask you: what James Bond movie is complete without even the suavest, smoothest, slickest of armed swami’s gun misfiring at least once?  Or the incomparable Captain James T. Kirk’s, for that matter, and even Superman apt to come up empty, if only momentarily?  The sale was on until Saturday, when the next delivery came, and on the outside, there was always the possibility of a rain check.

Was it just dumb luck that I found a frozen food manager, who was willing to play ball with me, or had my previous Mocha Almond Adventures (the official name of the foundation) laid the seeds for his cooperation, and initiated—some might say, inspired—his whole outlook, or attitude as it is more commonly known in business circles, of making frozen food fans his own. 
I’ve been told by countless students that a single 40-minute period with me was transformational, and I wasn’t even specifically teaching The Uniform Structure of Information; just explaining how I was talking while teaching the lesson at hand.  I’ve mentioned the story of a Second Grader asking me to do more magic tricks, not knowing any, and her classmates turning to her, only then giving her to realize that she was doing the magic trick now, too.  Likewise, a Sixth Grader asking if you can change your whole brain that way: relating one situation or object to others like it, over and over again.  How can anyone help but be transformed—over and over—transforming what is going on around inside and around them to other things like it?
I’d never given Dennis a lesson, of course, but then: who knows how the very way we speak to people affects them, and how readily one person or another picks up the ball you toss them and runs with it?  May-hay-hay-be I was mistaken in thinking that all his people meant something to him, and I’d had more of an impact than I realized.
One of Warren Bennis’ many influential books—some might say, pioneering—is called Why Leaders Can’t Lead.  Been a while since I read it, BUT … I guarantee you, it’s one example of The Uniform Structure of Information after another, over and over and over again.  I also guarantee you that he nowhere mentions in it that lack of expertise in that skill is the real reason Why Leaders Can’t Lead, and the basis for all—I repeat, all—the other failings, inadequacies, or limitations that prevent leaders from leading, and anyone from doing anything, for that matter.  The ones who use it, do; the ones who don’t, can’t.
By no coincidence, he never contracted Alzheimer’s through the age of 89 when he died. Something to ponder.

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

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