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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

Innovation Vibrations

Apr 25 2016

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?  

“Men that love wisdom must be acquainted with very many things indeed.”

As I was saying, and have been saying all along, innovations rarely come to light or propagate in a vacuum.  They’re everywhere.  Any reader—c’mon, I double dare ya—would have to say that I’ve covered the in’s and out’s, up’s and down’s, and roundabouts of Expecting the unexpected as thoroughly as one can, short of digressing into the barely comprehensible (to my poor mind, at least) philosophical abstractions of Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Kant, and whoever else touched on it. 
Readiness is key.  Fleming might well have thrown away the petrie jar that gave the world penicillin, which has saved untold millons of lives.  One would suppose that other petrie jars grew what turned out to be that miracle cure, and the people who saw the fuzz thought nothing of it, and threw it away.  What makes being innovative deaficult is being in a vacuum, yourself: the MBA one, call it The Business Box.  The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who cointed the expression, “Expect the unexpected,” also wrote the quote, with which this post beginneth. 
Here I am, telling you this, prezooming (call it Expecting) that reading, “Expect the unexpected,” would lead you to look the rest of the proverb up, but I’ll clue you in: “Unless you expect the unexpected, you will not find it, for it is hidden and thickly tangled,” is how Wikipedia quotes one translation.  The one with which I’m more familiar goes, “Expect the unexpected, or you will never find it, for it is hard to know and difficult.”  In short, Seek and ye shall find.  Don’t seek, and ye shall not.  Heraclitus considered himself self-taught.  He was high born, as they say, so one would suppose that he was educated, but sought knowledge far beyond what he was taught.
A friend’s wife conducts quadrennial conferences for architects all over the world, who come to hear lectures by composers, scientists, philosophers, innovators from every walk of life, not just discipline, whose work attendees pay a pretty penny to spawn architectural innovations, once assimilated.  The nice thing about being at a university is that there are innovators like that right here in every department.  A river has many tributaries.  Sit in on a class or two in other schools besides business from time to time, any and every department, instead of insulated in the faculty lounge or cafeteria, like someone dying of thirst in the middle of an ocean.  You may not be lucky enough to pick up on an innovation or two out of the blue that way, BUT … the mere exposure to their various ways of covering information, thinking about and discussing it could well be your ticket to the top someday.
You can’t do that?  You’re not … allowed?  You’re studying and practicing to work in businesses, find a stumbling block, and … give up?  An ecology has many sub-ecologies and micro-ecologies: trees and meadows, hills and valleys.  Different things go on there.  A bear, cougar, deer, fox, bird, and bee know how to find everything they need and get it.  They know they require many different substances and that obtaining some of them is often fraught with difficulties.  Nature should always be your guide, and you learn precious little about it in business courses.  The seas expand and contract with the tides, which are pulled by the moon 100,000 miles away.  That’s how intricately the universe is connected.  Shame on you if you aren’t, likewise.  How can you hope to thrive that way?  If you didn’t grasp that I am likening that essential process for life to flourish and evolve to your mind expanding and contracting from the pull of other bodies of knowledge than your own here in business, you might consider sitting in on a few literature classes from various cultures. 
Life is a reading comprehension test.  Everything going on around and inside you is so much text in a good writer’s hands.  Being a manager or executive is very akin to being the writer of a story.  Things don’t just fall into place in a business, any more than they do in a novel or play.  People have to put every detail there.
If you don’t already write stories about events, yourself, or other people, how do you expect to communicate well in business, relating what is going on there?  Consider it a business exercise, not a literary one, if you must.  You don’t just start playing a sport or instrument, and do it well.  It takes a year before you’re competent.  The posts abound with books that exemplify the process, and others that explain it.  Sitting in on other classes will help you here, as well, because dollars to donuts, the professors will be telling several every time.  How they do is more important than what the stories are.  The common bonds between how they do that is your EZ Pass.
Open five business trade magazines and five more from the various industries, in which you are considering pursuing a career.  Just as I have often advised reading me with one eye for what I say, and with the other for how I say it, look past the content on the surface of the magazine articles at the underlying narrative structure, and you will see that it is relatively uniform.  Safe bet, Professor Wolf and others here talk that way, as well.  Just as safe a bet, they talk that way outside class with business people, who talk that way, too.  Dare I ask, do youuu?

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

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