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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

Innovative Families

Nov 13 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?  

“All happy families are happy in the same way.  All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.”
                                    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, page 1


I remember learning as a young adult that all my friends at our candy store hangout in Queens had families as crazy as mine, in their own way.  I now have similar issues with my grown children, who are around the average age of students on campus, as I did with my parents, only in reverse: I wanted to find out what really happened, which seemed diametrically opposed to.what I thought was happening while growing up; my children don’t.  The holiday season is nigh upon us, which are often a testy, trying time for families, half of which consist of two families, due to divorce. 
It’s a funny thing: we learn about language use and reading comprehension skills every day of our education, and even though we may not get specific lessons in them every day in college and graduate school, they continue to come up in class work, one way or another, BUT …we never learn to apply any of that to our very lives, all the while we know we are living a story—several of them—very much like the ones we study in school.  Then right here in the School of Business, we repeat the same mistake and continue to, day in and day out throughout our careers, never applying what we learn about business to our lives, other than insofar as they directly involve business matters like buying a house or insuring the well-being of those who depend on us, in the event of some disaster.  We examine what holds businesses together and not only enables them to thrive, but propels—or better yet, compels—them towards it, and still never think twice about applying that to to our loved ones!  We’re not even sure if we love them, only that we seem bound to them forever and that the ties grow thinner every year.  And no one even asks why you aren’t learning to do that, prevent your own family from decaying, while you learn why businesses decline.
Here again, I have to tell you that what your are learning about business is insufficient to learn that.  Business is all about data.  Then data wasn’t enough.  We needed Big Data.  And we thought we had that at our fingertips, too, but The Big Board turned out to be even bigger than that.  If you haven’t read Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky, Don Quixote by Cervantes, or The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera, about them and similar masterpieces, you wouldn’t reckon that the bigger data keeps getting, the smaller each of us is in it.  For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.  The smaller someone feels, the more they tend to belittle other people, whose only defense becomes … not to care what they say or about them at all. 
So how do you get around it and beat the odds?  At face value, Don Quixote and Dostoevsky’s bedraggled protagonist, who crawls into a hole that will look all too familiar to anyone who follows him, then explores it for a hundred pages, are two of the most defeated people who ever lived, BUT … look again and every sentence is a one-two counterpunch against the walls closing in around them and the little minds behind those walls, trying to make themselves bigger by taking over everyone else’s.  Each paragraph is a flurry of such combinations of uppercuts, jabs, crosses, and blocks, along with the precise footwork necessary to land them and ward off those of their attackers.
Can everybody see what I’m doing; how I slipped that in, the one before it, and all the rest throughout these posts, the same way every other writer does?
Well whadaya know, but that process of floating around in wave after wave of anecdotes and analogies that roll ashore one after another on the endless, eternally regenerating, restorative  seas, is what propels businesses—and families—to thrive, after all.  Some might say—you can check in the Psych, Dept.—that every stream of consciousness we experience all the time, often without ever noticing, every tickling trickle of thoughts, feelings, and sensations are fed by those same seas, as innate to us as the matching mineral content there and throughout our very bodies.  Yet still, much as on every continent, back to the most ancient times, we find ingenious, sophisticated methods for channeling that water and putting it to good use, we must labor to capture the full power and life sustaining properties of the words we need to find, so we can share what is in our hearts and allow those of others into our own.
That isn’t just how business is done and all kinds of things are won besides elections, nor that “the play’s the thing to catch a king,” as Hamlet put it.  That bobbing and weaving is how we get along with each other, and the essence of comedy, besides.  A great-uncle from Czechoslovakia loved to tell people that their family was in the iron and steel business there: the women would iron, and the men would steal. 

A dear old friend—we were roommates at Berkeley back in its riotous heyday when students took their education in hand and initiated changes that still stand throughout the land, like Women’s Studies and African American Studies, as but two examples—asked how I’ve maintained the Will Power to stick with my regimen at the gym all these years.  His wife is taking medicine to prevent breast cancer from returning, which is causing her to gain weight on the figure, of which she has always been proud.  I told him he has it backwards: the effort it takes to exert myself there
provides the will power to keep at it AND many other things, like THIS.  The initial impetus comes from many sources, including many many fond memories of athletics exploits in my halcyon youth, as a result of having begun the regimen then, which began from the sheer delight of doing those things, which I still do exceptionally well.  The effort became its own reward so far back that it’s ingrained in me.  No doubt, knowing her to have had many substantial business accomplishments, she has her own impetuses to call upon.  Merely being here should be for all of you.  The Question is WHY some people are able to draw upon them.
Back to Square One again: communicating with yourself and others The Way those authors and every other one does provides all the impetuses you will ever need, as you juggle your thoughts, feelings, and sensations around in ever new ways, to sustain the Will Power to communicate like those authors with your family—and everyone else—just as it did for those authors. 
Which is not to say that everything was hunky-dorey between them and their families, nor that this guarantees that it will be for yours; just that you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing you elevated your capabilities and did your very best, including at least attempting (again to the best of your ability, which this process continually improves) to elevate theirs, as well.

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

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