Educate to Innovate


Back in late 2013, Krisztina “Z” Holly, the “entrepreneur-in-residence” at the LA Mayor’s office, invited me to participate in an interesting study being conducted by the National Academy of Engineering — the topic? Facing America’s innovation challenges. We discussed new educational paradigms, compared notes in our diverse fields.

Themes revolved around the important role universities should play in driving innovation, and, within industry, the importance of corporate culture, inclusiveness, and, not surprisingly, new models of partnerships with local schools and universities.

I got a chance to share the four main elements we’ve found to be crucial to our own process (and happy that our home, Harlem Biospace provides them in spades! well, perhaps all except a truly private conference room, hint hint!):

• proximity to ensure that multidisciplinary people are close to each other;

• interdependence because unless people are interdependent they won’t collaborate;

• untidiness—an open area for freeform discussions and experimentations; and

• privacy, because most innovative thinking happens during private downtime.

I’m also proud that my “ode to the mis-fit” made it into the final report:

Innovators are people who are real misfits in their field, because they can see across borders of discipline, geography, all of that. They’re the ones who can make those disparate connections between, say, DNA and a hard drive, and say “let me make a DNA hard drive.”

Many doubt whether innovation can be taught — after participating in this group, I believe it can, and moreover, that it should. The National Academies Press has just released the final report — you may download it here. Would love to hear your thoughts!