No More Plain Vanilla

Yesterday in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman’s column defined the new untouchables—the people who are in such demand that employers sacrifice to keep them, or who readily find new jobs in the worst economy. They are the top half of the class, he says, not the ones who can do routine engineering, but the innovative thinkers who create the new products. And today on MSNBC, Intel’s Paul Otellini showed off a vial of teeny, tiny chips, each with the computing power of the best laptops three years ago. Like Friedman, he said that entrepreneurial power comes from education—but the kind that equips people to invent instead of just learning the basics. Finally, Newsweek’s cover story is on changing education, from the idea that there is a set curriculum to the idea that school is to give you the tools to succeed in an everchanging world. I couldn’t agree more. In our Design and Innovation Management class (shameless plug here), we’ve opened it to continuous input from our FEMBA students. Last week, a Tweet from a student alerted us to a YouTube video about changing behavior by making a staircase into a live piano, which in turn we incorporated into our class as part of a workshop exercise that uses toys to inspire new ideas. Because we can’t possibly predict the future, the best education can prepare people by giving them the tools to be flexible, to build on the ideas of others, and to stay constantly alive to opportunities. I’d argue with Friedman that these skills are not just the whipped cream and the cherry on top, that thinking like an innovator is the only way to create the whole sundae.



L Blum said:

Excellent post!  Its great to have immediate innovation at Merage.

November 3, 2009 12:03 AM

Tyre said:

Wow, I never knew that Merage School of Business. That's pretty interesting…

November 9, 2009 1:37 AM

Maggie Brown said:

So true! Serious innovators can write their own ticket. Figuring out a better way, and viewing the world from the perspective of how things "ought to be" is not the norm. It's refreshing to see the leaders at Merage embracing it!

November 28, 2009 8:53 PM

Bob Montgomery said:

Good article - well thought out comments.  I would like to add that in my experience sometimes the best innovators have been people without extensive formal education but nonetheless have the abiliity to analyze a situation or circumstance and come up with an innovative solution.  However, some people with extensive formal education are still not innovators.  What I'm trying to say is that formal education is helpful by all means, but innovation is available to all people if they will look closely at a situation and then try to analyze different alternatives.

Bob M

December 16, 2009 11:07 AM

Cheney Lyon said:

Innovative thinkers are differently in high demand by international businesses and after all a company can only progress and profit as well as the people running it in a world where technology is increasing one million times faster than human evolution.

December 18, 2009 7:26 PM
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About Lynda Lawrence

Lynda Lawrence is an innovation consultant with Ideaworks Consulting. She teaches Strategic Innovation and Design Management at the Merage School at UCI, and is an advisor to the Beall Center.