Celebrating Innovation

November 7, 2012 — Dr. Dustin Swanger

 In Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, he makes the argument that those communities that have embraced innovation are the communities that have rebounded from the loss of industrial flight. These communities, usually with a college or university located within them, truly embrace innovation in all aspects. Creative arts, innovative industry, creative schedules, innovative shops; indeed all aspects of creativity and innovation are recognized and celebrated.

 Communities like Austin, TX, Princeton, NJ, Reston, VA, and others that have embraced innovation work hard to educate their populations, develop the arts and sciences, and work to bring people with diverse backgrounds together for the good of the community. It is this spirit of innovation, this celebration of creativity, this focus on education, and this exploration of arts and science that have revitalized many communities across the United States.

 At Fulton-Montgomery Community College we have included in our strategic plan “developing a culture of innovation” as a critical objective for our future, meaning that people are encouraged to be creative, to ask “why do we do it that way?”, to try new things, and to challenge the status quo. It is our intention to highlight these innovative ideas through a Spirit of Innovation Award(s) each year.

 A critical aspect of a culture of innovation, it seems to me, is that we will celebrate those innovative ideas that worked as well as those that did not. This is a very different approach for many. Our society has a tendency to celebrate success and ridicule failure. Indeed corporations provide incentives for success and termination for failure. However, if the idea was sound, the thinking was logical; why not celebrate innovation even if it did not work?

 Thomas Edison tried over 1,000 filaments in his experiments to create the light bulb. When asked what he thought of his 1,000 failures he responded they were not failures; rather, he learned 1,000 ways that the light bulb would not work. This is the spirit we need to develop on our campus and in our community.

So how do we develop such a culture of innovation? First, education is key. Through education we begin to explore and discuss ideas and cultures to which we may not have been exposed before.

 Second, dedication to the arts and sciences is a must. Most innovation today comes from those involved in the arts and science disciplines (I would include technology in sciences). We need to emphasize arts and sciences in our communities. We have to stop acting like arts are frivolous and science is hard.

 Third, leaders in our communities have to highlight efforts to innovate in our communities – even those innovations that fail.  Some leaders want to be associated with huge successes and duck from those that just didn’t work. Only by letting go of that traditional mindset and embracing innovation – successes and failures – can we develop a community that works toward an innovative culture. Innovation in industry, in education, in government, etc. must all be explored.

It is time to let go of the past traditions and embrace the future. The future is innovation.

Dr. Swanger is President of FM.

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