You all know that Nicholas Negroponte helped found the MIT Media Lab. In this column, he says expertise is overrated. To build a nation of innovators, we should focus on youth, diversity, and collaboration.
Here is the introduction.
Innovation is inefficient. More often than not, it is undisciplined, contrarian, and iconoclastic; and it nourishes itself with confusion and contradiction. In short, being innovative flies in the face of what almost all parents want for their children, most CEOs want for their companies, and heads of states want for their countries. And innovative people are a pain in the ass.
Yet without innovation we are doomed -- by boredom and monotony -- to decline. So what makes innovation happen, and just where do new ideas come from? The basic answers -- providing a good educational system, encouraging different viewpoints, and fostering collaboration -- may not be surprising. Moreover, the ability to fulfill these criteria has served the United States well. But some things -- the nature of higher education among them -- will have to change in order to ensure a perpetual source of new ideas.
He asserts that we need a very heterogeneous culture to foster innovation and that we should listen to young people instead of giving good jobs to experienced people -- just because they're experienced.
He also thinks that "two additional ingredients are needed to cultivate new ideas. Both have to do with maximizing serendipity. First, we need to encourage risk. [..] The second ingredient is encouragement for openness and idea sharing -- another banality nearly impossible to achieve."
He concludes with the following paragraph.
The ability to make big leaps of thought is a common denominator among the originators of breakthrough ideas. Usually this ability resides in people with very wide backgrounds, multidisciplinary minds, and a broad spectrum of experiences. Family influences, role models, travel, and living in diverse settings are obvious contributors, as are educational systems and the way cultures value youth and perspective. As a society, we can shape some of these. Some we canít. A key to ensuring a stream of big ideas is accepting these messy truths about the origin of ideas and continuing to reward innovation and celebrate emerging technologies.
A last note: I totally agree with him.
Source: Nicholas Negroponte, Technology Review, February 2003
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