Fifty years ago I, along with millions of others from around the world, attended the great New York World’s Fair. We were exposed to hundreds of new ideas and got a glimpse of the future. It was exciting, colorful, entertaining, and inspiring. Fairs like that had been drawing millions for a hundred years, in both Europe and America. But today we no longer have world’s fairs with that kind of impact.
Picking up where those fairs left off, my colleagues and I last year began envisioning The Spark, America’s first Innovation Experience, which we hope to open in Austin in 2017. That process has led us to dig deeply into the idea of innovation – what it means and how it works. We have read hundreds of books, thousands of websites, and talked to many people in all walks of life. This has led us to some insights about learning and innovation.
This update includes a big idea about experiential learning (the key goal of The Spark), a reading list of the best books we have discovered about innovation, and biographies of the newest additions to The Spark Advisory Council.
The Spark draws upon the best ideas of our great history, children’s, and science museums, but we will go well beyond that. It will be the first place in America (and we hope the first of many around the nation) to let people touch, test, try, and buy the latest and greatest products and services. We have observed this capability at MakerFaires (which now draw millions), SXSW, trade shows, and the great World’s Fairs. But there has never been a place where the general public could do this every day, on their schedules.
Big Ideas: Diverse Innovation and Connecting the Dots
Many think “innovation” includes only science and technology, hardware and software. But innovation pervades our lives. The Spark will look at innovation in art, music, games, retailing, food, media, education and many other fields. Even in something like healthcare and medicine, not only will we present nanomedicine and the latest in medical technologies, but we may present innovations in the way hospitals are organized or healthcare is financed.
As we proceeded down this path – and visited hundreds of museums – we realized that they almost never “connect the dots.” Great science museums have an area for earth science, an area for space exploration, and an area for high tech. History museums talk about this part of history or that. But rarely if ever do they tie it all together, helping the public understand broader, over-arching concepts. It is extremely difficult to walk out of these places with a greater understanding of what science or history is really all about.
The Spark, on the other hand, is ultimately about innovation itself. Where do innovative ideas come from? How do people turn dreams (or accidents) into real products and services that improve people’s lives? How are innovations financed? How do innovations take hold and spread? What are the characteristics of innovators? What patterns do we see? Is innovation at work here in our city?
We believe that if we add this critical layer to the experiential learning process, our visitors of all ages and from all parts of society will leave The Spark inspired to be more innovative themselves. Perhaps they will be the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Or “just” the person who invents the next Post-It notes or Velcro.
This will be a powerful innovation in learning in itself!
Ultimately, we think The Sparks that we build around the country will result in more innovation, at every level, in every part of our lives, by more people. We especially hope to capture the imaginations of young people. By doing this, our team has the potential to change the world.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change theworld. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Usually attributed to Margaret Meade
Innovation Reading List
Just click on the links to answer these questions!
What are the 3 best books if I want a more in depth, scholarly look at innovation and how it works?
What are two books that are great for young people, and cover lots of innovations you might not think of?
What are three excellent books on the broader issues of how we think and use our minds?
The Spark Advisory Council
We now have 20 amazing minds at work on The Spark idea! Our three new additions are an artist, an economist, and an Information Technology expert. That’s the kind of diversity we want!
Jennifer Chenoweth is a visual artist and entrepreneur. She is the principal of Fisterra Studio, creating contemporary abstract painting and sculpture. Chenoweth studied Painting and Sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute, has a master’s degree from the “Great Books” program at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, and holds an M.F.A. in Painting from The University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, she has taken private studio courses from Sam Scott in Santa Fe and an intensive language course in ancient Greek. She was part of Leadership Austin’s Essentials Class in 2012. Her art is in the Public Collection at the Houston Hobby Airport and she has shown extensively in Austin, San Antonio, Kansas City, and at art fairs in London, Miami, New York, and Santa Fe. In 2010, she founded a nonprofit, GenerousArt.org, to empower artists and sustain community, teaching professional development workshops, and by producing fundraisers and exhibitions.
Nathanial “Nate” Lurie is currently a graduate student in economics at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating from Brandeis University in 2013, he became a research assistant to a behavioral economist at Harvard. He later worked at ideas42, a non-profit that solves fundamental human and institutional problems using insights from behavioral economics. After experiencing the theoretical and applied sides of economics research, he realized that his real passion was making an impact through markets themselves. He went to work as an analyst in SAP’s Corporate Strategy Group, where he modeled the disruption course of enterprise cloud technologies. Nate has been an engaged member of the innovation sectors in Austin, New York City, and Boston.
Leticia “Tish” Kinuthia is an IT Professional with extensive experience in Security Architecture, Consulting, Audits and Compliance, Project Management, Vulnerability Assessment and ISMS (Information Security Management System) implementation, in Government, Financial services, Telecom. Originally from Kenya, Tish earned her Masters of Science in Information Security from Royal Holloway University of London, UK. With her hands-on experience she has helped NIC Inc. (private company behind the brand Texas.gov), Primus Networks (now MindShift) and SecureData Europe, execute on their vision from a Security perspective in alignment with their business needs and objectives. She is married with two children (who love the Thinkery) and lives in Austin, Texas.
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