Thursday, September 19, 2013

Curiosity . . . creativity . . . innovation

Why did Beethoven move from Bonn to Vienna? That question from a Yale professor is my take-away from the "one-day university" (ODU) where my wife had recently enrolled us. She enjoyed her first experience in Manhattan that she ensured I joined her this time, at Tanglewood; and the program included the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. They are rock stars consistently voted tops in their respective universities, my wife assured me. Her take-away: “It takes time to grow,” from the Lincoln lecture, separating fact from fiction. Lincoln was perceived by his own cabinet not to favor abolishing slavery, but in time his thinking evolved – from it being a function of state laws, not federal, to being a doctrine of military necessity; and he had at other times as well demonstrated that capacity to analyze matters and change his mind. [Does President Aquino have to truly analyze the midnight deals of Arroyo to evolve his thinking about those around him; and, as importantly, the agenda of his administration, i.e., what must Juan de la Cruz expect at the end of his term? For example, they must stop promising economic nirvana, it will not happen – not in this generation? Not even in the next if we keep to our mindset and our worldview? The Indios can read the Bible; it does not have to be kept away from them? And so Rizal had to define independence: that the slaves can’t then be the tyrants.]

"Exploring the nature of genius" is the Yale professor's 7-year old course, and having recently watched Jobs, the movie (and earlier read the book), and having preached innovation in Eastern Europe the last 10 years, I would readily relate Beethoven to Jobs. Beethoven wanted to keep company with the best the world had to offer and so he had to be in Vienna. He had a big ego and could have chosen to stay in Bonn, and be the best in his hometown. Steve Wozniak (the techie partner of Steve Jobs when Apple started in the latter's family garage) simply wanted to make cool things while Jobs wanted to impact the world. His ego was big but was outward-directed.
I could relate to my wife's take-away ("It takes time to grow") being a once lazy student and thus had a fuzzy sense of the future. And my wife was right; the ODU caters to folks like me: "We don't do the stuff you may have hated about college like homework and exams." That was from the opening remarks of the first speaker.
But back to Steve Jobs: Some would say that he was simply building on the ideas of others. For example, the hard drive of the original iPod which is the size of a dollar coin was developed by Toshiba; and the Gorilla Glass that he wanted for the iPhone was developed by Corning. And as the Yale professor explained, the innovation Beethoven brought to music is attributed to his adding additional instruments like the trombone and incorporating big and disruptive sounds – and making the piece longer. And then he spelled out the six characteristics of individuals like Beethoven and Jobs from his work in "exploring the nature of genius": genetic gift, memory and concentration, curiosity, motivation, self-confidence and luck. Even Tiger Woods early on talked about luck; and in the case of Beethoven it was being born in the era of the industrial revolution and with Jobs the advent of computing and communications.

Recalling my initial impressions of my Eastern European friends from ten years ago, my sense was they were very creative from what I saw in their products. Yet they were missing the imperative of a "sustainable economic undertaking" – and had to learn about driving "margins." Also, their creativity was centered on following the features of global brands but pricing their products lower – the classic “me too" approach. They had to learn what a “sustainable market” is about via the fundamentals of product architecture modeling. And at its heart is Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs; and the development of the computer is an example of how human needs had moved up: from the mainframe to personal computers to mobile devices. And clearly Steve Jobs demonstrated how to be forward-thinking in product innovation – or in understanding value-addition. And it goes beyond the next product offering – and would also necessitate investing in R&D. How did Beethoven or Steve Jobs introduce innovation?
We Pinoys believe we are creative yet we haven't developed innovation and competitiveness as a culture? Why did Beethoven move from Bonn to Vienna? But parochialism dictates that we be higher up in the local hierarchy than to keep company with the world's best – i.e., in this particular case, it is the simple definition of curiosity and global versus local? And so we celebrate and reward oligarchy and influence peddling – perpetuating persistent underdevelopment and endemic poverty? And social programs are not the simple answer as the India (i.e., corruption and inefficiency) experience has revealed. And also that of East Germany where “social programs devoured billions of euros [and thus a failed] job creation program [had to be] dropped.”

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