Roudebush Hall
Roudebush Hall, home of Miami's administrative offices

Annual Address 2015

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David C. Hodge
September 9, 2015

Lightning in a Bottle: Creativity and Innovation at Miami University

Introduction

Good afternoon.

The beginning of the academic year is always a special time, filled with great anticipation. We welcome back returning students and embrace a new class of students beginning their collegiate experience. This year’s Oxford incoming class, the class of 2019, is the most academically accomplished class in Miami’s history. It is also our most ethnically and geographically diverse. We look forward to challenging—and being challenged by—this class as they become a part of the “vibrant learning and discovery environment” that defines Miami.

This year, in addition to all of the usual energetic efforts across our campuses, as a university we will explore the common themes of “creativity and innovation.” Few qualities are as important for individuals and organizations. Miami is no exception—creativity and innovation are deeply embedded in our DNA—from our research, scholarship, and creative expression to our national reputation for pedagogical innovation. So the question before us is, “How can we be even more creative and innovative?”

More specifically, we have set out three goals centered on these themes for this year.

  • First, we aspire to produce more creative and innovative graduates. How can we embed even more creative pedagogical approaches to enhance creativity and innovation throughout the curriculum? What new, special programs and spaces would engender creative and innovative thinking? 
  • Second, we seek to become an even more creative and innovative university. How can we utilize the innate creativity of our faculty, staff, and students to produce top outcomes? 
  • Third, we seek to enhance our reputation nationally and internationally as a university that produces exceptionally creative and innovative graduates.

While creativity and innovation have always been important to societal progress, it can be argued that these qualities have never been more important than they are today in our world of rapid change, extensive global reach and competition, and complex challenges.

Let me note that I will be using the terms creativity and innovation interchangeably, though there are important distinctions. As Miami professor Jim Friedman describes it, creativity is about generating ideas and innovation is about putting them into action.

The rapid pace of change today is a dramatic fact of life. Throughout history, it was logical to expect continuity or stasis as the norm with change generally being subtle and incremental, but today rapid change has become the natural state of things. Moreover, we are much more aware of change because of extensive modern communication.

Change is real, it is pervasive, and it is rapid.

Much if not most of today’s rapid change is stimulated or enabled by changes in technology, especially computer technology. In 1965, 50 years ago this year, Gordon Moore postulated that for the next decade or two, the number of transistors on a computer chip would roughly double every two years. Amazingly, this trend has continued virtually until today, with more than a billion transistors on a microprocessor. The increased computing capacity that is reflected in Moore’s law has made it possible to analyze, design, share knowledge, collaborate, automate, and, yes, even create at astonishing levels—driving change. Of course for those of us trying to use our smart phones, this rapid change has also increased the occurrence of Murphy’s Law!

As a result of rapid changes and broad globalization, the challenges we face today are more complicated and more demanding than ever. We face the threat of global pandemics as lethal diseases can spread quickly and without regard to national borders. We are in the middle of global financial crises brought on by the slowing economy of China while we still confront the aftermath of the global recession that badly damaged economies everywhere. We face climate change that is challenging to understand and to mitigate because of its enormous complexity.

As technology turns more and more skilled work into unskilled work, and it becomes easier to find unskilled or semi-skilled labor in other parts of the world, it diminishes the value of routine work and erodes the employment status of many. Yet paradoxically, as Malcom Gladwell points out in Outliers, global demand means that there is a real premium on exceptional and novel work. Those who can create and innovate have enormous potential to tap into a global market, or to extend the reach of their efforts with incredible impact in almost any field imaginable.

In summary, these rapid changes can be good and bad, building a world that is more globally connected and filled with opportunity, yet a world in which political, social, economic, and environmental challenges have become enormously more complicated. Thus it is not surprising that employer surveys consistently identify creativity as the most desirable trait in employees, just above and aligned with critical thinking, effective communication, and the ability to solve complex problems collaboratively—all of which are hallmarks of Miami’s liberal arts mission. Yet, it is a world in which many fear that creativity and innovation is on the decline.

I will use my address today to encourage our efforts to counter that trend and increase creativity and innovation. I will first discuss opportunities to improve our ability to enhance these qualities in our students, identifying important traits of creative and innovative people, examples of how Miami contributes to them, and suggest how we might improve. I will then explore attributes that make for a creative and innovative organization, noting current examples at Miami and how we might enhance our creative and innovative capacity at the institutional level.

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