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Michigan's future starts with new ideas

Nov 17, 2014

Americans love the next thing: the newest gadget, the latest fashion, and all manner of ground-breaking artistic creations. In fact, our entire worldview, economic system, and personal behavior are based on the idea that progress and growth is good.

We are driven to be better and new.

Ideas precede things. They happen first. The Next Ideas are ambiguous because they are realized sometime in the future for which we have no information now. These ideas can scare us because the unknown feels dangerous. They can also inspire us because the future appears promising. Either way, they remind us of how our world is ever-changing. So we can either fool ourselves into believing that things can stay the same, or we can move forward to meet these next ideas. 

New ideas are what made Michigan great. They're also what will carry us into the future.
Credit Wikimedia

What we take to be new is really an idea that happened some time ago and has now finally found some form of expression: a business, an invention, or a painting. In order to see the Next Idea, we will need to look beyond the current new thing to the people who have ideas about what happens next.

Most new ideas, such as space travel or curing an incurable disease, may begin in obvious places like research universities or corporations, but many actually start off very small and in unexpected places: the garage, studio, or kitchen.

As President Teddy Roosevelt put it, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

There is so much here in Michigan to build on. While it’s hard to find redeeming value in the arctic gales of January or the dark days of February, our state has many overlooked advantages. The earth doesn’t shake. The wind doesn’t blow us into the ocean every few years. And nothing burns for very long because we are surrounded by 95% of all the fresh water in America. More so, about half of our border is shared with Canada, the United States’ number one trading partner.

Many of the greatest inventors, artists, and leaders past and present are from Michigan, and many still call this winter-water wonderland home.

For more than 30 years, I’ve been researching, teaching and advising leaders all over the world on how to effectively lead innovation. Many of my students and clients have gone on to be some of the most successful and celebrated innovators of our time. But when I started out, innovation wasn’t really something that people talked about. It was just something people did in their free time. Boy, do I miss free time.

I grew up in Kalamazoo when it was the All-American city. There was real can-do attitude in Michigan in the 1960’s. We built stuff and rebuilt stuff until it was ready to take us places -- the undiscovered country or even the moon. We wanted to fly – to create – to soar above the ordinary world.

Today, that energy is coming back to Michigan.

There are people who want to help Michigan fly again. Lots of them. These brilliant, creative folks all have ideas and a passion for making this state a better place to work and live.

And so do you.

At The Next Idea, we’ll come together and have the conversations that will help move Michigan forward. Join us, won’t you?

Follow-up questions:

·         What ideas do you have?

·         What is happening around you that’s cool, interesting, innovative, and different?

·          Who are the people we should talk to next? 

Please let us know in the comments section below, on Twitter or Facebook, or you can share your Next Idea here

Jeff DeGraff is a clinical professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.