The Next Idea

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio's new project devoted to the new innovations and ideas that will change our state. Each week on this page, Michigan's most creative and visionary leaders will share their best ideas for making innovation happen and how to move the state forward. Starting with essays posted here, the conversations will continue on Stateside with Cynthia Canty and with you on social media and in the comments section below each piece. Share your ideas, tell us about the cool things happening around you and the people we should talk to next.

Support for The Next Idea comes from The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

Click here to learn more about the MEDC

"While we can choose to turn off our technology, there is no turning back from the new expectation that we are available anytime, anywhere," DeGraff writes.
Public Domain /

The Next Idea

If you listen to the World Economic Forum, we are now in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The WEF calls this “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” Just as mass production launched an era of large-scale centralized organizations at the turn of the 20th century, the Internet and smartphones in the 21st century are ushering in new forms of collaboration — and conflict.

Technologies are replacing the fundamental missions of organizations. They are moving from scale — creating something once and distributing it everywhere — to scope, creating an infinite variety of offerings. Everything from your made-to-order sneakers to the medications you take for your unique ailments are being mass customized. That is, companies are using integrated technologies and supply chains, along with complex information from diverse sources, a.k.a. Big Data, to create a product or service just for you, just in time.

According to Pete Bigelow, the Willow Run facility could be open for its first phase of testing as soon as the end of 2017.
Ford Motor Company

The Next Idea

Start talking about Willow Run and chances are pretty good that images of Rosie The Riveters building B-24 bombers in World War II come to mind.

But there are big plans being cooked up to transform the old factory grounds near Ypsilanti into a highly advanced proving ground for autonomous and connected vehicles.

Pete Bigelow spells it all out in his story for Car and Driver.

Flickr user TIm Ereneta/ Flickr /

The Next Idea

I spend a lot of time looking for the future. I never really find it. Humans are too unpredictable. Innovations are like teenagers. They’re never really sure what they want be when they grow up, if they grow up at all. You can only hope they find their rightful place in the world somewhere along the way.

flickr user Ken Lund /

The Next Idea

Driverless cars are on the horizon. That much is clear.

We’ve heard from businesses, engineers and politicians about how autonomous vehicles could change day-to-day life for all of us.

How might driverless cars affect the lives of people with disabilities?

"The traditional classroom style was not the best way to teach this type of information ... Once the guys were able to see hands on what it meant to run a business using the food truck as a classroom, it completely changed what they thought," Harris said.
Steven Depolo /

The Next Idea

The Skillman Foundation has awarded $50,000 each to six different programs in connection with the My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge.

One of the six is Giving Them the Business. The goal is to teach young men of color to be owners and operators of restaurants, not just hired help, according to a release from the foundation.

Jerrell Harris coordinates Giving Them the Business. He joined us today.

To fight the system, ignore it and innovate now

Sep 29, 2016

The Next Idea

Recently, a bright young colleague of mine alerted me to a meeting of the minds at a top technology institution. The event was to be a discussion of breakthrough research and innovative ideas that are flying under the radar. So I joined the online conference just in time to hear a web feed of CIA computer analyst turned whistleblower Edward Snowden giving a rather unremarkable account of the authoritarian state of things here in the land of the free.

Courtesy of Brian Connors

The Next Idea

China is Michigan’s third largest export market. A new nonprofit is up and running, planning to encourage more Chinese investment here.

Brian Connors is the executive director of the Michigan-China Innovation Center.

Connors sat down with us today to talk about how he plans to attract the attention of Chinese investors and why China is such a valuable business partner for Michigan.

Courtesy of Lynne Golodner

The Next Idea

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and went to school where most of the kids looked like me. During the Jewish holidays, teachers didn't assign work because so many of us were absent. There might have been five or six African-American kids in my high school, and no one wore a hijab in public.

I’ve always been curious about the way other people live. My journey as a journalist and author and writing professor has taken me to find common ground in people different from me. I visited a mosque, attended a candlelight service in a Catholic church in Ireland, and spent a plane ride to Israel having a deep, powerful conversation with a Palestinian man going to see his family. As I developed my writing craft, I continued to seek out stories that showed the similarities in people, the beliefs we share, and the customs we have in common.

According to Chopra, diagnosis is a complicated process made only more difficult by time constraints.
Public Domain

The Next Idea

If ever there is a time you want your physicians to be on top of their game, it's when he or she is determining your diagnosis. 

Yet, doctors who are overworked and stressed do make mistakes. And the results can be fatal.

One famous case: actor John Ritter was diagnosed and treated for a heart attack. Turns out he actually had a tear in his aorta, which killed him.

Dr. Vineet Chopra is with the Patient Safety Enhancement Program, and he's researching ways to change the way physicians work to give them more time to think about their patients' diagnoses. 

Public Domain

The Next Idea

Among small business owners in Michigan, access to capital remains one of the most significant challenges, especially for people in underserved communities. This seems to be true even in places with improving economies, like West Michigan. The area has seen a strong post-recession recovery in recent years, and ranks highly in the prevalence of investors. WalletHub named Grand Rapids #2 in its 2016 rankings of “Best Large Cities to Start a Business,” yet it was ranked 43rd out of 150 cities analyzed in terms of access to resources.

Mark Katakowski explained that as we age, the number, function and "therapeutic potential" of our bodies' stem cells diminshes.
flickr user Tareq Salahuddin /

The Next Idea

Could the ancient search for the Fountain of Youth lead to Ann Arbor?

That's where a company called Forever Labs is working to solve the universal problem of getting old. 

Its solution: store your stem cells when you're a young adult so you can use them as you age.

Flickr user USDAgov/Flickr /

The Next Idea

There are frequent and spirited discussions about students who aren’t getting what they need to succeed in Michigan’s public schools.

Nanette Janecke of Western Michigan University is adding another group of students to that conversation: gifted students.

They’re students who could achieve a lot, but who – in most Michigan school districts – aren’t given many tools for success, Janecke said.

Bill Schroer told us that we waste about 30% of our food in America.
United States Department of Agriculture

The Next Idea

There's a halfway decent chance you scraped food into the trash can today. Or maybe you pitched an apple core out the car window on your way to work.

If so, then you are contributing to America's food waste problem, and it's a big one.

Some $218 billion big.

Battle Creek wants to be America's test laboratory and lead the way to zero food waste.

A 2014 Impala driving off the line at Oshawa Assembly.
General Motors

The Next Idea

Around the world, Michigan is known as a state that makes things. And the way we make things is about to undergo a massive shift – so massive, in fact, that experts are calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0.

Tourists helping villagers set up a community hall in Cambodia
flickr user Thomas Wanhoff /

The Next Idea

Would you be willing to take a vacation that's centered around helping others?

Perhaps through a church or school group. Maybe it's teaching English. Maybe it's building a school in a struggling country like, say, Haiti. 

It's called "voluntourism."

The intentions are good, but the results might not be as helpful as the voluntourists are hoping for.

Rebecca Gray

The Next Idea

In an era when it seems much of the country is in a face-off over race, from Black Lives Matter to All Lives Matter, how do we talk about race or even change attitudes about race?

The latest contributor to The Next Idea is Rebecca Gray from Michigan United who is trying a new idea in Downriver Wayne County. It's a new race canvass effort. White people talking to white people about race. The strategy is intended to get white voters thinking about race and racism in a good old-fashioned door-to-door approach.

Flickr user christiaan_008/Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Next Idea

July automotive sales were up only 0.7%, bringing back memories of when Detroit’s Big Three struggled to stay afloat not too long ago. Both serve as a reminder of what keeps the state’s economy alive: diversification of industry.

Detroit Horse Power

The Next Idea

I feel exceedingly fortunate to have grown up with horses as a big part of my childhood. I was brought up in suburban Westchester County, New York, about 20 minutes from prime horse country. I started regular riding lessons and showing when I was about 10. At age 14, I began competing in the Olympic sport of Three Day Eventing -- a horse triathlon that combines dressage, cross country, and stadium jumping. My thoroughbred, Rush, and I worked as a team -- training daily, building a partnership, testing our skills, persevering through disappointments and injuries. Horse people can describe at length the many valuable life lessons we learn from these amazing animals. Those skills and experiences hold the most weight for me as I look back on my international competitions and time spent working for top professionals.

 Howard Hertz told us Detroit should lean into its musical legacy the way cities like Nashville and Austin do.
flickr user tomovox /

The Next Idea

Take a moment to think of all the music that's been born and bred in Detroit.

From Motown to techno, rock to hip hop and jazz, and all parts in-between, Detroit artists have made an impression around the world.

Yet, the city's done next to nothing to capitalize on its city's musical heritage. 

Our latest contributor to The Next Idea is leading an effort to change that, by getting Detroit to brand itself as a "music city" and build a downtown museum celebrating Southeast Michigan's rich musical heritage.

Flickr user orangesparrow / Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Next Idea


Many Michiganders enjoy walking in our outdoor spaces, whether private or public, being rejuvenated by the sights and sounds they encounter. But how many know what they are experiencing? Are they just seeing “walls of green?” Are they merely hearing a sound coming from somewhere high in a tree? And do they know whether the animals and plants they see are healthy?

Jeffery Allen Ford writes: "Psychological experts have determined that Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Michelangelo were all extremely high-functioning individuals with autism."
Courtesy of Jeffery Allen Ford

The Next Idea

We in Michigan usually take great pride in our state's natural beauty and precious resources. So, I find it incredibly disheartening that one of our state's most beautiful and precious resources – its autistic community – is largely misunderstood, marginalized and woefully under-valued.

Mason County competition stimulates local business

Jul 18, 2016
The Momentum Business Plan Competition galvanized entreprenuer Andy Thomas's brewery, Starving Artist Brewing.
Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Next Idea

For the last two years, Mason County has the Momentum Business Plan Competition, which awards $50,000 to entrepreneurs during the startup phase of their businesses. The project aims to boost entrepreneurship and small businesses within the county. Prize money is provided by local sponsors and organizations.

Commonwealth Detroit works at offering affordable property for creative minds in their 128,000-square-foot building.
Robert Elmes / Commonwealth Detroit

The Next Idea

Young artists can struggle to make a living if they lack the proper knowledge to start and care for a storefront – and that’s where a new Detroit project comes in.

Urban farming is one way public space is being used in Detroit.
Flickr user Liz Patek / Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Next Idea


Private development has changed the face of Detroit. New restaurants, shops and houses have popped up in Midtown, Corktown and downtown Detroit. But what about public spaces?


Our latest contributor to The Next Idea is Anya Sirota, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Michigan. She’s also the principal of Akoaki, a practice in Detroit involving architecture, art and cultural infrastructure.


Sirota believes there aren’t enough public spaces in Detroit that offer openness and the opportunity to build a sense of belonging. She thinks public space is crucial to the health of a city.

Is this the end of marriage, capitalism, and God?

Jun 27, 2016

The Next Idea


The next big thing isn’t a clever gadget or miracle drug, it’s a way of life -- not a breakthrough invention but a social innovation.


Wish you were more creative? Try taking a walk

Jun 20, 2016
With exercises and effort, anyone can train their brain to be more creative, says Dr. David Fessell.

The Next Idea

What is the mental fuel for innovation? What internal power plant do we tap into?

Creativity. It drives innovation, collaboration, and in many cases, success. It involves everything from the everyday creativity of the hard­working woman who figures out how to make a pound of hamburger feed her family for a week, to the genius-­level creativity of Steve Jobs.

The International Symbol of Access
wikimedia user Ltljltlj / / Public Domain

The Next Idea

Each month, the State of Michigan releases unemployment numbers, which are seen as a major indicator of the state’s economic health. One subset of these numbers is often overlooked — the employment levels for people with disabilities.

Michigan and other states struggle with the challenge of employing people in this group. The discrepancy is significant. As of March 2016, the national unemployment rate for people without disabilities was 4.9%. For people with disabilities, it was more than double that figure. Perhaps even more indicative of the challenge is the gap in the labor force participation rate of nearly 69% for people without disabilities, and almost 20% for people with disabilities.

Jeff DeGraff of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business
Twitter @JeffDeGraff

The Next Idea

Six presidential campaigns later I’ve still got Bill Clinton’s iconic 1992 slogan running through my head: It’s the economy, stupid.

But it’s not the economy that I’m thinking about -- it’s the corporate relocation that’s on my mind.

What was so effective about Clinton’s irresistible one-liner is the way it redirected American attention.

Flickr user Newman University/Flickr

The Next Idea

Hundreds of leaders have descended upon Mackinac Island for the Mackinac Policy Conference this week. Their aim is to explore solutions to Michigan’s problems, and education across the state has been a big talking point.

One of those leaders is Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.

Cass Adair

The Next Idea

In 2007, 10 foundations came together and put together a $100 million fund. The New Economic Initiative recapitalized in 2014 with an additional $33.5 million. They have investments in non-profits and companies that can employ others.

The NEI has served grants to 4,400 client companies. It has helped develop 1,600 new companies; 40 of those companies were created by people of color and about one-third of them by women. Pamela Lewis is director of the New Economic Initiative.