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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

One of many abandoned structures in Detroit
flickr user Stephen Harlan / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Michigan is all too familiar with the sight of abandoned buildings. Detroit is one of the most significant examples, where hundreds of millions of dollars are being spend on demolition.

Rex LaMore wonders whether we can’t save taxpayers the cost of abandonment by planning for the end of a building’s life from the very beginning. LaMore is director of Michigan State University’s Center for Community and Economic Development, and he’s looking at ways to address Michigan’s glut of abandoned buildings.

Joe Gruber

Katrina Watkins stood on her front porch in Detroit’s McDougall-Hunt neighborhood staring at the vacant, overgrown stretch of land across the street.

“I have been trying to get the city out here to cut this for years,” she said.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/michigan-engineering/24292873512/in/album-72157662996114550/
Joseph Xu, University of Michigan Office of Communications and Marketing

The Next Idea

In a past life, Sile O'Modhrain edited audio for BBC radio.

"At the time I was working," she says, "I could edit using a razor blade and tape" to physically piece different sections of a recording together. But when audio editing processes switched from tactile to digital, she found herself out of a job.

Photo by Marcin Szczepanski

The Next Idea

There are lingering fears that nothing will be the same in Flint. But maybe things shouldn’t be the same. What if there is a better way for Flint and other cities to harvest and deliver life-enhancing water?

People across the nation are judging Flint as an epic failure of leadership and poor choices. There is no doubt that Flint’s water crisis is an unqualified failure of democracy, but it is also a century-old failure of design and systems thinking.     

flickr user woodleywonderworks / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

All over Michigan, there are cities and towns that suffer from a lack of affordable housing. The demand keeps growing, but the supply just isn't there. 

Wayne State professor George Galster has a few ideas that could help Michigan tackle the issue:

Flickr/Astrid

The Next Idea

In the 122 years that Michigan has been making cars, the automobile industry has taught us that it’s not about having the parts but how you put them together that makes all the difference. A disassembled car is just a pile of 20,000 or more pieces of dull metal, washers, connectors, nuts and ugly wiring piled in your driveway. But put them all together and you get the most transformative technology of the 20th century.

flickr user Lee Carson / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

A new theater group in Michigan is bringing a fresh approach to funding and producing plays.

It’s called Kickshaw Theatre and its first production, “The Electric Baby,” is at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth in Ann Arbor.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chriskantos/2351716097

The Next Idea

Reducing dependence on fossil fuels through alternative energy may seem like an expensive goal, especially in an era when even traditional utilities need major investments to keep running. Add to this Michigan’s cloudy, snowy environment, and using solar energy might seem impractical, if not impossible.

Looking south on Woodward Ave
flickr user Sean Marshall / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

We may be living in the 21st century, but the transportation infrastructure in Southeast Michigan is lagging way behind.

The number of citizens relying on public transport to get in and out of Detroit for business or pleasure is on the rise, thanks in part to the millennial generation's growing tendency to forgo car ownership in favor of alternative means of transit.

In his story for HOUR Detroit, Patrick Dunn digs into a number of projects that aim to transform the way we get around Metro Detroit.

Flickr/roel1943 / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Business, political and media elites are increasingly advising kids not to pursue four-year degrees. The conventional wisdom is that unless you get a four-year degree in a STEM field, you are likely to end up underemployed and unable to pay off crushing student loans. Far better, according to this logic, to get a two-year degree or occupational certificate in a skilled trade.

The Next Idea

When most people think of university researchers, they think of scientists. They imagine people wearing white coats and plastic goggles, conducting experiments in a lab or making observations in the field, often working with a team of colleagues and students. Eventually, the results of that research might go into producing new computer technologies, performing life-saving medical treatments, or passing informed environmental policy.

The riverfront in Traverse City
Public Domain

The Next Idea

Most anyone would agree that Traverse City is one of Michigan’s crown jewels. It’s a beautiful location and a great place to live, visit and retire.

But one thing Traverse City has lacked is a strong central point for the area’s tech industry.

Russell Schindler is a Traverse City geologist and entrepreneur. He basically got sick and tired of driving nearly four hours to Ann Arbor for tech meet-ups, so he started a new group, called TC New Tech.

First-ever Michigan Design Prize now taking entries

Jan 11, 2016
Jennifer Guerra/Michigan Radio

The Next Idea

At more than 4,000 strong, Michigan has the highest concentration of industrial designers in the nation.

Yet few people know about it unless you live here, says Jeff DeBoer, chair of the Michigan Design Council and a principal at Sundberg-Ferar, a Michigan design firm.

Founded early last year, the Michigan Design Council has been tasked with a mission to change all that.

Where do the truly great innovations lie?

Jan 7, 2016
https://www.flickr.com/photos/phm_sinan/1364979311

The Next Idea

Cool, shiny, sleek:  These are the qualities we associate with top-shelf innovations.

That’s because we’re constantly confronted with magazine and Internet lists of the most innovative companies that are essentially just beauty contests. At the top of all these shimmering lists are blustery bands and glitzy gadgets and chic designers.

Steady decline in wetlands endangers Great Lakes

Jan 4, 2016
Flickr/barbaragaillewis / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

In Michigan and across the country, wetlands are known as marshes, swamps, bogs, fens and pocosins.

They are also known as threatened.

A recent study by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which used data collected by our (Ducks Unlimited) mapping experts, points to staggering losses.

Dan Varner
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Next Idea

Many of Detroit’s potential workers are leaving school without the math or reading skills required to enter training programs.

There doesn’t seems to be a clear plan for educating Detroit’s children. There doesn’t seem to be a clear plan for training a future workforce.

Flickr/Penn State / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

It’s that time of year to reflect on what worked and what didn’t this past year here in the Great Lakes State, and to give due consideration to potential adjustments to improve our situation.  

Considering the essays and interviews of our guests here at The Next Idea, other credible news sources, and adding some of my own observations, I see three general areas for innovation to consider for review:

Can a Detroit start-up curb gun violence?

Dec 16, 2015
After three years in development, the smart gun lock should be ready for distribution in early 2016, says Identilock inventor Omer Kiyani.
Courtesy of Identilock

The Next Idea

How do we keep guns out of the wrong hands?

No matter where you stand on the gun issue, we can all agree that’s an important issue to address.

It’s also the question driving the Identilock, a smart gun lock that uses fingerprint identification to make sure a gun can only be used by its owner.

Omer Kiyani is the founder and CEO of Sentinl, the Detroit-based company behind Identilock.

Crowdsourcing school guidance counseling

Dec 10, 2015
Keyboard with a"Jobs" button
Got Credit / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Next Idea

When it comes to having a 21st-century workforce, Southeast Michigan is in the midst of a “perfect storm.”

During years of economic decline, Michigan struggled to keep its residents educated and trained for the modern workplace. Now that the economy is in recovery and new job openings are finally emerging, there are not enough qualified young people left to fill them.

Let's stop with the Silicon Valley comparisons

Dec 9, 2015
Flickr/Scott Lewis / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

In Detroit and across Michigan (and just about anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, for that matter), there is often talk about becoming the next Silicon Valley.  This comparison gets pretty tiresome. If innovation is about "new and different," why would we want to be something that already exists?

Detroit has its own set of unique challenges and opportunities, and we should strive to be something new, something different.

flickr user Daviddje / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

There are many questions about how the public and private sectors can and should work together.

Gabe Klein has had some success on both sides of that equation. He helped ZipCar grow from a small startup to a company known across the nation, and he has had key executive roles in city government in Washington DC and Chicago.

His new book is Startup City: Inspiring Private and Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done & Having Fun.

Sarah Hulett/Michigan Radio

The Next Idea

There are a handful of things we in Michigan are proud of and value about ourselves and our state.  We work hard. We make things. We love our Great Lakes and outdoors.  We are proud of our education institutions and what they represent.

We want to be proud again of our Michigan communities as great places to live, work and raise a family. In order to get there, however, we have a big problem that must first be fixed. Many of our communities, particularly our older core cities and suburbs, are literally falling apart, with no way to pay for their rebuilding.

flickr user James Emery / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Only a few decades ago, Israel was a virtual ghost town for business. Now, it’s considered one of the most innovative and energetic economies in the world, earning the nickname “Start-up Nation.”

In November, a group of Michigan CEOs traveled to Israel to see firsthand what makes the country so ideal for new businesses — and what lessons we might take to heart here in Michigan.

Islamophobia harms the fearful as much as the feared

Nov 19, 2015
flickr user JMacPherson / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

The ISIS attacks in Paris triggered fresh waves of fear and suspicion aimed at Muslims.

In just one example, the FBI is now investigating a Michigan woman regarding a tweet she sent out the day after the Paris attacks:

“Dearborn, MI has the largest Muslim population in the United States. Let’s f--- that place up and send a message to ISIS. We’re coming.”

From a local tweet like that to CNN anchors questioning why no one in the French Muslim community spoke up to warn of the Paris attacks, the shock waves of fear and paranoia can be felt resonating far and wide.

Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

The 21st century software industry owes a lot to a certain 18th century inventor.

Open source innovation is a phrase we tend to associate with post-millennial creativity, but it’s actually a 300-year-old idea. Benjamin Franklin famously did not patent his lighting rod, his bifocals, his stove, and many other of his inventions because he thought that these ideas were simply too important not to share.

This is the same mindset behind today’s open source movement: unrestricted access to designs, products, and ideas to be used by an unlimited number of people in a variety of sectors for diverse purposes.

flickr user neetalparekh / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Mark “Puck” Mykleby is a retired Marine colonel who worked from 2009 to 2011 as an assistant to former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen.

Mullen wanted a grand strategy for the nation. Not a military strategy, but something to encourage the kind of innovation and leadership he felt has been slipping away in the United States.

Mykleby left the Pentagon a little frustrated with Washington and figured he really needed to take the idea to the private sector.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Elijah J. McCoy Patent and Trademark Office in Detroit in 2012
flickr user Senator Stabenow / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Innovation means new ideas, and new ideas mean investments, all of which need to be protected.

That’s where the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office comes in.

Three years ago, they opened their first office outside of Washington D.C., and chose to put it in Detroit.

What does that mean for Michigan inventors, entrepreneurs, startups and researchers?

Grocoff: "If we wish to sustain the climate to which we and all living things have adapted, then we need to design systems more like old growth forests and less like tree farms."
Jim Sorbie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Next Idea

As The Next Idea continues to explore innovation in Michigan, it’s clear that amidst the new technology and new breakthroughs, some concepts stand the test of time.

One such concept was summed up by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods."

That was the key to the success of Michigan inventor, businessman and innovator Webster Marble.

Flickr/opensource.com / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea 

At the heart of every great innovation is a great compromise: In order to start something new, we have to stop something old. Think of it as a deal you make with yourself — the things you’ll give up in order to make room for future growth.

Imagine someone’s garage so full of old scrap that there’s no room for the new car. How can businesses better incentivize taking out the trash?

Courtesy of Our Kitchen Table

The Next Idea

School gardens seem like a great idea. Teachers get to reinforce key concepts in science and math, students get hands-on experiences with healthy food, and everyone gets to eat homegrown snacks at the end of a few months. Sounds good, right? Wrong.

In fact, most school gardens fail. They might look good at first. But without constant attention from parents, students, and community members, the plants wither, the weeds sprout, and the garden goes from an optimistic symbol of health to an ugly eyesore right in front of the school. 

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