Detroit has a chance to rebuild its economy on a risk-taking entrepreneurial foundation, and the job market is definitely turning around.
That’s what two very different speakers offered Thursday morning at the final Last Thursdays Unwired at Lawrence Technological University of the 2010-2011 academic year.
To listen to a podcast of the presentations, visit http://detroit.cbslocal.com/audio-on-demand/great-lakes-innovation-and-technology-report/#.
Serial entrepreneur Josh Linkner talked over the themes in his New York Times best-selling business book “Disciplined Dreaming.”
He first asked audience members what their idea of an innovator was — and he got a list of mavericks. “Do you folks see a pattern here a bit?” Linkner asked. “I didn’t see anybody say ‘The person I really admire is Bob in accounting, because he follows the rules and keeps his head down and doesn’t make waves.’ Instead we admire risk taking and changing the game and taking an unconventional alternative. So how come we so often do the opposite in our careers?”
Linkner said such conformism is bred into us from our earliest school days, but that’s not how to win in a brutally competitive world where, he said, quoting a business professor, “Right now there’s an innovator out there forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.”
Luckily, Linkner said he discovered in interviews for his book with 200 CEOs, billionaires, nonprofit leaders, musicians and more, and in a 2008 Harvard study, that the vast majority of creativity and innovative thinking is learned — and can be taught.
The book outlines eight nontraditional brainstorming techniques that help. Linkner demostrated one, called rolestorming — brainstorming in character. He took three audience volunteers and told them to act like their mental image of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and wayward actor Charlie Sheen — and then asked them how they’d fix Detroit’s problems. Getting people to think outside themselves in problem solving is one of the ways to institutionalize creativity.
“We need to be able to improvise,” Linkner said.
Also, Linkner noted, look at how society defines creativity: “We say musicians are creative but accountants aren’t. But there are musicians who play only the notes before them, beautifully — they are technicians. And we’ve seen how creative accountants can be. Look at Enron.”
Linkner said Detroit — and in a larger sense the country — is locked in stifling bureaucracies, a sense of entitlement and blame-casting, and has too often stopped creating and innovating. But we can get out, he said, by “reconnecting that entrepreneurial heritage of creativity and imagining the possibilities.”
Lawrence Tech Dean of Students Kevin Finn offered a look at the local economy and job market, opening with the story of a student who left Michigan for San Diego after graduation, couldn’t find a job, and has opportunities now back home.
“The labor market is picking up” in Michgan, Finn said. “We’re seeking a real change in the job market in 2011 over 2009 and 2010. Hiring is up over 10 percent from last year.”
One example: a Lawrence Tech -Oakland County program to help discplaced auto engineers find new jobs in the defense industry. The class ended in July and 20 of 23 participants are now working in defense. Only one had to leave Michigan and the average starting salary is around $75,000.
Finn said two groups are having a challenge — students with associate’s degrees alone and international students, based on the competitiveness and avialability of U.S. workers with bachelor’s degrees.
Business, electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science and IT are the majors most in demand, Finn said.