Leaders

INNOVATION TALK

The imperative to innovate is felt in every sphere. Six leading figures from the worlds of art, music, education, science, technology and social action weigh in on what it takes and what it costs to be innovative in their fields.

 

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What does the dizzying speed of technological and intellectual innovation mean in higher education?  To really understand, it is important to divide the discussion into two distinct areas: What we teach, and how we teach. 

As for what we teach, the challenge is to ready our students to manage in a world that is in constant flux, filled with more unknowns than knowns.  We need to prepare them to manage or be part of a work force that is distinctly different than the one we grew up with.  Instead of teaching content, we need to teach context and provide students with tools to help their organizations adapt and deal with change.  Successful organizations want employees that can both drive innovation and be flexible enough to adapt to it.  This means teaching how to formulate the right questions and where to look for answers as opposed to providing black and white answers.

As for how we teach, that too is changing.  Studies have shown that passively sitting and listening to lectures is the least effective way to learn.  To truly benefit from important knowledge that is being disseminated in educational institutions, students need to be actively involved in the learning and the teaching process.  We are implementing innovative active learning environments where the students learn by doing as opposed to relying solely on lectures or texts.  Critical thinking is of the utmost importance and students need to understand how to evaluate and determine the legitimacy of sources, not just reiterate them.  This also affords opportunities for obtaining and learning how to get and give constructive feedback.  

In todays competitive academic environment we will find ourselves out of the game if we dont constantly innovate our course content and our teaching methods as well.

 

 

In his book The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman uses the rather lovely term Passion Quotient. We, at the Weizmann Institute,  place just as much importance – if not more –  on the scientists passion for a subject as on their intelligence or expertise.

How does one nurture the passion that leads to innovation?

Truly amazing amounts of knowledge are available to us today, which can be used for the development of practical applications, for example, next-generation cell phones.  But such instant gratification, in which the science is motivated by the end results, will only get you so far in investigating questions in which we cant even begin to fathom the discoveries and practical implications that could potentially stem from such research.

Just one example of this can be seen at the Weizmann Institute of Science. In the 1980s, Prof. Zelig Eshhar asked a simple question: Why is the bodys immune system so inefficient when it comes to fighting cancer? For over 30 years, Eshhar pursued this question, even when the cancer research community had mostly decided that such research would never lead to a cure. That all changed in 2011, when researchers in Pennsylvania reported that three patients with end-stage leukemia were in remission following treatments based on Eshhars research.

Can we educate young people to prepare their minds for this type of innovation – instill in them a high Passion Quotient for scientific research?

We believe we can. At the Weizmann Institute, we first find the best scientists and then ask them what they want to research. Patents and applications are never mentioned.

Then we bring all our scientists together and provide a great environment where they can collaborate. We encourage our scientists to engage in multidisciplinary research across departments and faculties, as well as with researchers around the globe.

Oh yes, and we have a test for that Passion Quotient, as well. We give prospective students an exam, asking them about something were sure they have never studied. There are those who tell us they havent learned that subject, and then there are those whose curiosity is aroused. The ones who start trying to figure it out are the ones that we want.

These may or may not be the kids who tested high on the IQ tests, or who have learned how to spit out the correct answers on tests. That is why we try to reach as many as possible with our education and outreach programs. These programs begin with teacher training – instilling (or re-instilling) the passion in those whom we expect to pass it on – up to programs for high-school drop-outs, as well as numerous popular lectures and events.

Some of those who benefit from our programs will become scientists, a few at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Some will help find drugs for cancer or diabetes. Others will change the way we view the Universe. In our eyes, that is all innovation.

 

Innovation can mean – and must mean – casting aside paradigms that are no longer relevant. For us, at Givat Haviva, it has meant changing the way we view shared life between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Founded in 1949 by the kibbutz federation, Givat Haviva was and remains the pioneering organization tasked with promoting what we used to call coexistence in Israel. If coexistence was the goal, dialogue was the means of bringing about change.

The theory was simple: In a state in which Jews and Arabs live in separate communities and attend separate schools, we must bring them together for joint encounters in which they can get to know one another and develop a basis for good relations.

In October, 2000, with the outbreak of the second intifada, that premise of coexistence crumbled – as Israeli Arabs identified with their people, the Palestinians. Arab citizens of Israel adopted a national identity as Palestinians and a civic identity as Israelis.

As an organization premised on dialogue for the benefit of coexistence, it took us a decade to understand that our paradigm was preventing us from being relevant in a changing reality.

First we had to admit this to ourselves, then we had to dare to change ourselves. To create ourselves anew. Our objective has not changed: Our goal is to build the basis for shared life between Jews and Arabs in Israel. What has changed is the definition of a different goal and the need to develop innovative programs that will shape that reality in a changing milieu.

First, we changed the definition of our goal from coexistence to shared society.  The coexistence concept assumed that it is possible to build good relations between Arab citizens of Israel and Jewish ones without relating to the inherent gaps and the lack of equality in these relations in Israel.  This concept was rejected by the Arabs of Israel who are  not interested in being a partner in coexistence without a basic change in their status as individual Arab citizens of Israel and as a national group which enjoys full equality in the state.

In contrast to coexistence, a shared society assumes the principle of equality as the basis for partnership. In a shared society all citizens of the state regard Israel as their home and see in the partnership between Jews and Arabs the best way to feel wanted in a state that addresses their needs and respects the differences between the different groups within the country. Our new programs reflect that change in concept.

Alongside a national identity, we decided to create a new shared identity – a regional one. It is based on the emotional connection and common interests diverse citizens have toward the geographical area in which they reside.

Toward that end, we launched a program in which neighboring Jewish and Arab municipalities create ties and initiate joint projects in education, culture, and the economy, to the benefit of all the regions residents.  This year that program won an intercultural achievement award in the category of innovation, awarded by the Austrian government.

We embraced innovation to renew ourselves and become relevant once again. Today we have 50,000 people a year participating in our programs.  Every day we prove that there is a future for a shared and equal society in Israel. In fact, in our eyes this is the only possible future for our country.Yaniv Sagee is the executive director of Givat Haviva

 

In our desire to prepare our youth for the competitive universal arena, many of us see a digital path as the road to a successful future. A computer for every child is a much-heard refrain. However, this goal has been fulfilled almost beyond expectation.  Now it is time for something else: A musical instrument for every child!

Music has had a remarkable impact on humanity. An expressive, communal and personal mirror, an interpreter and catalyst, music is an inherently innovative field. For centuries, performers and composers have experimented in developing new techniques, improving and creating new instruments, expanding musical syntax, innovating upon their deep understanding and command of previous styles. The last few decades exposed us to new cultures of world music. At the same time, the internet has provided unprecedented access to this vast repertoire, while digital technology and computer-generated music have opened new possibilities.

But accessibility has come with a price. Over-exposure, over-stimulation and a short attention span challenge the conditions needed for self-reflection – something critical for music making and growth in general. Unlike technology, innovation in music has not rendered previous achievements obsolete. But quite alarmingly, the opening up of digital and other ready-made technologies, makes the need to master a musical instrument seem redundant.

Not long ago, playing chamber music, being in an orchestra, or simply listening with a score at hand, was not exclusive to accomplished musicians, but an activity enjoyed by many others who were skilled amateurs. Unfortunately, nowadays we may find this notion only in cultures where parental authority and discipline are not yet challenged.

Playing an instrument is a multi-faceted activity. It demands a musical ear, eye-hand coordination, mastering a new symbolic system, a sharp memory, curiosity and discipline. Recent brain and perception research has revealed the extent to which music contributes to intellectual and emotional development and other human capacities.

Do you want to encourage your children to develop an innovative spirit? Give them a violin, a clarinet, a saxophone, an oud – any instrument, to lure them into a learning process that will stimulate their imagination; develop abstract thinking; nurture greater self-awareness and sensitivity in communicating with others. Soon they will experience a small rewarding moment of accomplishing a phrase, then feeling empowered by mastering an entire piece. They will be joining a line of innovative tradition. Encourage them in this journey of discovery.

 

Mummies have stirred the imagination since they were first discovered. Even in ancient Egypt, the mummification process was an innovative advancement. How can we continue this tradition of forward thinking at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem? How can todays technologies enhance the visitor experience? We asked these questions ahead of our current exhibition, A Mummy in Jerusalem: Secrets of the Afterlife, which showcases a 2,200-year-old mummy, the only one in Israel, alongside his coffin and related artifacts.

We learned new details about the mummy from CT scans performed for the exhibition at the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, in collaboration with researchers from Tel Aviv University. Before the scans, we believed that the deceased was around 17 years old when he died. Yet we discovered that he was actually 30-40 years old, a relatively old age since life expectancy in the ancient world was much shorter than it is today.

The scans revealed bones, tissues, blood vessels, muscles, and even hair that are still intact. They also confirmed that most of the mans internal organs had been removed according to Egyptian tradition, and that his brain had been taken out via a hole in the front of his forehead. We even see the preservatives used in the embalming process, such as resin discovered in the skull and bitumen smeared on the bandages.

Most surprisingly, doctors discovered that the deceased suffered from osteoporosis, previously thought to be a 20th century phenomenon, as well as from dental caries and receding gums. From these findings, we were able to conclude that the mummy led an easy life without much exertion, presumably due to his position as a priest.

 

Harnessing todays technology to better appreciate the ancient world is one way of adding an innovative dimension to something as old as a mummy.

Galit Bennett-Dahan is the Rodney E. Soher curator of classical archaelogy at the Israel Museum

 

Where does startup nation go from here?

Over the past 20 years, Israeli has been transformed into a hub of technological innovation and entrepreneurship. This is due to a unique set of circumstances: the massive influx of talented immigrants from the former Soviet Union; growing global demand for information and communication technologies, an area in which Israel excels; and a mission-driven innovation policy set by the government. This combination of factors turned a nation which excelled in science and technology into a world leader in innovation.  Tech excellence has become the new normal in  Israels innovation ecosystem. 

Despite these successes, Israel must not rest on its laurels. The spirit that has made Israel into the startup nation must continue to push it towards its next set of challenges. These include increasing the impact of the innovation ecosystem on the entire Israeli economy and preserving Israels place as a global innovation powerhouse.

These ambitious goals can be realized in a number of different ways:

 by sparking innovation in more traditional industrial sectors, with an emphasis on manufacturing

by utilizing innovation to tackle global challenges such as providing better government services more efficiently

by promoting the creation of larger tech-based firms with wider staffing needs (i.e. not only engineers)

by significantly increasing the percentage of communities which are underrepresented in the innovation ecosystem workforce

To achieve these goals, the Israeli economy must undergo a deep shift towards a science and technology-based society, a shift no less dramatic and inspiring than the one which took place in the 90s. This change must begin in the early stages, namely in school and academia.

This path will ensure that Israel transforms itself from a market leader in innovation to a leading market in a vast array of cutting-edge industries.

Avi Hasson is chief scientist at the Ministry of Economy and Industry and chairman of the Israel innovation Authority

style='margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt;text-align: justify;text-indent:10.0pt;line-height:10.0pt;mso-layout-grid-align:none; text-autospace:none;vertical-align:baseline;direction:ltr;unicode-bidi:embed'>We embraced innovation to renew ourselves and become relevant once again. Today we have 50,000 people a year participating in our programs.  Every day we prove that there is a future for a shared and equal society in Israel. In fact, in our eyes this is the only possible future for our country.