Mavericks, nerds and innovation

You could say that our obsession with all things creative started with Ken Robinson and his TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?  It’s been viewed by a staggering 45 million people, which, although a long way short of the 2.8 billion views that this work of art has earned, is nonetheless impressive.

Sir Ken was always on to a winner because we humans tend to  love the maverick, whether it’s the twenty-something who abandons college to become a tech billionaire, or the self-taught musical genius, or the sportsperson who becomes a winner despite having a technique that is nowhere to be seen in the coaching manuals. So championing the cause of ‘creatives’ being ground down by school is a no-brainer if you want to have a TED hit.

It was interesting, therefore, to read the results of a survey carried out by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). They surveyed 923 highly-successful tech innovators in the US. Here’s what they found:

  • 55.7% of these innovators had a PhD, 21.8% had a Masters and 19.6% had a bachelor’s degree.
  • Over half of the innovators majored in engineering.
  • More than half (57%) worked in companies with more than 500 employees while another 12% worked in companies with between 100 and 500 employees.
  • They had a median age of 47.
  • 46% were immigrants or children of immigrants

So, based on this survey, it is hard to make the case that schools (and universities) kill creativity, at least in the tech domain. If anything, a traditional academic education is a necessary condition for becoming a tech innovator. Of course there are exceptions to this rule but they are rare and that’s what makes them interesting.

So employers, you should employ those first class honours nerds at least if your vision extends beyond the middle of next week.

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About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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One Response to Mavericks, nerds and innovation

  1. Pingback: Educational Reader’s Digest | Friday 28th April – Friday 5th May – Douglas Wise

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