As an innovator, writer and senior advisor, Michael Schrage has become a well known leader among his many followers. He spends his time working extensively with MIT, conducting research on the intricate economics of innovation.
As a research fellow at MIT’s Sloan School’s Centre for Digital Business and a senior adviser to MIT’s Security Studies Program, Michael Schrage focuses on the process of invention and the creativity behind such ideas.
His latest work can be found in the Summer issue of The Conference Board Review.
10 Questions With Michael Schrage
1. How did you get involved in being a columnist for Fortune, CIO Magazine and MIT’s Technology Review and what motivates you to continue?
I still write but ‘column’ less because of my other advisory and teaching commitments. My origins as a columnist stem from having been a newspaper reporter and the first PC—that’s ‘personal computer,’ not ‘politically correct’—columnist for the Washington Post. I found that writing ‘news stories’ and even ‘analysis’ wasn’t adequate to convey either the essence or the impact of the innovations I was covering.
A column allowed me to cultivate a ‘voice’ and to think rigorously and hard about how I wanted to influence perceptions and behaviours; as a result, perceptive editors invited me to contribute to their publications. Between competition, technological disruption, economic lassitude and less-than-perceptive editors, my interest in writing ‘columns’ has declined.
2. How significant are the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting in the world of writing?
This is a schizophrenic question for me. ‘Cool’ is a word that gets me hot & bothered; I don’t like it. It creeps me out. Similarly, I have a mistrust of the word ‘trend.’ There is a wonderful epigram from a computer scientist who passed away recently. He observed that there are ‘waves’ and there are ‘tides;’ the former are phenomena that can be remarkably disruptive and/or awe-inspiring for brief moments in time, the latter are inevitable, omnipresent and disproportionately influential in subtler ways. I’m more of a ‘tides’ guy.
3. How do you define a trend?
A trend is defined by an unexpected number of [people] making unexpectedly similar choices in a manner that creates unexpected awareness.
4. How do you define cool?
‘Cool’ is what ‘popular’ people deem ‘popular.’ To me, there is a faddish, superficial and ephemeral quality to coolness that makes me distrust it. I was not a ‘cool’ kind or ‘popular’ in high school, but I happened to be quite good in sports so I had ready access to ‘coolness;’ I wasn’t impressed or intrigued.
5. Do you need a culture of innovation to create something that is cool?
No—you need ‘cool’ customers and the willingness to attack a traditional assumption from an unexpected angle.
6. What is the best way to create an infectious idea, product or service?
Do something that either very attractive women enjoy, or that teenagers with lots of time on their hands want to improve.
7. What is the key to innovation?
The energy, willingness and discipline to play—and observe how others play.
8. How do you reset yourself to be creative?
I reach a level of utter self-loathing based on how lazy I’ve been, and this motivates me to reset.
9. Professionally, what do you want to be doing or studying in 10 years?
I want to be studying and influencing the future of ‘interoperable design’ and exploring how aging but wealthy populations can enhance their creative vitality.
10. What are your most important hobbies?
Collecting—and reading—old books on the history of various technologies and helping friends and acquaintances edit their speeches, writing and screenplays.
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