The POV Dispatch is our Autodesk internal newsletter, published monthly, where we discuss the big ideas that are important to us and our customers. It is published by our Corporate Strategy & Engagement (CS&E) team of which Autodesk Labs is a part. Jon Pittman is the VP of Corporate Strategy and leads CS&E, so it should come as no surprise that Jon routinely makes submissions to issues of the POV Dispatch. Jon is also a Lecturer at the Haas School of Business of the University of California at Berkeley. Jon contributed this to a recent issue, and I thought I would share it with you.
STEM is necessary but not sufficient
by Jon Pittman, VP of Corporate Strategy
Emphasis on Useful
There is a lot of energy and excitement these days about STEM education. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Proponents of STEM claim that education in these fields is critical to competitiveness and innovation. Fair enough. This is a compelling argument and lots of policy makers, educators, and tech companies are piling on to support this idea. We do need better STEM education, but is that enough? Will more STEM necessarily lead to more innovation? To answer this requires that we first define "innovation." There are, of course, lots of definitions of innovation but the following is generally accepted — an innovation is something original or new that becomes useful in a market or society. Note the emphasis on useful. Innovations are not just new ideas — those are inventions. To be an innovation, something has to be deployed in society or a market in such a way that it serves a need — it is useful. This conflation of invention and innovation is at the root of why STEM is an incomplete concept. Increasing our emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math is a good thing. It will increase the number and quality of new ideas — the inventions that move society forward. But invention is only one ingredient in innovation. What do we need to do to turn an invention into an innovation? What do we need to do to make the invention useful?
Learn from Making Waffles
"My son and I make waffles on Saturday mornings. We know that the number of waffles that we can make depends on the ingredient we have the least of. We may have five boxes of flour mix and three gallons of milk, but if we have only one egg, then, by golly, we can make only one batch of waffles.
When it comes to innovation, people assume that investments in science and technology will inevitably lead to innovations. There are many ingredients in the recipe for innovation, and I'm skeptical that science and tech are the scarcest.
Advances in science and technology only get innovation initiatives started. After that there comes what I call The Other Side of Innovation the journey from idea to impact. It is a business challenge, and it requires at least two additional ingredients: capital and managerial talent. Of the three (science, capital, managerial talent), which do you think is the scarcest? Is there a fourth ingredient that is scarcer still?"
Secret Ingredient is Design
I share Trimble's skepticism that science and technology are enough. In my view, that missing fourth ingredient is design. Design is the bridge between invention and innovation. Good design takes a new idea, and makes it useful to someone. That is the essence of innovation. STEM is only about invention. It omits design — the key ingredient needed to take a new idea, the invention — to usefulness , making it an innovation. Some, including Autodesk's initiative, have tried to address this by adding a new ingredient to STEM — the Arts — thus yielding STEAM for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. The problem with STEAM is that it conflates "the arts" with design. Design is closely related to and informed by the arts, but it is different. Art is about self-expression. Design is about meeting the needs of someone else — making something useful for someone other than you. Again, STEAM is a worthy cause. It tries to rectify an overly technology-centric STEM concept. But both STEM and STEAM miss the mark when it comes to innovation.
Why does this matter? Is this just semantic quibbling? No, it matters profoundly. Here's why. Technological innovation in the last three centuries automated huge amounts of physical labor — creating vast wealth — but also displacing many workers. To remain productive members of society, people who knew about agriculture and the rhythms of nature had to learn about the mechanics of machine production and the rhythms of the factory. Our education system is built on this mechanistic model. We are, however, going through another machine age — a digital machine age, in which digital technologies are automating mental labor. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers could successfully master large bodies of knowledge and procedures to apply to that knowledge to reach a solution. However, that is what computers are really good at. Professions such as law and medicine are being disrupted by computation, and soon vast areas of mental labor will be disrupted by digital technology — just as industrial technology disrupted manual labor.
When this happens, what skills will be valued? How will people remain productive and useful members of society? In The Second Machine Age, MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and, Andrew McAffee say that two specific skills will become the most valuable to society: emotional intelligence — the ability to relate to others — and design and innovation skills. If they are right, then it is critical that we get the teaching of both design innovation right. If we conflate innovation with invention, and design with the arts, we are doing future generations a disservice. We are telling them we will provide them with an education that will make them valuable contributors to society but, like Chris Trimble and his waffles, we will only be giving them some of the ingredients they need.
Make a Difference
STEM and even STEAM are worthy concepts, and it is laudable that we at Autodesk are following and supporting these notions. As an industry leader in design, shouldn't we be moving beyond STEM and STEAM? Shouldn't we be leading the educational world to design-based education? Shouldn't we be helping educators and students understand what design is and the value of design to innovation? This is an opportunity for Autodesk to help add design — the missing ingredient — to STEM and STEAM. Not only is an opportunity for Autodesk, it is our obligation.
Don't just take my word for it. See what our friend Mickey McManus, CEO of Maya Design says about this...
Mickey and I are in violent agreement — he just says it more eloquently than I ever could.
Education is alive in the lab.