Those attending Franklin & Marshall College's first Creativity and Innovation Symposium Jan. 28 heard plenty of advice on the topic.
Enter into any creative endeavor expecting a linear path to success, and you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Meet failure and get to know it well. The fear of it inhibits innovation; the realities of it can extinguish the spark of something promising. A college that doesn’t embrace failure and stays bound to the status quo soon finds itself stagnant and irrelevant.
But above all, the alumni, faculty, community leaders, students and staff gathered with one goal in mind: to begin discussing how to create an atmosphere and ethos that encourage creativity, and that make innovation not only possible, but common.
A college campus often contains three elements that symposium keynote speaker Susanna Khavul said are necessary to foster creativity – the culture of knowledge that’s necessary as a foundation, people with novel ideas, and the experts needed to test and validate those ideas.
Khavul, the Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics and an associate professor of strategic management, entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington, said the question then becomes how to turn creativity and innovation into action? How to do so in a way that addresses a need? How to expand the College's boundaries and create value? And how to do all that in a way that’s sustainable?
F&M is in the process of expanding its reputation as a creative innovator in higher education, President Dr. Daniel R. Porterfield said in symposium remarks. The “Claiming Our Future” strategic plan and the American Talent Initiative come to mind as recent examples of Franklin & Marshall College seeking out "the full American mosaic," he said. The College spreads innovation with each batch of students it graduates.
"We have so many assets – values, people, reputation, approaches to education, fundamental values of the institution,” Porterfield said. “If the College can harness creativity campuswide and innovate ways to put that creativity into action … there's no reason a place like Lancaster and F&M can't have a global impact."
Several alumni shared their perspectives on the value of the College and liberal arts, including Joan Fallon '79, CEO of Curemark and a College trustee; Robert Walter '75, associate professor of geosciences; Sarah Waybright '06, entrepreneur and owner of WhyFoodWorks; and award-winning filmmaker Randy Wilkins '01. Student panelists included junior Jennifer Deasy and senior Hector Ferronato. Community guests included Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray and Frances Wolf '96, first lady of Pennsylvania and an F&M trustee.
The path forward
The symposium’s purpose was to examine ways the College could foster creative thinking and innovation across the board. As several speakers asked, how can the College make room, time and acceptance for failure?
As a student at F&M, filmmaker Wilkins said he took three art classes to fulfill a liberal arts requirement. "I dropped them all," he said, and stumbled across a film class that upended all his plans.
Porterfield said the discussion at F&M will be ongoing. “The job of this group is not to write a plan to be implemented by other people," he said.
Instead, the symposium was viewed as a launch for discussions, new classes and campus programs that will strive to encourage creativity and innovation building blocks – perseverance, an atmosphere that encourages collaboration, and space inside and outside the classroom to suggest ideas and build consensus.
It’s a work in progress, Porterfield said, "to figure out innovative experiences and projects and classes, to draw out possibilities that can be much more widespread."