Entries in BIF10 (2)


BIF10: Why the heart of innovation is personal.

Innovation is personal. 

It is, by nature and nurture, an inevitable human enterprise that begins with a terrible itch to scratch.  That itch may begin as simply as a mere annoyance or as profound as confronting cancer.

All of this was the heart of the BIF10 (Business Innovation Factory) annual summit.

After 10 years and three hundred and twenty innovator/storytellers, BIF continues to amaze, enthrall, and inspire the audience of 300 who make the pilgrimage to Providence, Rhode Island each year.

Let’s begin with the amaze and enthrall. 

One of the innovators is Camille Beatty.  She is 14-years-old and just started her first week in high school. 

The amazing part?  

She just started her own Robotics Company with her 12-year-old sister Genevieve.  This summer, Camille and her sister were invited to the White House by President Obama to demonstrate their robots at the White House.

Her quest began with an itch -- an unquenchable desire to understand how things work and how to turn ideas into machines.

Another innovator is Dr. Rupal Patel – a speech scientist at Northeastern University.  Her itch was to help give a voice to people without one.  Patel is working on creating individualized synthetic voices that match a person’s gender, age, and even emotions, rather than the one-size-fits-all computer generated voices that seem to dehumanize the articulated sounds of the person.

Then there’s David Moinina Sengeh, a Ph.D., candidate at the MIT Media Lab, President and co-founder, Global Minimum Inc. Sengeh, a native of Sierra Leone grew up during that country’s brutal, 11-year civil ware that has left 50,000 dead and 4,000 who had limbs crudely amputated as a form of political terror.

His itch was to understand how to mitigate the suffering and pain of prosthetic devices by combining medical imaging, 3-D printing, and individualized insights to create the next generation of prosthetics.

And there’s Arlene Samen.  Her itch was to help at-risk mothers and children.

She is the Founder, President and Executive Director of One Heart World-Wide.  She was among the first nurse practitioners in the field of high-risk obstetrics.  She was profoundly moved in 1997 by a chance encounter with the Dalai Lama who told her “she must go to Tibet and help women safely give birth there.”

Samen moved from Utah to Nepal and started an organization that has helped save hundreds of lives and will continue to have an impact on the lives of thousands in Nepal and beyond.

Ultimately, these singular itches, desires, and challenges are elevated to innovative ideas that move from the personal to the collective. The collective can be a small as single supporter or a network of hundreds that rally to the potential.

Let’s end with the inspire part. 

All the innovators at BIF tell their unique story.  But that story fills our minds and hearts with a renewed sense of purpose and drive.  Some resonate more than others. 

But ultimately, the singular becomes plural and we all share in the truly remarkable results.

Thank you BIF.





BIF10. Have you heard the one about the Rabbi and disruptive innovation?

It is rare to find the terms “rabbi” and “disruptive innovation” used in the same sentence. Rarer still, is to find those words inexplicably embedded into the vision of one individual.

When Rabbi Irwin Kula spoke from the BIF10 stage (Business Innovation Factory Summit) in Providence, he asked a provocative question: How do we innovate more developed and evolved human beings?

Kula, the President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and the author of Yearnings: The Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, believes that like any system, religion has to adapt to an evolving world.

Along with Craig Hatkoff, Kula founded the Disruptor Foundation, whose mission is to apply disruptive innovation theory to religion, spirituality, ethics, and moral development.

“Religion is a technology of human flourishing.  There is no tradition on the face of the earth that wasn’t at one time an innovation designed to help us flourish. A tradition is simply an innovation that makes it.”

The tragedy of 9/11 and the loss of several close friends was a watershed moment for Kula – who turned loss into hope by collecting the last words of people who perished but left transcendent messages of love, compassion, and hope.

He took those words and adapted them into a chant for his synagogue. The tune and meter of the chant he chose was traditionally about the destruction of the Jewish temple. What he learned was not only that these words words fit the traditional chant perfectly, but that the final conversations he had in his collections were ultimately love.

But Kula’s hope is leavened with a dynamic practicality. “The fastest growing religious identification in America is none. There are increasing numbers of “non-consumers: of existing religious products and services.”

“We need,” says Kula, “Some of our best and brightest to be early moral adopters – disruptive spiritual innovators who are interested in working to develop new wisdom and practices that can compress the time and space necessary to create “good, ethical people.”

“If the only early adopters we have are only concerned with the most cutting-edge technology, we’re going to be in big trouble.”

He told the BIF audience that he is currently working on a study with 5,000 people to see if the traditions and practices of Jewish people from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur actually help individual flourish and grow. 

“This is the first study in the history of religion in American in which people are being asked, “what is the actual impact on the person?”

Will gratitude increase? Will hope and optimism increase?  Will a sense of belonging increase?”

To apply statistical rigor to religious traditions may seem like heresy, but Kula’s thesis is that even sacred traditions, which were at one time innovations, should work. They should fill the human need or they should to evolve to fill that need.

It is nearly impossible to convey the warmth and compassion of Rabbi Kula’s talk in words.  He is a Rabbi but could easily be called a secular humanist.  

Because ultimately, his mission is less about saving religion but about saving our humanity and finding innovative ways to regain an ethical and compassionate Eden.