Grinnellians and Innovators

Wed, 2009-08-05 04:12 pm

Warren Morrow '99 and Max Cardenas '01 are great exemplars of the Grinnell tradition of innovative thinking.

While activism is continually reinterpreted for each generation at Grinnell, Warren Morrow and Max Cardenas are part of a Grinnell tradition of innovative thinking and action that includes such exemplars as Harry Hopkins '12 and Robert Noyce '49.

Noyce generously agree to talk with my classes about innovation and careers, and so have Morrow and Cardenas, most recently in a short course titled Enterprise and Innovation: Case Studies from Grinnell Alumni. The course is sponsored by the Donald L. Wilson Program in Enterprise and Leadership. The Wilson Program funds summer internships, spring break externships, alumni speakers, and short courses taught by alumni or featuring alumni speakers.

The idea of "enterprise" is puzzling to many Grinnell students until they hear about economist Joseph Schumpeter's use of the concept. Enterprise, according to Schumpeter (1883-1950), is the "creative destruction" of old practices and institutions and the innovation of new organizations, products, and processes. Just having an idea (invention) is not enough. The idea has to be institutionalized in new practices for it to be considered a real innovation. These Grinnell innovations occur not only in the business world, but also in government and the nonprofit sectors as well.

This semester Morrow and Cardenas spoke on "Confronting Inevitable Trends in Innovation" and described their current work with the savings and loan industry in developing banking products that are better shaped to meet the needs of the immigrant populations.

The lineup of speakers for this year's course includes:

  • Babak Armajani '68, CEO of the Public Strategies Group, who spoke on "Broke and Broken: Reinventing Iowa State Government," and
  • Atul Gupta '88, CEO of Advanced Technologies Group, speaking on "Product vs. Process Innovation." Gupta was also selected as a distinguished speaker in Iowa State University's Reiman Entrepreneurial Lecture Series.

Icy weather prevented David Benjamin'84 from coming to campus to talk about "The Accidental Innovator: Must You Be an 'Innovator' to Innovate?" We will catch him next year instead. Most recently we heard from Nora Bloch '92, speaking on "Community Development Finance: How Multi-Sector Innovation/Collaboration Produces Community Revitalization."

In the near future we look forward to hearing from Dan Weeks '80 on "Enterprise in Five Contexts." Two members of the class of '93 round out the course: Luther Davis on "Creating a Framework in the Arts," and Elizabeth Powley on "Inclusive Security, Sustainable Peace."

In all cases the students were interested not only in the innovations, but also in the diverse ways that alumni have shaped their careers. Registration for the course is large for Grinnell. With more than 60 students in the class, we can be certain that current students are deeply interested in learning from our alumni.

Douglas Caulkins Donald L. Wilson Professor of Enterprise and Leadership Acting Dean of Career Development and Employment