The Voice of the Innovator: The Inspiring Story of Dr. Stephen Lundin

Stephen Lundin, Ph.D., Author, Filmmaker, Educator and Entrepreneur

Dr. Stephen Lundin is a writer, entrepreneur and filmmaker with a rich history as a graduate level business school professor and dean. Steve is the only professor in the history of the Minnesota State College System to receive tenure and resign. He did, however, continue teaching MBA students as an adjunct professor for the next 20 years.   During his ten year stint as a filmmaker for Charthouse International he worked on a number of award winning films including the film FISH! which has been the #1 best-selling film in the world for the last 14 years. Steve has written a number of books including the multimillion best selling FISH! and the simply best-selling FISH! Tales, FISH! Sticks and FISH! for Life. His book Top Performer, A Bold Approach to Sales and Service was published in January 2007 and has been adopted by a major hotel chain and the largest big box retailer in the US. CATS: The Nine Levels of Innovation was published in January of 2009 and was quickly adopted by a medical products company. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Business School of Griffith University, teaching MBA courses in Responsible leadership, organizational change and innovation. He also serves Griffith as the Director of Executive Development and Academic Director of the Asia Pacific Management Center.

Takeaways from your childhood and life?

With age I have become more and more comfortable simply being me. I remember feeling like an outsider looking in for much of my childhood.  In 7th grade the teacher said the results of an IQ test were available and the highest score in the class was 120. I was devastated because I looked around and saw two students I was sure were brighter than me. It seems silly now but for years I was sure I was an overachiever and would eventually be found out. I never stopped to think that the fact I understood intelligence tests might be a sign of intelligence. Years later I worked up the nerve to take a test professionally administered, only to discover I qualify for membership in Mensa. I have no interest in belonging to a group that celebrates their raw IQ since it is a gift of birth, not an achievement. 

Stephen in his own words….

Innovation feels good. When I am on the creative edge, sparking, stretching for the frame that will make everything clear, I am my most vital. I know that if I can get in an innovative space that the energy will be natural, I will feel free and my life will have a quality it has when I am my innovative best. I only wish I could help everyone experience that place where ideas flow and anything seems possible.

People have always commented on my innovative nature. I don’t know where it came from but I am extremely grateful to be so. I do know as a child I watched my mother prepare contest entries. It was clear she was driven, not only to win, but to create something unique. As a result our mail was interesting. A washing machine, furniture and even a 25 foot flag pole arrived as a result of mom’ entries. The flag pole was a bit of a challenge as we lived in a tiny veterans home at the time. I think we donated it but I was 4 so I am not sure. I am sure that some of my interest in the creative world started there.

In the 1970’s I was conducting a five day management seminar for Sperry Univac where the participants got feedback, learned about management and made development plans. I overheard a lot of comments about learning these great things and then going back on the job and not being supported in their application. That was when I introduced the boss exercise. After 2 1/2 days I sent the participants back to have a conversation with the boss using a structured protocol. They returned for the fifth day with renewed energy and the word was reentry became much easier.

It all really comes down to self-confidence.  With regard to FISH, no one thought we should call the book and film FISH! but it felt like the right thing to do so I would not give in. With Top Performer I was not sure but felt that the focus should be on the Rat Catcher. I thought the title should be The Rat Catchers Guide to Sales and Service, not Top Performer: A Bold Approach to Sales and Service. I allowed myself to be swayed by the publisher and rue the day.

There were a number of other people who influenced me over the years including: Tony Buzan, CK Prahalad, Edward DeBono, Wells Hively III, David Whyte, Peter Block, Dewey Force Jr.

Steve’s advice for being more innovative and stretching your innovative capacity….

I don’t make a practice of giving anyone advice. I tell my stories and if you are provoked by one of those stories, to discover something on your own, that is as good as it gets. We live in a time when everyone seems to be asking for the bullet points and examples that will provide them security. Hog wash. I am reminded of the quote,  “If you see you path ahead of you, step one, step two, step three you know one thing for sure, it is not your path. You discover you path when you commit to the first step and everything changes”.

Make your life an experiment. In 1975 I was in Washington DC finishing The Presidents Interchange Program and my family had already returned home for the school year beginning. I decided to learn a bit more about another way of living and moved into a flop house for 4$ a night. I love to do things like that because the result is always a provocation that leads to novel thoughts.


The Voice of the Innovator: Inspiring Story of Rebecca Schatz

Rebecca Schatz, Entrepreneur and Founder of ‘The Works’

Go for it!

Rebecca Schatz is the founder of The Works and served as President from 1987 to 2011. The Works is a hands-on museum that makes technology, science and engineering interesting, understandable and fun for young people. Rebecca has created something out of nothing. She had a vision and a passion and combined those to change the way children experience engineering. The Works is all about inspiring the next generation of innovators, engineers and creative problem solvers. Today, Rebecca is involved with the National Science Foundation and other innovative efforts around the country.

Takeaways from your childhood and life?

My Mother said that one of my key phrases was, “I can do it by myself.” My parents did encourage me to do my own thing. I don’t know if I was born quirky or became a quirky person because I didn’t have it rubbed out of me. I always ate apple butter sandwiches and my parents just made sure there was other nourishing food around. Another thing that was influential on me was ‘Tikkun Olam’ –part of Jewish philosophy which says, “This is why we are put on this earth—to make things better.” I also remember a specific line from a play….”God says take whatever you want and pay for it”. It means to me…whatever you do is alright, but don’t expect it to come easy. This is an important message for innovators—almost nothing comes easy.

Rebecca in her own words…

Being innovative isn’t the goal. It is more about getting some thing done and doing some thing that is worth doing. Before I started The Works, I had in my mind that I wanted to push on engineering education and enhance America’s capacity for innovation. I felt strongly that engineering education can and must start with young children — and that exploring engineering can transform how we educate our children in significant and wonderful ways. But, I wasn’t a politician and I wasn’t wired to be an educator in the traditional way. I had to pick something I was passionate about and apply my skills. My thought was to start a place that could be a model of what I believed, and even if it didn’t explode it still would be an example of how I thought the world could be. There was a landmark study — the Project 2061 Technology Panel chaired by Jim Johnson from 3M — that articulated a comprehensive and deeply human vision of what engineering and technology education should look like, but no-one was doing it. So, I decided I would catalyze this.
I loved tinkering and do-it-yourself stuff when I was growing up. I began to major in engineering but I was not tough enough to survive being the only woman in the large entry-level lecture classes. There wasn’t much respect for engineering in the larger world either. Luckily, when I was in college the computer revolution took off. I wound up in that industry and moved up really fast—one of the few women in the field at the time. But, I was looking for what was next and I wandered into the fellowship office and ended up with a fellowship in Japan. I studied the underpinnings of technological innovation during the time when Japan was becoming a very serious competitor. America was overly confident — arrogant really. The Japanese were sending many people to study us, we weren’t sending anyone there.
When I returned, I was ready to do some thing else and I traveled around to see what was going on with engineering around the country. There wasn’t anything at the time that allowed you to touch and really play with machines. Frank Oppenheimer had created The Exploratorium, a museum of physics and human perception. And, Cynthia Yao at the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum had created a truly engaging, participatory place for children and learning. What they were doing was the closest thing to what I was thinking about. They had a big impact on me.
When I founded The Works I wanted to make an environment where every child would feel truly welcome and that each child could make things, learn things, build things, understand things, even just mess around. At the time, education was very book and worksheet oriented. It was all about learning facts and not oriented toward hands-on experience. As a child my best and truest moments were when I was making or doing something. Children are so full of possibility and think about it we make them sit still and hold a pencil in a certain way for long periods of time. Children need places that are truly welcoming of their individual capacity to invent and create a place that gives them an opportunity to build things and transform their world.
I have a quiet deep belief of why I did what I did and over the years reality mostly reinforced my beliefs. The Works became what I wanted it to become. Originally it was a passion pitch. People came because they thought it was cool; parents, cub-scout leaders, or teachers. It wasn’t because it fulfilled a standard. We were a niche market initially. We weren’t very well publicized, we were small and our funding was mostly from men who had started technology companies. They were engineers and understood the power and the joy of engineering; they got a glint in their eye and said something like, “yea, we need this because kids don’t build boats any more….”
Today the whole context is different. Engineering is now required in the Minnesota State academic standards at every grade level, beginning in kindergarten. National standards for elementary engineering are underway. Our audience has grown 5 fold in the past few years; our strategy can now envision nation-wide impact. Innovation never stands still; there are always new challenges and new opportunities to tackle. For instance, The Works is now a pioneer in training and inspiring elementary teachers to have children DO engineering in the classroom. We are funded by foundations and companies as well as individuals, and we’re sustainable. Our mission is more important than ever and our impact grows and grows.

Rebecca’s advice for being more innovative and stretching your innovative capacity….
“Do your homework, don’t talk crap and in the fullness of time victory will be yours…” Janet Brown—Environmental Defense Fund…..
Find other people that want it to happen and help you. If it is just you, you’ll wear your self out. What you do has to resonate with the ‘bigger world,” if it is to have an impact.
Remember the song: Know when to hold ‘em’ and know when to fold ‘em.’ You shouldn’t stop after the first attempt but you need to set some kind of limit past which you’ll move on or try something different. We have had many difficult times in the history of The Works but only once did I almost fold it and it was pretty early on—but, I got a very large donation on that day.
Take care of yourself. It can be a long haul. I don’t think I have taken care of myself like I should have. You have to have a lot of skin in the game to do what matters, but maybe I should have kept a bit more skin to myself. And one more….
Go for it! There’s nothing like the pure joy of seeing something you made happen work. Innovators really do change the world.

The Voice of the Innovator: Inspiring Story of Dr. Stuart Rose


Stuart Rose, Innovator of Garden Attriums

If it makes sense to me, I do it!  –Stu Rose

Dr. Rose is a registered architect and a graduate structural engineer.  He holds a doctorate in organizational development, has been a professor at several major universities, and has worked for several decades as an educator and a consultant to architects, consulting engineers, and other design professionals.  Since the 1980s, he has tracked trends related to our ability to sustain life as we know it on our planet.  He’s initiated a unique pilot project of sustainable housing that provides elegant housing, but does not deplete the Earth’s resources, asking the important question, “Can truly sustainable housing compete with traditional housing?”  Dr. Rose converts concepts about sustainability into concrete, sustainable realities. 

Takeaways from your childhood and life?

I did a lot of canoe tripping every summer.  One of the first things I was taught was to always leave the campsite better than when you found it … even though you don’t know if anyone will ever be there again or will appreciate what you’ve done.  Seems like a good policy to follow in all areas of life, as well.

Stu in his own words…

If it makes sense to me, I do it.  I thought sustainable housing just has to happen.  I didn’t have any evidence that it was going to work.  But, if I believe something should be done, I’m willing to try to do it.   I know it is the people who follow a new trend, when the curve is going up who are the ones who really make the money.

What’s exciting to me is that people can actually come through the houses and experience what it feels like to live with the earth.  This is the first house to have all the pieces put together: air quality, solar power, heat, rainwater harvesting, etc.  As Zorba said, “Go out and solve the problem!” That’s what I’m trying to do.

Being an innovator requires taking risks with your idea and having the desire to solve problems by focusing on learning and discovery. People were rarely very encouraging to me.  They thought I was nuts most of the time.  I remember my first teaching job, where I taught perspectives on computers for architecture; it was very early in the development of computers for architectural design.  The class had students beating down the door to enroll.  After a few semesters, the other faculty decided the class was too popular and had it pulled from the curriculum. What I learned is, when you are going to do something different, people get their noses out of joint.  They don’t think of you as an innovator—you’re considered a threat!

The way I function is to see a problem and then do something about it.  The Garden Atriums are like that.  But I will never forget what the developer I was working with said to me: “ You do know that the houses might not sell?  You are a pioneer and you know what happens to pioneers?  They get arrows in their back.” 

Over the years, we had to work with government officials to get the property zoned and the houses built, and it was tough.  Government officials generally don’t like to take the risk with something new.   The reason I do something is to solve a problem.  If someone says that it is not going to get approved, then I ask, how do I get it approved? It seems like everything you introduce, if it is something new, people fight you. How do you cause a change to happen without so much shit being thrown at you?  You don’t back off.  If it is a good idea, it is a good idea, period!   

Stu’s advice for being innovative and stretching your innovative capacity? 

  • Understand what you are trying to accomplish and go for it. You have to know that you can shift and be flexible.  
  • Ask are there any pieces that have been done before that I could use to connect;  practice synectics which are mental patterns that lead to creativity.  (“Synectics,” by William J.J. Gordon)
  • Learn to think in analogies. This can be extremely important.  Asking the question, why didn’t it work, and what would work?
  • If you look at the universe and understand different ideas for growing and learning, you can always learn from someone who rejects you—rather than fighting it. 
  • Fear kills creativity.  If you’re going to be an innovator, you have to believe you can do it. You have to have self-confidence that you can go forward and make a difference. 

Words of advice for people who are or want to be more Innovative?

 You have to live with frustration, and tons of it.  You won’t likely be very popular, you likely can’t work in a larger organization, and you might not have many friends.  You may not make much money.  (Nikola Tesla caused more change in our world than almost anyone, but he died alone and poor in a cheap New York hotel.)  Your passion for creating something that’s truly important to you has to be that important to you.