Creative Construction

August 4, 2014

Summer gives me a little time to catch up on reading, and among the pieces that caught my eye recently was an article in The New Yorker by Yale alumna and Harvard professor of American history, Jill Lepore, The Disruption Machine: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong.

Lepore offers a critique of creative destruction, disruptive innovation, and related ideas and their application to colleges and universities. Reading her article led me to reflect on our university. It seems to me that Yale is a place of both innovation and tradition, where we draw from the past in the present to build the future. 

One could make the argument that Yale’s focus is quite the opposite from Joseph Schumpeter’s conception of innovation as “creative destruction.” Instead, Yale is a place that embraces “creative construction,” not orthodox adherence to the past, nor the pursuit of innovation merely for its own sake, but a dynamic tradition, where scholars, students, and graduates harness an extraordinary repository of valuable treasures—physical and intellectual, cultural and scientific—to serve society. We don’t just want to make new things, we want to make things better.

The digital magazine OZY showcased this sentiment in a recent profile of Yale alumnae, saying, “What Stanford is to classic tech entrepreneurship, Yale is becoming to social entrepreneurship.” And I have seen creative construction in action in many places around Yale this summer—in the Global Health Corps, a program founded by Barbara Bush ’04 that provides its training and orientation at Yale, or at the New Haven Hackathon, held in the TEAL classroom at 17 Hillhouse Avenue. This Hackathon, sponsored by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) and others, features teams of Yale students and New Haven residents coding and developing new “apps” with a focus on possible benefits to the community. Meanwhile, YEI continues to grow stronger. As YaleNews noted, if you “Want to see why investment in Yale student ventures grew from $600,000 to $104 million in six years,” you can watch the video of the “pitches” made at YEI’s Demo Day on July 24, the culmination of the 10-week YEI accelerator program for student entrepreneurs.  

We should support our innovative students, faculty members, and staff. We have a strong foundation: agrowing alumni network of entrepreneurs and investorsexpanded entrepreneurial programs at the Yale School of Management; the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design—now boasting more than 1,700 members representing every Yale department and professional school; and interdisciplinary units across the West Campus, the medical school, on Science Hill—indeed, all around the university, working on society’s most pressing problems.

Across campus this summer there is much evidence of “literal” construction, from small renovations to major building projects. But as the new academic year approaches, I will be thinking more and more about “creative construction,” and how we can nurture and support this idea within our community of research, teaching, practice, and service.