Innovation’s Next Decade

10/23/13Follow @sramana

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theaters, concerts, exhibitions. My majors were Computer Science and Economics, but Smith, being a quintessential Liberal Arts college, also offered the opportunity for me to develop as a Renaissance thinker, which was my natural instinct.

Today, twenty years after my graduation, the entire system of liberal arts education in America is under threat. America is falling behind in the sciences and mathematics. Youth unemployment, ballooning costs of higher education, obscene levels of student loans all are raising questions of economic sustainability.

Against that backdrop, it is legitimate to ask, “What do you do with a degree in philosophy?”

Now, if you are aligned with my point of view, then you could try to combine a philosopher with a computer scientist and an entrepreneur and see what happens.

And therein lies some of the answers to our questions.

America’s great system of liberal arts education naturally has created institutions where Renaissance thinking can be cultivated systematically. Those colleges and universities could become great cauldrons of innovation.

But, some change is necessary.

In a 1995 interview with journalist Bob Cringely (wonderful, highly recommended), Steve Jobs made a statement: “I think of programming as a Liberal Arts discipline. Everyone should learn to program.”

Steve was right. Technology liberates. In the modern world, not being able to use technology to its fullest power is a real disadvantage.

My friend Barry Katz, a professor at both Stanford’s Design School and at the California College of the Arts, and a fellow at IDEO, reminded me the other day: Liberal Arts are the Arts that Liberate.

It further strengthened my belief that everybody should learn to program, and that the liberal arts colleges should make it compulsory for students to have at least a course or two in computer science to graduate.

Pursuing the same vein of thought, I have another radical idea.

Everybody should have at least a year’s training in entrepreneurship. The liberal arts programs should make that compulsory for students as well.

Why? Because that will turn thinkers into doers. Because it will further liberate them, unleashing vast pools of creativity and action in our young.

And it will align the American education system with innovation’s next decade: human centric, pervasive, and magnificent.

Sramana Mitra is the founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a global virtual incubator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020. From 2008 to 2010, Mitra was a columnist for Forbes. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Follow @sramana

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