We Are Going to Need a Bigger Garage!

On April 5th Emory held the first in a series of “Conversations on the Quad,” an event unlike others at Emory at which students, faculty, and staff—everyone that is part of the Emory community, are encouraged to informally meet, chat, and share thoughts on a particular topic. For this first conversation, the focus was broadly on “building a culture of innovation at Emory,” and as a member of OTT, Emory’s go-to group for innovation, I was excited to join in.

The afternoon’s highlight was a timely and inspiring keynote by Professor Robert Franklin, PhD from the Department of Theology and Sr. Advisor to President Claire Sterk, PhD. When we traditionally think of innovation, we typically think of technical innovations, things like the model T, the iPhone, and the PC, which have changed the way we live. Franklin’s message to the Emory community was beyond just technical innovation; to think instead about innovation in its broadest sense, working together toward creative solutions to change society, improve the world, and serve others. In his talk, Franklin drew parallels between Emory as a place where one can innovate and the garage as the place where Steve Jobs and colleagues founded Apple. For the Apple Founders the garage was a place where those innovators met, traded ideas, conversed, and shared thoughts. Franklin encouraged Emory and the Emory community to be that space, to be an open forum where ideas can flow freely and inspiration can be sparked; where our leaders in medicine, science, business, law, social science, and the humanities can come together to tackle the world’s most difficult social problems.

Following Franklin’s words, I had the opportunity to meet, mingle, and converse with students, faculty, and fellow staff members—I reconnected with a colleague from the development office who continues to look for ways in which Emory can work with industry and non-profit partners to advance discovery; I was inspired by an undergraduate student who was focused on how she can make an impact in the world and help others; and I spoke to faculty who look to support Emory’s professional students in their innovative and entrepreneurial pursuits. As I walked back across campus to our offices, I was excited—Emory has a long and successful history in creating improvements in human health and technology. I look forward to seeing what Emory and our community can do when we approach innovation from this more holistic viewpoint; no doubt we can make an impact.

— Cliff Michaels