On April 12, 2020, in the second of CFHU’s webinar series, HUJI@HOME, Hebrew University alum Dr. Nir Tsuk addressed the importance of innovation in the life of a society, especially in tumultuous periods like the world is now experiencing due to COVID-19.
Speaking from his home in Tel Aviv, he introduced innovation as more of a mindset and culture, saying that while it’s usually associated with business and high-tech, its relevance extends far beyond those sectors, now more than ever. Likewise today with the language of innovation, which he said is important to learn, likening it to how 25 years ago when the internet entered daily life, people had to learn and work with a new set of terminology around web pages, urls, hyperlinks and other then-exotic concepts.
According to Nir, a NYU Global Distinguished Scholar, innovation is first and foremost about improvement, often resulting from disruption. He described different approaches, reflecting contrasts in culture, tradition and mentality, citing the example of how Israelis, Canadians and Japanese might tackle the same problem or challenge in varying ways, producing varying results and timeframes.
Central to much innovation are entrepreneurs, most of whom understand the importance of trial and error and even failing fast before eventually finding a solution. Also key is the art of combinations, involving partnerships between people of different, even unrelated disciplines, which Nir says is even more important today when people from diverse backgrounds are more predisposed to collaborate.
Amid the deep uncertainty resulting from the current pandemic, a sense of humour is needed to survive, which Nir cited in the proliferation of online jokes and other forms of satire and comedy, many referring to COVID-19. Other signs of the times include Facebook making everybody seem like experts, rampant copying and spying enabled by technology, the upsurge in fake news, the change in interpersonal relationships due to physical distancing, the increased role of public health, and changes in the environment with wildlife previously unseen in urban settings infiltrating now half-deserted cities.
For all the unsettling changes and instability of the current crisis, Nir said it will also likely prove auspicious to innovation, such as major wars have done in the past. People who can climatize and adjust to disruption will fare well and spur on positive developments. In a year’s time, he’s sure there will be many examples of great innovation to point to that will have emerged from this difficult period we’re all wrestling with today.
The slides of Nir’s presentation are available below the recording of the webinar.