February 20, 2014

Faculty, student share innovative ideas at TED event

Innovation at Fisher means more than designing new products, processes or technology. Innovation is defying conventional thinking and building on the traditions of the past. It’s a concept that Assistant Clinical Professor of Finance Michael Brandl and Fisher student Ryan Barta have embraced and put into action. Speaking to a sold-out audience at a recent TEDxOhioStateUniversity event, Brandl and Barta demonstrated how innovative thought and action cultivated at Fisher can transform business as usual to business unusual.

Michael Brandl

By nature and by training, Michael Brandl is a quantitative guy. But as comfortable as he is talking about things like formal economic models, commercial banks, global finance markets and economic fluctuations, Brandl is just as passionate about intangibles like happiness and well-being.

And maximizing those qualities is critical not only to personal satisfaction, but it can alter the course of our national economy.

“The idea that capitalism is based on accumulating as much money as one possibly can is wrong,” Brandl said. “There are a lot of things in our lives that give utility -- that give us happiness that have nothing to do with money. Money is just a tool. It is a constraint. You don’t want to maximize your constraint. You want to maximize your utility. So don’t focus on money. Instead focus on the things that bring you happiness and enjoyment.”

Drawing on his more than 20 years of economics expertise, Brandl outlined the increasing emphasis on consumer spending going back to the Great Depression. With the exception of the period immediately following World War II, spending has been over-emphasized.

“The Greatest Generation understood that there was value in things like family, community, friendships,” he said. “So while they understood that yes, spending played an important role, it shouldn’t be the main driver. Increasing your income should not be our main objective. Accumulating stuff should not be our main objective.

“Sadly, my generation -- the Baby Boomer generation -- we got it wrong. We focused almost exclusively on increasing income, on accumulating stuff.”

Happiness, Brandl said, should drive everything in our lives: jobs, hobbies and financial choices. But happiness can’t be bought.

“When I go home and I throw the ball to our German shepherd, Jerry, and Jerry brings the ball back, do I say ‘Good job Jerry’ and give him a fiver? No! There’s utility, there’s enjoyment, there’s happiness there,” he said. “The future of our economy and society depend upon you focusing on your utility and learning from the mistakes of my generation, learning from the mistakes of just focusing on income or accumulating stuff.”

Ryan Barta and Charlie King

Ryan Barta and Charlie King are the iPad guys. Barta, a Fisher senior majoring in operations management and aviation management, and King, a computer science graduate, helped incorporate unique iPad technology into the operations of The Ohio State University Marching Band.

The result was a new, sustainable innovation for a tradition-rich organization that also sparked a flurry of media appearances, interviews and even a spot in a recent Apple commercial. Talking to the TEDx audience, Barta and King spoke not about cutting paper costs and scripting dazzling halftime performances, but about the emotions behind innovation and risk-taking.

“This idea was full of risk,” Barta said of the iPad initiative. “Then I remembered some of the band’s best traditions started out as crazy ideas that people said no to. We knew this was going to push the band out of its comfort zone. But we knew this could make the best damn band in the land even better.”

Neither Barta nor King expected the iPad initiative to take off the way it did. To them, it was simply a logical idea to address an annoyance that they and their fellow band members shared.

“That’s what a lot of innovation is – finding a solution to a problem that you encounter on a day-to-day basis,” Barta said. “And that’s what we tried to do with the marching band.”

What started with an idea, a $25,000 grant and 45 iPads, is now an initiative that has brought about a $100,000 donation and enough iPads to outfit the entire 225-member band this year. Barta and King don’t have any secrets to innovation success – only some remarkably simple advice.

“Have a passion and a plan for your idea. Your passion will sustain you even through periods of self-doubt. Even the best ideas with the best of intentions fall by the wayside due to lack of planning and preparation,” Barta said. “Take risks. Don’t be afraid of failure. And ask yourself: ‘What will your legacy be?’ ”