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University masters in a global challenge (not a subject)

What if we changed our perspective on what might lead to innovation?

Photo of Stephan Kardos
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Edit, source update: Tim Brown's entry and Sarah Stein Greenberg's original post

It has been a while but around a year ago I red a thought provoking article / blog post (edit: Tim Browns' blog post as linked above). It was about re-imagining how we teach in higher education / in universities. 

The core idea was the following: what if masters and majors were not about certain subjects as we know them today (from the past), like medicine, computer science, law, business administration, ...? Instead, the writer proposed, let's think about how a masters in a global challenge might look like - think in missions. For instance what if there was a master degree in "Zero Poverty" or "Clean Water Access" or "Feeding 10 Billion"?

I very much resonated with this thought provoking idea because it adds passion to solve something big as (learning) component. Solving a pressing issue, something you care about or consider as important becomes suddenly a main driver of your (learning) endeavors. It's really game changing in a sense that you equip yourself with all the skills, knowledge and networks that help you best to tackle a global problem (instead of simply collecting knowledge in a field and see how you might one day apply it). Don't get me wrong ... I think you can have the same passion for a subject as such but adding a goal that shows you opportunities on how and why to apply your skill- and mindset might be the base for new ways to approach things. This perspective change might allow for new ways to "wire" how we innovate. In a way (impact) innovation becomes a pull (by a challenge) rather than a push approach. I guess this approach also fosters openness as it breaks with our current understanding of organization by subject.

As the cover image let's suggest there are plenty of challenges we face as humans. The UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 are one way to look at it. Of course this approach has an impact component. But I think that this kind of twist on how to integrate challenges to spark new ways of innovation is worth exploring also in non-impact areas.
I loosely remember that the article I am looking for might have been a MIT or Stanford related blog entry / article. Thanks for helping me out finding the inspiration to update this research entry.


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Photo of Ipek Uzpeder

Hi Stephan, your ideas are partly written in Mission Statement of Singularity University: "Our mission is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity's grand challenges." There are not only offering academic programs for these big challenges, but also build the first accelerator program designed specifically for startups tackling humanity‚Äôs grand challenges leveraging exponential technology under the "tribe" name: SULabs.

Photo of Stephan Kardos

Hey Ipek Uzpeder 

I've heard of the Singularity University and re-checking on their site they indeed do a lot what was mentioned in the idea I posted (actually re-posted as it has been lined out by some one else). I am not quite through with their offer (they seem to do a lot). 

Two points are already striking:
1) they are quite tech focused. No doubt, an important component to tackling global challenges. However, I wonder how you could be part of it if tech is not your main area of focus / interest?

2) I haven't found yet the academic tracks, solely several day or week seminars / tracks. Do I overlook something.

Anyhow, thx for enriching this post with this great best practice. Certainly there is a lot to learn from.

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