Office of the President > Speeches & Communications > 2020–2021 > Innovation Day: The Folly of Creativeness

Innovation Day: The Folly of Creativeness

​​​​Remarks delivered by President A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D., at DePaul’s second annual Innovation Day

Jan. 22, 2021

 I appreciate the invitation to join you today, and I am grateful to the Office of Academic Events and the Office of Research Services for organizing the second annual Innovation Day at DePaul.

Growing up, in addition to being a Trekkie, I read a lot of science fiction. I particularly enjoyed reading Isaac Asimov. His stories transported me to other worlds and galaxies light-years away. They provided that creative spark and raised the big questions: Who are we? What does it mean to be human? What is life? Are we alone in the universe? Those questions let your imagination run wild. 

In addition to being a prolific writer of science fiction and popular science, Isaac Asimov was a professor of biochemistry at Boston University. In 1959, he temporarily joined a group of scientists at an MIT spinoff company that had just received a government contract to "elicit the most creative approaches possible for a ballistic missile defense system." The government asked the scientists to think "out of the box."

Asimov briefly joined this group of scientists. Eventually, he parted ways because he said having access to any secret classified information would limit his freedom of expression. His brief time with the scientists, however, made him think about the creative process, the nature of creative people and the kind of environment that promotes creativity. He asked, how do people get new ideas?

He posed this question in an essay called, "On Creativity." It was never published and read only by the scientists in the MIT spinoff group. That is, until 55 years later, when one of those scientists rediscovered the essay as he was cleaning out some old office files. With permission from the Asimov estate, the MIT Technology Review published the essay in 2014, and its key takeaways are still relevant today.

First: the creative process doesn't follow one defined formula. Asimov said the "method of generation is never clear even to the 'generators' themselves."

Second: creative people are not only well versed in their fields, but also have the ability to make connections between concepts that – at first – seem unrelated. Making those connections requires daring and self-assurance. While a creative person may be eccentric and unconventional, Asimov advised: "To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself."

Third: while isolation may help individuals sort through their ideas, coming together as a group to discuss, decipher and debate is important. These types of sessions should be informal and relaxed. Quite simply, they should be fun.  According to Asimov, that's how you “encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness."

Today, I encourage you to embrace the "folly of creativeness." Think about your own creative process. How do you develop ideas?

Throughout today's program, you will hear from colleagues who have experienced that exact process. They had the spark of an idea and then they had to figure out how to act on it. I hope the innovative spirit shared by our community inspires you to turn your own ideas into action.

This past year has only reinforced how far innovation and creativity can go – and how much they are needed. We witnessed our faculty not only transform the way they teach, but also contribute directly to local and national community needs in response to COVID-19.

While the ongoing global pandemic and social unrest continue to challenge us, we can begin to see a glimmer of hope as we plan for our students to return to the classroom in the fall. I'm confident you, our faculty and staff, will continue to show our students the way to wisdom.

Because:

Here, we embrace a culture of creativity and innovation.

Here, we support scholarly and creative work.

Here, we listen to each other.

Here, we do.

Thank you for your dedication to DePaul and our students. Please enjoy Innovation Day.