Applied Sciences NYC
Back in August, the NY Times ran an awesome discussion piece regarding Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to have an engineering and applied sciences university powerhouse open a campus in New York City—most likely going to either Stanford or Cornell. Some fantastic tech influencers weighed in including Craig Mod of Flipboard, Caterina Fake of Flickr & Hunch, Fred Wilson of USV, David Tisch of TechStars and Martin Kenney of UC Berkeley. (Anil Dash and Chris Dixon have also written enlightening pieces.) As a Stanford grad who has worked in the tech scene in both Silicon Valley and NYC I believe I can provide a different perspective than previous commentators. (I’m pretty sure none of the previous commentators attended Stanford, one of the two frontrunners.)
Caterina said “Entrepreneurship cannot really be taught in a university setting” and Ellen Ullman said “Creative moments can’t be reproduced.”
While I agree with very narrow interpretations of these two statements it doesn’t quite get at the heart of the matter and the heart of what makes Stanford for instance so damn amazing and successful. Stanford doesn’t “teach” entrepreneurship. It doesn’t “make” it either. And it certainly doesn’t “reproduce” creativity. Stanford *lets* entrepreneurship and creativity happen. This may sound like a minor distinction but it makes all the difference in the world.
Stanford’s open, liberal and accepting atmosphere creates an environment where students feel free to take risks, try new things, be wacky and…well…think different. More than any single initiative, class or program Stanford has it is this safe and accepting atmosphere that drives Stanford’s entrepreneurial heartbeat.
Do I think NYC’s Applied Sciences campus will be successful? I think that is still to be determined. Like a startup with a great business plan in a great market, execution will still matter. If the winning school, be it Stanford, Cornell or another party is able to create an environment similar to what I experienced in undergrad at Stanford that allows its students to take risks, yes, I think it will be successful and meaningfully contribute to the prosperity of this great city and nation. If, however, the program is run with a strict eye toward results, ROI, progress and other such measurable results (“teaching and making entrepreneurs”) I think it could backfire and the unintended consequence will likely be failure in those endeavors.
All that said, I am absolutely pumped for the applied sciences program and I’m hoping Stanford gets the nod and helps New York go even further than it has in becoming one of the world’s great technological tent poles.
Note: One could (and probably should) write an entire book on how and why Stanford creates this open environment, but in the interest of brevity I’ll cite just a few notable examples that I think sufficiently and very colorfully demonstrate the point. These are specific examples to be sure and I know every university has its bizarre rituals involving naked children running around quadrangles, but Stanford is unique in its propensity to make *everything* and especially very *public* things weird thus promoting creativity and, importantly, for the administration to actually *approve* of these creative outlets. I’d also add that these examples also generally raise eyebrows, looks of puzzlement and even jeers from other universities so that’s how I know they’re sufficiently odd. 1) Wacky Walk at graduation 2) The unorthodox LSJUMB (Stanford Band) and 3) Stanford’s willingness to give away its classes online—literally subverting their own business model.