Michael S. Tomczyk 
Technology - Innovation - Education
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Preparing the Next Generation of Technology Innovators 

Insight leaders who understand innovation and the technology development and commercialization process are obligated to help prepare the next generation of innovators and decision makers - as a technology pioneer and someone who has studied best practices and strategies for managing technological innovation, I have been privileged to teach in Wharton's Executive Education program, and to present my insights and perspectives in a variety of workshops and conferences.  On this page, I'm including some recent and current teaching activities that involve innovation.

Insights for Ph.D. Students at Wharton 

Opportunities in Emerging Technologies

Emerging Technologies and the Future of Real Estate 

In September 2010, I was privileged to address the incoming class of Wharton Ph.D. students - focusing on research funding and resources provided by the Mack Center.  I pointed out that these students will not only become researchers and educators, but also vice deans and deans, department chairs, consultants and speakers - they will study and provide insights on winning and losing strategies for company decision makers, patterns of success and failure across industries, and the impact of transformation on industries and markets. 
 
I challenged the students by asking: "What bothers you, puzzles you and makes you wonder?  What is the value proposition of your research?  What are the 'next practices' that will transform industries and markets?  How are they informed from the best (and failed) practices of the past?"  These are questions we can all use to guide our priorities and decisions.
 
Many years ago, a photography professor named Hattersley challenged his students to photograph things they hate.  Regardless of your role in life, try thinking about things that bother you.  What can you change?  How can you participate in the solution? 
 
So what bothers me?  Right now, I am frustrated by the poor interface between technology research, innovation and commercial results.  There are ways to speed the commercialization process but many promising areas of technology are falling short of their original expectations, as my friend Dr. Michael Mandel has pointed out in recent articles and speeches.  We still don't have a cure for cancer, gene therapy doesn't work, alternative fuels have not replaced fossil fuels...to name a few.  Many areas of innovation are lagging and the current liquidity/venture capital drought is constraining innovation even more.
 
There are creative ways to address these shortfalls.  Here's one:  I would like to see more participation by universities in the innovation process--not just studying, teaching and pontificating--but doing.  In this era of economic crisis, universities are in an ideal position to increase their participation as an innovation hub.  This is an area that interests me and perhaps at some point I will have an opportunity to contribute in a more active leadership role.
 
For my personal reflections on innovations that will impact the future, check out my web page Future Digest (tm) and my page on Insights here on my personal website.
On October 19, I taught a Wharton Executive Education session entitled "Opportunities in Emerging Technologies."   My presentation included several "sensemaking frameworks" for scanning, identifying and developing emerging technology-based innovations.  I included innovation drivers (scale, place-shifting, time-shifting, materials replacement, etc.) and a set of guidelines I called "Tomczyk's Rules of Emerging Technologies."  The first rule of course is that "there are no rules."  I also provided some practical tips for how to use push technologies (RSS feeds, customized web portals, etc.) to keep current with the latest news about research discoveries, scientific breakthroughs and commercial innovations. 
 
Whenever I teach, I include examples of radical innovations that are looming on the near horizon, that have the potential to transform industries and markets.  In this presentation, I discussed biofuels, solar and wind farms (including Google's newly announced Atlantic "transmission grid"), biofuels, electric cars and infrastructure issues, LED lights, and a "short course" on nanotechnology and nanoinnovation.
 
An especially interesting example of nanoinnovation is graphene which will one day be used to create "carbon chips" that will replace silicon-based semiconductors.  Many critical elements used in electronic devices (LCDs, computers, cell phones, solar cells, etc.) are going to become increasingly scarce and expensive between now and 2030 - which means there will be a critical need for "earth abundant" materials to replace rare elements, in the coming decade.  This year, Jim Tour's cutting-edge research group at Rice University announced a method for producing (unzipping) carbon nanotubes to create graphene ribbons - a critical first step in the development of carbon based semiconductor chips.  Unfortunately, nanocarbon structures are often better conductors than semiconductors, which means a great deal of research is needed to produce a substrate/structure that will take advantage of carbon's conductive properties, while providing the semiconducting functions needed for computing.   
 
Another example is IBM's recent announcement of a world record energy conversion rate for a solar cell using "earth abundant" materials - an IBM team led by David Mitzi achieved an energy efficiency rate of 9.6% - beating the previous record which was 6.7%.  These are only a few examples I included in my Executive Education session.
 
Eventually, I would like to expand these sessions into full courses on innovation strategy, commercialization of emerging technologies, and related topics - which I believe will be of value to business and engineering students.  
I've been privileged to teach 3 half day sessions to Chinese real estate managers and investors, on how emerging technologies are being used (and can be used) to create innovative buildings and communities.
 
As part of these courses, I developed an exercise I call DreamProject.  This involves presenting numerous examples of specific emerging technologies, and examples of technologies used in creative real estate systems such as vertical farms in buildings, solar cities, net-zero buildings, earthquake proof and flood proof structures, and more.
 
The students invariably come back with some really creative - and sometimes actionable - designs for buildings and communities, ranging from floating globes to vertical farms, to buildings coated with walls of foliage. 
 
I believe that this technique can be used to help any group of students or managers, in any industry, think out of the box.

Personal Perspectives on University Education Practices...

Pre-Med Boot Camps Can Reduce the Rate of Pre-Med Drop Outs - In the next few years the U.S. will need 20,000 new physicians.  This means universities will NEED to increase the number of pre-med and medical school graduates.  I know from the experience of several students that some universities use Introductory Biology and other courses to "weed out" premed students. 
Many of these courses are so boring that premed students flee to other majors.  There is a simple remedy.  Pre-med students need to attend a Pre-Med BOOT CAMP to get them used to the idea of reading dry scientific/medical papers.  They need to be familiarized in advance with molecular medicine concepts and jargon - BEFORE they experience the shock of their first pre-med class in biology or chemistry.  I believe that a simple pre-med boot camp - similar to the "math camps" held at many universities - would greatly reduce the drop out rate among pre-med students and help increase the number of medical professionals available to meet the need for physicians and other medical professionals in the coming decade.
 
"Old World" Biology is Still Being Taught! - On the first day of her biology class, first day class at a reputable college known for premed education, was escorted into the woods on the college campus and the students were asked to throw a tennis ball into the woods, then try to name the tree hit by the ball.  This class was called Introductory Biology...it was more like Intro to Ecology, but it reflects the "old world" biology intros that are still being taught on many campuses.  
The first formal lecture at this "old world" college covered biological taxonomy starting with the Kingdom of species.  A student who attended this class (who I know personally) was so disappointed, she dropped out of premed and chose a different major. 
In 2010, she decided to pursue her love of science and took an introductory biology course at the University of Pennsylvania.  On the first day of UPENN class, the students received a lecture on the human cell - the building block of all biology.  In their first lab, the class looked at cells under the microscope.  In their FOURTH class they were modifying DNA in bacteria to make the bacteria fluoresce - using the gene from an ocean jellyfish.  This is how a NEW Intro to Biology course gets students quickly up to speed on the molecular science concepts all scientists need to understand in order to compete and succeed in science and medicine today.  
I believe that the Old World style of biology education was valid 20 years ago - but in an era where high school students are studying protein folding and first year biology students are manipulating genes, it is NO LONGER SUFFICIENT to settle for teaching trees, taxonomies and the Kreb's Cycle - important, yes - but science priorities change, in education as well as in science.  Students need more to work in science today - and it is incumbent on universities to teach the skills their students will need...starting with the cell and working their way up. 
Net Zero Buildings - While sustainable design and LEED standard buildings/communities are being taught to students in many disciplines - the emerging standard is "net zero" or "near net zero." 
I would propose that instead of experimenting with "sustainable design projects" - university faculty and engineers (with government funding) should work harder to find ways to create net zero energy use buildings and carbon neutral communities - or "near net zero" standards for retrofitted buildings.  I propose this because I believe that in the near future the gold standard for sustaintable design will be "true net zero."  Universities need to work harder to involve faculty and students, and the surrounding communities, in technologies and practices that produce true net zero buildings and communities.

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