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Disruptive Thinking

I have been struck recently by frequent references to the idea of disruptive innovation -- that is, new and unexpected technology that is places earlier technology, and disturbs the market and existing values.

Such disruption often provides a critical advantage that enables a new process or technology to thrive. Firms too comfortable with the practices of the past, or unable to adapt or develop creatively and efficiently in new directions, sometimes fail because of the disjuncture between their business practices and the changing market.

Education, like technology, thrives on disruption. Certainly students need to cultivate basic skills to prepare for future personal and economic success. But they also need time for creative play -- disruptive thinking -- in order to develop intellectually. To think disruptively is to challenge accepted ways of thinking, explore new paths, learn from failure, and, ultimately, devise solutions to vexing problems.

Disruptive thinking is the essential ingredient in any kind of innovation. It is something we foster in CLA. In many, perhaps even most, of their courses, CLA students are required to identify their core beliefs, take a stand on an issue, argue persuasively both sides of a case, and ultimately take the intellectual risk necessary to effect a new mode of thinking and acting.

In this issue of Reach, we celebrate three eminent CLA exemplars of disruptive thinking. In each case, their bold, disruptive thinking engendered passionate debates and left a lasting mark on contemporary American society and the world.

» Professor Emeritus David Noble, whose most recent book appeared this year, is internationally renowned not only for his role in creating the field of American studies, but even more importantly, for challenging historians' belief in American exceptionalism--America's imagined role as the leading global propagator of liberty and justice.

» CLA alumna Kate Millett, who made an intellectual journey from literary studies to the women's liberation movement, in 1970 wrote the foundational and productively disruptive work, Sexual Politics.

» Alumnus Richard Sandor has challenged established approaches to environmental degradation and global warming by devising market-based solutions to control acid rain and carbon emissions. As you will see in their stories, and on virtually every page of this issue of Reach, disruptive thinking is very much alive today among our faculty, students, and alumni.

As we begin the New Year, let us celebrate and recommit ourselves to the liberal arts and the disruptive thinking that transforms the world through actions grounded in visionary ideas.



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