Innovating for a Better Future — my Top Picks from ASU’s Innovation Quarter!

Next week marks the start of Innovation Week + Innovation Quarter at ASU!

This is a month-long celebration of all things innovation that’s designed to educate, engage and inspire. It also rather daunting as you’re faced with a mind-boggling number of events, seminars, courses, and other activities.

Which is why I thought it might be worth highlighting a number of the sessions in a curated list.

When I sat down to put the list together, I fully intended to focus on sessions that directly aligned with the vision and mission of the College of Global Futures. But there’s so much cool stuff here that, I must confess, my good intentions quickly devolved into me behaving like a kid in a candy store!

In my defense, pretty much anything to do with innovation is connected to the future, so I don’t feel too bad about this. But at the end of the day, what I ended up with is very much a list of sessions that I’d attend, given half the chance 😊

Whether you’re inspired by the resulting list, or are encouraged from this to create your own adventure from the cornucopia of innovation experiences on offer over the next few weeks, I hope you find yourself energized and renewed by this celebration of innovation, ASU-style!

My (Totally Biased) List of Innovation Quarter Sessions that Caught My Attention:

Synthetic Biology – Engineer biology fo 21st century challenges [Learn more]

Having ben engaged in multiple ways around the responsible development and use of synthetic biology for some time now, this session grabbed my attention. In part this was because it’s such a cool area of innovation. But it was also because it’s really tough understanding how to develop the science and tech behind synthetic biology responsibly if you haven’t got a grasp of what’s possible in the first place.

This 2-lecture series looks like a great introduction to synthetic biology, and one that explores ways it can offer us solutions to grand challenges facing society.

Hacking the System: Using Gamification to Eradicate the Endless Pleas for Late Work [Learn more]

OK, so what got me here were the ideas of a “‘Veil of Forgetfulness’ in classes which allows students to sneak into the professor’s office and change their grade on one assignment; or a ‘Tilted Hourglass’ which extends a deadline by one week.”

This is a session that, I suspect, is aimed at instructors, but will be informative to students as well, as it looks at using gamification to improve learning environments. Plus, I want my own “Veil of Forgetfulness” for all those things I’m supposed to be doing, but don’t quite manage to deliver on time!

Channel Zed LIVE Broadcast [Learn more]

I admit it, I’m a sucker for all things zombie–and this is a whole series of hour-long sessions that will take you to zombie-heaven (or whatever the undead equivalent is). The especially cool thing here, of course, is that each of these sessions uses zombies as a way to explore different aspects of the real world and the future we’re building together.

The life of a futurist [Learn more]

As well as being a bona fide futurist, BDF (aka Brian David Johnson) who’s leading this session, is a good friend and a really smart guy. And if that isn’t enough, check out the blurb for his session:

“Imagine if it was your job to travel around the world working with governments, militaries, large corporations, start ups and non-profit organizations to help them imagine, design and build their future. Add to that writing science fiction stories, novels and comic books based on real world research and interviews. Envision coming back to ASU to teach and advise students to shape the future and build a better tomorrow. That’s what a futurist does.”

Definitely not one to miss!

Fake News: Still a Thing [Learn more]

Sadly, fake news is not only still a thing, but it’s becoming more of a thing every day. A great-looking session on recognizing and dealing with disinformation.

Strategic Use of Empathy in Innovation [Learn more]

I talk a lot about the importance of empathy in my work around tech, society and the future, and so this session caught my attention. It looks like a pretty intense one at 2 hours long. But with its focus on neuroscience and behavioral science foundations to more fully define empathy, it should be a good one.

Reimagine Everything with the 5 C’s of Creative Innovation, with Diana Ayton-Shenker [Learn more]

Recommended because Diana Ayton-Shenker is fantastic, and one of those people it’s worth listening to whenever you have the chance.

Everything I need to know, I learned at Disneyland: Ten Life Lessons [Learn more]

Just to show how shallow I am at heart, this one’s here because of Disneyland, plain and simple!

OK, so maybe there was a bit more to the selection — I’ve long been interested in the insights that can come from unexpected sources, and especially when fun and entertainment are blended with different forms of learning. And this session looks like it might be a great example of using a fun framing to explore more serious ideas.

Plus, it’s been a long semester, and we all need a bit of light relief!

Crafts with the Dean of the Herberger Institutes for Design and the Arts [Learn more]

Talking about light relief, how could anyone resist spending an hour making stress balls with Steven Tepper, the Dean of the Herberger Institute Dean, along with Associate Dean for Culture and Access Melita Belgrave.

And if you had any lingering doubts about this session, the supplies list should convince you that this is one not to be missed:

  • 1 large balloon
  • 1 cup flour
  • A funnel (or a piece of paper rolled up and taped to create a funnel)
  • 1 piece of paper, any size
  • Colored pencils or crayons

I’m in!

Developing a YouTube Channel and Community for Knowledge Mobilization [Learn more]

As a YouTube creator myself, and having just written a paper on knowledge mobilization using YouTube (which ironically is currently immobilized in peer review), this session stood out as I was scanning down the list. ASU is at the cutting edge of how academic institutions are using YouTube, so this should be a fascinating session, and worth attending if you are interested in your work having broader impact.

Design Thinking 101 [Learn more]

Design thinking is a bit of a buzz phrase, and has been for some years now. And for good reason–it’s a powerful way of approaching design that has many different applications–including in how we think about the future we’re creating together. I’m such a fan of design thinking that there’s even a whole section on it in my latest book!

Given the relevance of design thinking to everything from paper cups to regulating new technologies, this is a great chance to become familiar with the basics.

Resilience Rising: Artist Interview & Studio Visit [Learn more]

This is another session with Diana Ayton-Shenker, together with her husband and collaborator William T. Ayton, and one that promises to provide an intriguing insight into their collaborative augmented reality art, as well as the philosophy and thinking behind their work.

The Power of Pausing: Reflection for Principled Innovation. [Learn more]

In my book Future Rising, I talk about the need to “take time out—to find a still, quiet place, where we can begin to piece together a picture of the future that makes sense” as we’re faced with the pressure to innovate at an ever-faster rate. So it’s not surprising that this session on Principled Innovation — and the power of pressing pause — stood out to me.

Peter Byck’s Sustainability Storytelling Documentary Course Premieres [Learn more]

Peter Byck’s Sustainability Storytelling Documentary Course is legendary — so I was really excited to see this opportunity to experience the premier of two documentaries made by students in his class this semester.

The stuff of movies: DARPA, innovation, and national security [Check the listing for details]

If you haven’t heard Nadya Bliss speak about DARPA and national security, you’re in for a treat with this session. Nadya’s the Executive Director of ASU’s Global Security Initiative, and is both deeply knowledgeable on all things security-related, and great at weaving a compelling story.

Christmas Bake-Along [Check the listing for details]

Admit it, who wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon learning how to make stollen?!

Human-AI-Robot Teaming [Check the listing for details]

Of course, if you’re not into baking stollen (and I have no idea why not), there’s always human-AI-robot teaming! Nancy Cooke heads up ASU’s Center for Human, AI, and Robot Teaming, and will be leading what should be an intriguing session on how we can work better with machines, and use them to substantially extend our abilities.

How immunity works- why developing vaccines takes time. [Check the listing for details]

I added this session by Jeff Kingsbury to the list as, as COVID vaccines become available, it’s going to be more relevant than ever that we understand the science behind vaccines, and why they are so important!

Capturing the Flag: An Introduction to Competitive Cybersecurity Capture the Flag Competitions [Check the listing for details]

A while back, I was a co-host of the podcast Future Out Loud with my colleague Heather Ross. We aired a number of episodes on hacking and cybersecurity with Adam Doupé, which were some of the most interesting interviews we did.

Adam, along with his colleagues, have a fascinating story to tell about their work as academic hackers in competitive Cybersecurity Capture the Flag competitions. If you’re intrigued by the idea of academic research combined with state of the art hacking, this is a session for you!

Picture a Scientist [Check the listing for details]

And the final pick in what turned out to be a rather long list, is a showing of the must-see documentary Picture A Scientist. The documentary–which tackles the challenges of being a woman in science (even in 2020 — come on folks, we can do better than this!)–will be accompanied by three panel discussions featuring ASU faculty, with opening remarks from Raychelle Burks who features in the film.


Hopefully this list has given you some inspiration for what you’ll be doing as part of Innovation Quarter–with the rather large proviso that you really should check out everything that I’ve missed as well!

And of course, I can’t end without a nod to the two sessions that I’m responsible for: A Moviegoer’s Guide to Responsible Innovation, and an Introduction to Risk Innovation [link coming soon].