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Social sciences project to study creativity, entrepreneurship

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John Carberry
Diane Burton
Alice G. Patterson
Diane Burton, professor of human resource studies in the ILR School team leader for the new Institute for the Social Sciences' theme project, Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, presenting the April 9 kick-off lecture.

Faculty members from across disciplines recently kicked off Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the latest theme project of the Institute for the Social Sciences.

Over the next two years, members will explore how novel ideas are created, developed, valued and diffused via research projects, curriculum development and public presentations.

“We want to bring creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship together so that we can articulate a sound body of science around these topics,” said M. Diane Burton, professor of human resource studies in the ILR School and team leader for the project. “We realize that innovation and entrepreneurship are important engines of the global economy and that there is a growing interest in entrepreneurship education. These create the need for an interdisciplinary social science perspective to build new knowledge and inform curriculum.”

Burton is leading a team of 10 faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences, the ILR School, the Samuel C. Johnson Graduate School of Management, the Law School, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the project.

Project faculty will conduct individual and joint research during the summer and begin official residencies in the program for the 2014-15 academic year, when they’ll offer doctoral and research seminars and workshops. They plan to host a summer 2015 entrepreneurship conference, prepare publications and write new courses in fall 2015 and disseminate their findings by spring 2016.

Melissa Ferguson, associate professor of psychology, is part of a small group researching creativity and the processes by which novel ideas are evaluated as being good or bad, affecting their ability to progress.

Her personal research addresses how psychological constructs, such as attitudes, judgments and ideology, operate in an unconscious, unintentional manner. She will collaborate with such colleagues as Jack Goncalo, the Proskauer Professor in the Department of Organizational Behavior in the ILR School, whose most recent research examines the biases and errors that cause evaluators to overlook creative ideas and focus on the mundane.

Other subgroups will tackle innovation and entrepreneurship. Trevor Pinch, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Science and Technology, for example, plans to focus on innovation and improvisation in music.

“Improvisation is a crucial part of our agenda,” he said. And not only among traditionally “creative” professions, he added. “Surgeons are creative  – they’re improvising to solve problems – and so are people involved in repair and maintenance.”

Burton said the opportunities for collaboration and new scientific findings in this area are vast, and Cornell is the perfect place to create this new knowledge base.

“We have incredible strengths in social sciences across the university, and we are thought leaders in industrial and labor relations and in science and technology studies,” she said. “At the same time, we have this tradition. Ezra Cornell’s vision was to bring practice and theory together, to change the world in a practical way but be grounded in the humanities and the arts.”

Kathy Hovis is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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