September 18, 2015

Celebrating Innovation

Celebrating Innovation

The kids are back to school. My two daughters – Lily (first grade) and Kate (pre-K) – returned to their friends and their familiar building, and my youngest son, Max, started nursery in the same building. It’s always bittersweet to send them off, since it’s an acknowledgment that they are growing up and, inevitably, growing more independent. They are engaging with the world around them and developing relationships with people outside the home for the first time.

I’d like to think that school is where they will develop academic curiosity and be encouraged to explore, particularly with regards to science and math. You can’t start STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) early enough, since that’s where innovation and advancement originate. And it’s precisely where U.S. students are falling short, as compared to kids in other countries around the world. We’ve got to fix this and fix it fast, because without it, the U.S. stands little to no chance of retaining our role as the world’s technological leader.

I’m sure that’s what Ahmed Mohamed’s parents were thinking every time their 14-year-old son fixed whatever had broken down – the family car, his father’s phone, the electricity, his computer. They must have beamed with pride at their ninth grader, who loves to build things using technology and aims to go to college at M.I.T. Unfortunately for the family, Ahmed’s technology passion got him into big trouble on Monday, when one of his teachers at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, mistook his home-made science project for a bomb and alerted the authorities. Next thing he knew, Ahmed and his clock were in police custody, until the mess could be straightened out.

Fortunately, it got straightened out as soon as the police realized what they were looking at. But not before Ahmed was suspended from school for three days – for what reason I cannot fathom. What a trauma for Ahmed, his parents, his schoolmates, and the entire Irving community! Even for the police, which maintain they acted appropriately given the circumstances, but are now in the hot seat about whether their aggressive action had a racial and/or religious motivation. I have to admit that I even have some sympathy for the teacher, given how school security has become such a sensitive topic in the last couple of years.

Ahmed, who is clearly an exceptionally bright boy, appears to have come out of this episode healthy and whole. He was gracious and smiling before the legions of news crews that gathered in front of his home, as his father and mother served reporters pizza. Talk about class and magnanimity!

Ahmed also came away from the frightening episode with an invitation from President Obama to attend Astronomy Night at the White House next month (and to bring his home-made clock) and one from Mark Zuckerberg to visit Facebook. Hopefully, Ahmed will also benefit from all the publicity and Twitter trending, which surely has put him on M.I.T.’s radar screen several years ahead of schedule. Good for you, Ahmed!

This tale presents us with a quandary, and it is this: STEM education will inevitably lead to more technology innovation in schools, which will lead to more home-made science projects. We must find a way to balance two critical but parallel needs – the need to nurture student interest in STEM subjects and the need to ensure school safety.

I will leave that one to brighter minds than mine to figure out. But what I can say is that innovation is the key to success in all endeavors, and STEM education must continue to be a priority. At Marcum, innovation is not only the foundation for how we run and grow our firm; it is something we actively celebrate. In fact, we have two annual awards programs coming up in the next few weeks that specifically honor innovators – the Marcum Tech Top 40, on September 24, which is produced by our New England region, and the Marcum Innovator Awards on October 27, which is a program of our Philadelphia office.

I always say that the only reason we do things at Marcum the way we do is because we haven’t found a better way to do them – yet. We’re constantly striving to improve our processes to make the wheel just a little bit rounder. That’s our obligation to our clients and our brand promise. Innovation is the name of the game.

Next Wednesday is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. One of the hallmarks of Yom Kippur is the fast where Jews abstain from food and water from sundown (next Tuesday) to sundown. For those of you who observe, may you have an easy fast.

Thanks for reading and see you next week.