Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Creative Genius Innovation with Mark Naufel9 Nov 2020
Mark Naufel, director of the Luminosity Lab at Arizona State University, explains how to create value for society through creative genius innovation. Dream big, take risks, and bring genius to life.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“I think first and foremost, we really flip the existing research lab model on its head. Instead of the traditional faculty-led model of research, our lab is fully run by students. We pull students from all academic discipline, and all these students leverage their different viewpoints and skills on these projects.”-
- Mark Naufel
Mark shows an example of work done by the Luminosity Lab at Arizona State University.
How did Mark get started and what are some early influences that shaped his path?
Mark worked for a big tech firm in Silicon Valley. What motivated the change in direction?
What's new and novel about Luminosity as a lab?
Mark said there's no playbook for innovation. How do his students transfer their creative genius to innovating real solutions to global problems?
How is this applicable for a business leader. How do you set this up in every corporate department?
What about companies trying to do this though, in a world of remote work? How is it different than everybody getting around the table or even getting in this conference room that you convert to a lab?
How important is the group dynamic, even in a world of remote work to create innovation?
Is there an optimum group size for innovation and what has Mark found?
In terms of the group dynamic, how important are agile ways of working to Luminosity's innovation?
What are the most urgent global problems we face today and in Mark’s experience, how are these defining the problems at the model?
Whether it's between countries or between states or between parties, how can you apply lessons of innovation to political progress and actually real progress through political means?
What's the process by which the Luminosity Lab tackles problems and gets things done? Who decides which problems to address and what's the framework to deliver them?
How does Mark see technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality, fitting into these creative solutions for the big problems?
Mark gives an advice to executives who want to build a lab or innovation capability at their company or their unit.
Mark gives an advice to students who want to be successful and make sure they're making an impact.
What has been a major influence on Mark?
Mark recommends books and online resources.
How to find Mark online?
Jeff Kavanaugh: Mark Naufel, in your work leading the Luminosity Lab at Arizona State University. You drive big impact innovation. Can you share an example where your students brought your mantra, dreaming big, taking risks, and bringing genius, to life?
Mark Naufel: Yeah, absolutely. I think right now we're in an unprecedented situation. We really view that as the reason the lab exists and we've always existed with the goal of creating innovations that would impact society. Throughout the pandemic, our lab has really geared itself towards producing innovations to help out. I think when the crisis first began, it was very clear that there was a shortage, supply chain was backwards in terms of getting masks and other PPE. One of the things that our students did that was amazingly innovative was they created two novel sterilization systems that they've now patented. These sterilization systems, one's a vaporize hydrogen peroxide based system, the other's an ozone based system.
Mark Naufel: At the end of the day, what they do is they allow you to sterilize and reuse different PPE and especially the N95 masks. That's what you see a lot of shortages in, whether you're a small business, whether you're a medical provider, it's been very difficult for them to get those. Those are also very hard to rapidly produce through 3D printing. While there might be some solutions that exist in the marketplace, they're extremely expensive and groups were finding it hard to get those. What our students did is they developed really cost-effective systems that you can make for ones 300 bucks. The other one's less than 60 bucks to make. What's great about them is you can make them using all off the shelf components you could find at home Depot. Really the goal was here.
Mark Naufel: They've now opened sourced these designs and the goal is that anyone could go out and build these systems and leverage them within their businesses, within schools, within hospitals and small clinics. Right now, we're also looking for a commercial partner. Once again, the idea is let's give a royalty free license and let's have someone who can take that out to market and produce those cheapest possible, do so. What we found really is the passion of the students isn't really about, and none of it's about making money. Really, innovation isn't about making money. It's about producing value for society.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Creative genius and innovation and making an impact is what we'll be exploring in today's conversation. Welcome to the Knowledge Institute podcast, where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. I'm Jeff Kavanaugh, head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Today, we're here with Mark Naufel, director, the Luminosity Lab at Arizona State University. Mark is also director of the strategic projects at ASU, and he leads a lab of highly exceptional students called Luminosity. This lab is where interdisciplinary teams of students with bright ideas dream big, launch moonshot ideas with leaving a positive impact on society. They design, build and deploy innovations to change the world. Mark is Arizona native, who received his bachelor's degree in finance, master's in business analytics and systems engineering, and is currently pursuing a PhD in systems engineering at Arizona State University. Mark, thanks for joining us.
Mark Naufel: Thanks for having me.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You said you were fortunate to have a dad who's an engineer at Motorolla. How did you get started and what are some early influences that shaped your path?
Mark Naufel: My dad was a huge early influence for me. He was an immigrant from Lebanon to the United States. This was the dream for him to be here. You could just tell, and even growing up for him, he saw the dawn of computing and was a big part of it and really loved that aspect. I was very lucky. I think maybe you see it more in society now, but at the time, I mean, maybe I was like four or five years old when I got a computer in my room. At a very young age, I was exposed to that. I would build computers with my dad and I got really interested in the software side of it. I remember in the third grade I made my third grade teacher's class website. That exposure I think was really helpful. I mean, you just absorb things when you're young and it really got me into technology and also big companies. My dad loved working and he spent 40 years in industry in engineering. I just really admired his work in that field.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You worked for a big tech firm in Silicon Valley. What motivated the change in direction?
Mark Naufel: Yeah. It's interesting. It was always my dream. That's what I wanted to do. Go to Silicon Valley and work for a big tech company. I had a lot of fun for the short stint that I spent there. It was not that there's anything wrong with big tech. I just think, sometimes people think that that's, every job you have in big tech is going to be super innovative. In some cases it is, but it really depends on the team you are on. I think at big companies in general, even tech companies. A lot of the individuals there, they're doing oftentimes somewhat uninteresting work, or you're asked to generate reports or maintain an existing system.
Mark Naufel: There's value to that, but it's very different than starting a technology from scratch. Very few people get to be on the initial team that designed the first iPhone. For me, when the opportunity came up at ASU, the ask was to build the Skunkworks Lab of students that would really pursue these radical innovations to impact society. That's what I wanted to do. The thought about being around youthful minds and really going through that full process from design to, develop, to deploy it. Very few of those opportunities exist today. In this case, it was the chance to really design one from scratch and operated. To me, that was the biggest draw.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, that was the draw. What's new and novel about Luminosity as a lab?
Mark Naufel: It was interesting because the idea that when I came to the university system, I thought things like this would exist. I guess over the years, I've been surprised that models like Luminosity aren't as prevalent. I think that the model is really three main things. I think first and foremost is we really flipped the existing model on its head. By the existing model, I really mean this faculty led model of research. That's the understanding of research universities, is you have faculty experts, they'll form labs with graduate students. I think that sometimes, in certain cases, it can be stifling to innovation mostly because it's like a very top down approach. It's very clear that faculty is the expert, is the lead on the research. In a lot of the cases, it's the students that are doing the really innovative work and research, but they never really get the glory for that.
Mark Naufel: What we've done in the lab is it's fully run by students. Even me in my role and essentially at the end of the day, I'm a facilitator. I'm also a student at the time pursuing my PhD and we really just give the agency to the students to pursue projects that they're passionate about. We tell them that they can do anything. I think over the years they realized that that's the case. I think the other thing about it is that it's truly interdisciplinary. I think a big thing about the labs - we pull students from all academic disciplines and all these students leverage their different viewpoints and skills on these projects. I think at universities, there's a big push for interdisciplinary work, but I think what's different about this is a lot of the times at universities, when you do interdisciplinary work represented by maybe two labs coming together for coffee every once in a while and exchanging ideas.
Mark Naufel: That's totally different than having a fully integrated lab that works day to day, or you have an interdisciplinary lab that resides in the university's design school and they're sitting there wondering why they can't engage engineers. We're lucky as a lab that we really get to sit within the ASUs umbrella organization for research. It really allows us to draw in students. At the end of the day, it's really not beholden to any Dean of a certain school. It's people from all walks of the university.
Mark Naufel: I think what makes it special is the passion that the students have. It's very much this culture of people staying up all night, every night, just to build things. Really, it does feel like, a student told me other day, it feels like play. They're not doing it because it's a student worker position or anything like that. The idea of being surrounded by these bright minds, they want to change the world and that they can come every night and then really tinker around with, it's not really a set expectation. It's not like a class with a grade. It's really, the outcome is producing something of value. It's really focused on the creation and development of tangible solutions rather than just research alone.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You said there's no playbook for innovation. How do your students transfer their creative genius to innovating real solutions to global problems?
Mark Naufel: I've found that it's an organic process, that true innovation happens. For our students, we have these amazing, incredible individuals. What we find is it's them sitting in a coffee shop. We had a couple of students sitting in a coffee shop one time, and they're reading articles on their computer for fun, about power mafias in Beirut Lebanon, and how there's such unstable power systems there. People are running cords and then charging for it. It really a ridiculous situation that shouldn't exist in the 21st century. A couple months later, they've now designed micro grid technology patched into that that would be able to provide more stable energy solutions to third world countries. Really, it's those things. Another case of that is our robotics student who loves autonomous vehicles, having lunch with a female design student, who's kind of explaining how she doesn't always feel safe crossing campus at night.
Mark Naufel: Once again there, that turned into this autonomous system of drones, the students develop that facilitates a safety escort system. It's really remarkable when you let people, when you just trust them to innovate and you put them in an environment where they're talking through ideas. I think there's processes that help towards innovation, but it's not really school. Usually you're so used to getting step by step instructions. There's not going to be step-by-step instructions to the next big idea at the end of the day, it's the belief that you can innovate and really going after it.
Jeff Kavanaugh: All right. Let's dive right in to how this is applicable for a business leader. These are great stories. They're fun, feels like play? How do you set this up in every corporate department?
Mark Naufel: I definitely think it's a scalable model. In terms of corporates, we've actually started a program through the lab where now huge corporate partners will come to us and engage our students in R&D work. I think the draw there is really they're looking for that same model again. They're looking for new minds that are naive to kind of the day-to-day of the business operations, that will come in with a fresh mindset. We found that to be very successful when we've engaged our students, but I don't think it has to be student specific. I think every company really could create this culture. I think really creating small groups that have a culture of they are actually on the cutting edge of driving value for the company. It's just a different mindset to be in. I think you've seen companies do it. We were modeled after Skunkworks out of Lockheed Martin.
Mark Naufel: Over the years you've seen Google developed Google X labs. So many of these groups are finding this value in these small groups that are really culture driven groups. People that really want to spend their time producing innovations. I think it's something that if you're a company that doesn't have type of Skunkworks model, you should, and furthermore, I do think you should look towards the youth, engaging with universities, finding those students. We found that they approach problems totally different, and they really are coming to it with a relevant skillset. They're the most up-to-date. They've just grown up with all these new technologies and studied them and so day one, they can make a value impact.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Great voice of youth advocacy there. What about companies trying to do this though, in a world of remote work? How is it different than everybody getting around the table or even getting in this conference room that you convert to a lab? What's it mean when, let's say, four of the six people are working from home and two of them are in some office.
Mark Naufel: Quite honestly, I do think it becomes more difficult. Our lab has converted to fully remote and in a lot of ways we've become a lot more efficient. Some of our greatest successes have happened remotely, but I think where it becomes difficult - it's really trying to build that culture. A lot of why we've been successful is that group has already built that rapport with each other. Even us, we're really trying to explore ways that we can continue to facilitate that remotely. I think it is doable, really building these natural experiences.
Mark Naufel: People are getting used to this idea of jumping on Zoom and having an ideation session that doesn't feel forced. I think that's really what it's going to take. I don't know. It's really engaged as [inaudible] normal meetings, finding ways remotely, and even in the lab, we've booted up, as silly as it sounds, a Minecraft server for our students to really just get in and build things together and socialize as a way to just keep up that rapport. I really do think it will take new ways of really thinking through social dynamics to be able to build that culture that I think is necessary for innovation.
Jeff Kavanaugh: One more plug for Minecraft. All right. It is funny how you can take something. That's a common cultural, social touchpoint, and you can rally around that. Then from that, all kinds of interesting things spin out as you come together for some other purpose. You challenge people to go out and form their own communities of action-oriented problem solvers. How important is the group dynamic, even in a world of remote work to create innovation?
Mark Naufel: I think it's absolutely necessary. I think you've rarely seen in history, things that are built in silo. I think even if an individual does create an innovation, really they're standing on shoulders of giants and existing work that exists. For us, it's really the social dynamic that allows you to create innovation, especially today. So many innovations have been developed and now for novel ideas that come about, you have to have different viewpoints. You have to have people that have different experiences in different subject expertise come together and really merge those in new ways. Then for us in the lab, that's really most, every innovation we've seen as a creative writer student coming together with psychologists coming together with a designer and engineer, and really pulling from those fields to really identify something that no individual had come up with before.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Amazon has the now famous two pizza rule where every internal team should be small enough so that it could eat the two pizzas. Now, granted some of us have bigger appetite than others. In your experience, is there an optimum group size for innovation and what have you found?
Mark Naufel: Yeah. I have heard of that rule and I agree with you. I think two pizzas would feed maybe five of our students hungry appetites, but I do think there is an optimum group size. It's really how you structure things. The lab, Luminosity, has changed over the years. We started with about 15 students and have gone up on engaging just slightly over a hundred students. I think there was a difference in the dynamic and you have 15 students, there's just such a close knit group of people that actually know each other. You kind of have to know everyone and work together. I recently went to a wedding of one of the students from that initial year and all 15 people were at that wedding. You could really tell the impact it had, not just on the work, but on the social dynamic.
Mark Naufel: I think 30 is really probably the number I've personally seen. In terms of after that, it becomes hard to facilitate this environment where everyone knows each other, and there's a really efficient kind of touchpoints between everyone involved. Like I said, we've scaled the lab, but I think the way we've done it is really scaling it in different locations. We've developed Luminosity Labs at ASU at our Polytechnic campus, at our downtown campus. We launched the initiative in DC and then we maintain our one in Tempe. What that's allowed us to do is really have these pockets of groups of 15 to 30 students working together where they can have that close knit community, but then we've tapped them into this consortium, this network of talent that's been really helpful and that everyone's really benefited from. I think companies really can get creative on how they structure things. I do think it's important to build cultures in smaller groups and get that dynamic and then scale out your number.
Jeff Kavanaugh: All right. I'm glad you added that. I was about to get after you and say, what do you mean 30 at a time? Nobody can eat the pizza then. It's interesting that you mentioned that even though you grew, you found natural ways to maintain that small team size. It likens the fact, the pods and these agile teams. In terms of the group dynamic, how important are agile ways of working to Luminosity's innovation?
Mark Naufel: It's really important for us. We ever since the lab started, we've used agile methodologies for project management, such as Scrum. I think those are important because just the structure of it alone, doing these two week sprints of incremental development, having those daily stand-ups. In my opinion, it makes everyone in the group feel part of the full process. Every step along the way, you're involved in the design and the validation and the development. It's unrealistic to expect that scope doesn't change on projects. Really having this flexible approach allows not only the scope to change, but the students, the people involved to be part of that. For us in particular, I mean, one of the challenges we have as a lab is the fact that we have students who graduate and new students who come in, there's a lot of transition. I think by having an agile approach, it's actually a lot easier for us to maintain very complex projects year over year, with different sets of students and have that continue.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Once again, you are listening to the Knowledge Institute, where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. We are here with Mark Naufel, director of strategic projects at ASU, and leader of the Luminosity Lab. Mark, as you think about bigger questions here, what are the most urgent global problems we face today and in your experience, how are these defining the problems at the model?
Mark Naufel: It might sound cliche, but I do think the biggest global problem is education in terms of having a solution for it, because I think it will inform everything that comes later. We will have so many challenges to face around security and defense and sustainability and energy and all these topics I think people are familiar with, and health. You look at what's going on today with the current crisis. It's my belief. Obviously, I'm an internal optimist that people can do anything regardless of age and they will be able to find solutions. For me, it's just important that everyone really pursues an education. I'm not saying that has to be through university. I think there's no excuse today. There's so many ways to learn online so many resources, but in a way that's free and equitable. For me, my undergrad was not in engineering.
Mark Naufel: I studied finance and political science and went more technical later. I do think these 21st century challenges do need certain degree of knowledge in STEM fields to solve. I'm not someone that says you need to go and just learn STEM. I believe more in the holistic education. Everyone should have a foundation of some STEM field, whether it's analytics or engineering, and really view that as their toolkit to be able to solve problems. Then in addition to that, they should be able to pursue biology or history or any topic they want to augment that I guess I'm still surprised that our university systems and education whole kind of tells you that you have to be your one thing. You spend four years studying this one thing for the most part. I do think if we were able to educate the global population more holistically, I don't think there's a challenge that's coming tomorrow that we won't be able to tackle.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, paraphrasing Churchill, people will always do the right thing after exhausting every other option. You mentioned a political science undergraduate, and I want to quickly touch on this. You've had some experience working with political parties and what is it that your innovators have, that the advice should give to political leaders to get more stuff done? Whether it's between countries or between states or between parties, how can you apply lessons of innovation to political progress and actually real progress through political means?
Mark Naufel: You bring up such a good point. I think it's a point of frustration for me. I think what's needed in this space is really for the general population to really find a love in... You'd originally say, I think science, but it's interesting today that even the word science is controversial or politicized. Rather than science, I think the general love for innovation throughout society would actually go a long way. I think the term innovation, the idea of innovation, is that something that everyone can get behind both political parties, every single person. I think it's something that just the people need to demand in election. What's disappointing for me is you just seldom see the topic of innovation be brought up.
Mark Naufel: There's so many of these issues that come up year after year and the solutions are seldom, let's get a team of brilliant engineers and designers to solve them. I do think in terms of when it comes to election, getting people who value innovation, who value talent, who value in 21st century solutions, I think that is the way of the future and really having elected officials who surround themselves with people that can get things like that done.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Got it. Well, maybe to give business leaders as well as political leaders, some advice, what's the process by which the Luminosity Lab tackles problems and gets things done? Who decides which problems to address and what's the framework to deliver them?
Mark Naufel: Yeah. It's interesting. We allow our students to actually pick all the problems they want to address. They'll go through a process of identifying unmet need in society. A lot of that, like I said, is organic. They'll have a session once a week where a student will guide them through current topics. We'll kind of do some research on what are some challenges. At least in our pipeline, we have a stage gate process that the students kind of have to go through until they can charter a project. Early on, it's really a natural process of finding an idea that resonates with people. Then they'll go through ideation and sometimes that last weeks, sometimes that has months. Ideation and conceptual design of what potential solution spaces might look like. We found that sometimes those ideations such that no one is required to go to those.
Mark Naufel: Sometimes they'll fizzle out and sometimes they'll have 20 students actively engaged week after week. We found that the ideas that the students really can get behind is where the passion is. Those tend to be really interesting challenges. Oh, I do. It's just make sure that that fits within the scope of the lab, which is for us, is like we're not pursuing the big ideas. We're not really looking to build mobile app to facilitate gambling or something like that. We're looking for those big moonshots in the areas of education and healthcare. Once they have that, we actually have the students, they'll go through a chartering process. They'll put together, while we run agile methodologies once we start a project and then my background is systems engineering. We actually do a lot of upfront research and simulation and diagramming.
Mark Naufel: They'll plan it out upfront. They'll indicate how much they need in terms of resources and what they need in terms of personnel and by personnel, I mean students. If there's a certain skill set we don't have in the lab, we'll go out and recruit that skillset to augment the team. Then once we charter the project, they're off to the races in terms of development. Once again, we run scrum in two week increments of development. It's really an iterative process of how they develop these technologies. Then I would say at the end of maybe a monthly period, we kind of do a review to make sure that the project's on track and we allow the students really to kind of govern those and decide if a project should get killed or continue on and think that's the reality of eight of workspace. You can't pursue everything and continue to pursue everything. A lot of the times, you'll come to a point where it no longer makes sense. I think our students have really been wise in knowing when that's the case, pivoting along the way.
Jeff Kavanaugh: This is a tech discussion at some level, it would be remiss if I didn't ask the question. How do you see technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality, fitting into these creative solutions for the big problems?
Mark Naufel: I think AI's probably will continue to be one of the biggest tools for solving challenges that come before us. I'm a little biased. My background's in machine learning, but it's just such an incredible tool to be able to find patterns in existing systems and then be able to leverage those patterns to produce solutions because that's all with the caveat, is like some people have an unrealistic expectation of AI and what it can do. I think there will be a lot of things in the future that are automated, but you can't automate everything. All these systems that you build, they're as good as the humans that train the systems and gather the training set of data. It's not an easy process. I do think there's many more innovations to come, but I do think we need to make sure that people are continuing to educate themselves on AI and how to leverage it appropriately to solve these challenges.
Mark Naufel: Blockchain is another one I think came about kind of when I was starting the lab was when that got big. I don't think it's really cryptocurrencies. That's obviously a big topic, but I think it's the general kind of design of blockchain that's really intriguing. What that means for just equality for folks, I look forward to a day where you have these social media platforms that aren't controlled by single entity. Your data is not owned by anyone. All the cool ways and unique ways that blockchain can be used, I think will really play big in the future. Then I think VR and AR are probably the somewhat untested ones. I love virtual reality. I have the first developer kit for the Oculus.
Mark Naufel: I think they're still trying to figure out through the design and the usability of those systems. Probably augmented reality has the brighter future, but it's exciting in the lab to see just our students. These are the topics we say, "Okay. Find a solution, leverage AI and virtual reality and see what you come up with." We've hosted a lot of hackathon throughout the university. That's what I want to see happen at scale, even if it's virtual, especially during times of pandemic. People coming together around these challenges where they're forced to leverage these skillsets to come up with something new.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You're across the table from an executive, and they're asking you, how do I set up either a lab or innovation capability at my company or my unit? What advice do you give them?
Mark Naufel: I think the biggest piece of advice is it's really who you select to participate in those. I started the lab when I was 24 years old. I was picked by the president of the university to do that. I don't know if I knew at the time why I was chosen for that. It's really an unnatural thing for someone my age, to be a director of a research lab, especially without the PhD. I think Dr. Crow's insight was that I kind of knew the right people at the institution. I had been student body president and very active on campus. I think it's a certain type of person that thrives in this environment. It's not even based on their academic talent. It's really based on their passion for learning. That's why we only recruit freshmen. I think that's a big thing about this is like if you try to get just senior members of people with experience, I think you'll always be limited.
Mark Naufel: I think what's more important than experience is people's willingness to learn. For us, the most successful people in the lab have been the ones that come in and they'll learn anything. They'll stay up all night. This is really all encompassing for them. I think if you can focus on building that group and that culture and focus the group on value creation, it will have longterm success. Even now, when it's a highly uncertain environment for everyone during the pandemic. Even I have worried about the future of the lab, but the two things is like, we focus on value creation. We're successful in doing that. We have a tremendous group of very talented and creative people. I think if you have those two things, you can weather any storm.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Now the question is, you're having a coffee with a young person who is about to go into college or a student. What advice do you give them or broad definition of success, and also to make sure they're making an impact?
Mark Naufel: I would say, take the opportunity to learn as much as you can and don't allow... I tell the students all the time, they're all at the university. It's not enough to just go through your coursework. You really have to extend past that. You have to learn what's out there and you have to engage yourself on applied projects to really achieve that applied skillset that will allow them to be impactful. The 21st century, and really it's important to never stop learning. I think a lot of people, once they finish college or their early years, it's like, that's all they'll learn. They'll find a job that pays well and gives them increases year after year. If you want to be in a position to really make an impact, really, you to have this yearning for that lifelong learning and really surround yourself, both with right colleagues, people that push you and drive you. I think it's also important to have mentors.
Mark Naufel: That's the one thing I've seen with the youth that I've worked with. A lot of them don't reach out to people and ask them to be their mentors. They don't realize what a flattering thing that is to people. I think for any one person like yourself, if someone asks you that, it's really an honor. I'm always encouraging young people to really reach out to people, inspire them and ask them to mentor them personally and one on one.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What has been a major influence on you? Books, people, what are some ones that really stood out and that you'd recommend?
Mark Naufel: In terms of people, obviously I mentioned my dad, but I think one of the best things my dad did for me, like I said, he was an immigrant. He didn't have too many role models, but the one person he looked up to growing up that I took after, was actually Dr. Crow, the president of Arizona State University. He used to take me every year and Motorola would buy a table at the ASU founders day in person, Crow would give a speech. Instead of taking my mom, my dad would take me specifically to watch Dr. Crow speak. I think what I learned from that and what my dad was trying to get at is Dr. Crow has always had an incredible vision for what he's wanting to accomplish using the university. It's been a consistent vision, obviously it's evolved, but he's been able to execute on that vision since, I mean, we're talking since I was maybe in middle school watching this.
Mark Naufel: A, it's been incredible to see him really helped me realize that vision over the years, but it's really taught me the importance of having a vision in life and then working towards that throughout your life. He's been great in terms of just, I've had the chance to work with him directly. He's really informed what I studied at ASU. Then I would be remiss to say the second person who's been a great influence is my former boss, Sethuraman Pachanathan. We call him Paunch for short. He actually just left to become the director of the national science foundation, which is an incredible opportunity. Since the lab started until a few weeks ago, he was who I reported to directly. He just brings so much passion to what he does and really taught me that you can manage with love and how effective that that can be. I think just being an Indian American immigrant now running the national science foundation, I think is inspiring to all people, especially someone's first-generation. It's really proof that you can achieve anything in life and there really are no more limitations.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well-put. I do have to ask you any books that capture your attention you'd like to share?
Mark Naufel: For the audience, if you're interested in this work, one of the books that I really designed the lab around is called, Organizing Genius. The book is all about these small groups of people that come together throughout society to do something amazing. It's not always technical things so it's a Manhattan Project or it's Skunkworks or it's Bill Clinton's first election. It's all these groups of people where it was a small team that came out of nowhere and it really speaks to the type of culture and environment that it really is conducive to that. That was the book I read really, as I was designing the lab that first year. It was really interesting to me. I think a lot of the insights from that book have really remained true and it's a big reason I was able to really put together a team that's had the longevity that it's had. I think that's definitely what I would recommend if innovation is the topic you're interested in and forming really great teams.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What online resources do you recommend and how can people find you online?
Mark Naufel: Honestly, there's so many ones for learning Coursera, et cetera. What I love is a site called Kaggle. Like I said, I studied data science and Kaggle is really interesting because it hosts large data sets from companies and it allows people to compete around predictive analytics. So much of what I learned was really just by doing. I'm a big proponent of that and I think things to look to actually the lab are launching two web platforms this year, one in September, it's going to be called Mind Spark. It's very similar to Kaggle, but it hosts competitions of all types, whether it's design or engineering or data science. It really is efficient at bringing teams of people together from all walks of life, to be able to engage on these projects that are sponsored by corporate partners. Then in addition to that, we'll launch a platform later in the year called Axio, which is really a learning platform that's embedded with an AI chat bot.
Mark Naufel: The idea would be, is used to throughout your life. This AI learns about you and uses that knowledge to really personalize your learning and check in on you and give you these dynamic experiences depending on what's happening. We'll post some resources about that. Then in terms of finding me online, it's funny, I don't do so much of the social media anymore. I guess LinkedIn is the one I would suggest. I guess the Twitter handles @MarkNauf, but once again, I haven't posted. I think my wife is going to kill me because we're celebrating our one year anniversary this week. I still haven't posted wedding photos. I've been avoiding most social media, but I would love to connect on LinkedIn.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Everyone, you can find details on our show notes and transcripts and at infosys.com/Iki in our podcast section for all the things that Mark and I have discussed. Mark, thank you for your time and highly interesting discussion.
Mark Naufel: Thank you.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Everyone, you've been listening to the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. Thanks to our producer, Catherine Burdette, Kerry Taylor, and the entire Knowledge Institute team. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Mark Naufel
Mark Naufel is a 27 year old Arizona native. He has received his Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and Master’s Degrees in both Business Analytics and Systems Engineering and is currently pursuing a PhD in Human Systems Engineering at Arizona State University. While an undergraduate, Mark served as Student Body President at ASU and was later appointed by the Governor of Arizona to serve a two-year term on the Arizona Board of Regents as the Student Regent. Previously, Mark drove strategy and data initiatives for companies both locally and in Silicon Valley. Currently, Mark serves as the Director of Strategic Projects at Arizona State University, and within this capacity leads an interdisciplinary lab of highly exceptional students called The Luminosity Lab.
- Mark’s Twitter - @MarkNauf
- Connect with Mark on LinkedIn
- Luminosity Lab
- Arizona State University
- Luminosity Lab’s Sterilization units
- N95 mask
- Michael M. Crow, ASU President
- Lockheed Martin Skunk Works
- Google X Labs
- What is scrum?
Selected links from the episode
Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaborationby Warren G. Bennis, Patricia Ward Biederman