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Innovate for Life and Stay Young at Heart with Dr Marla Koonin: Academic Year Opening 2024

In her enthusiastic address, "Let's Innovate for Life and Stay Young at Heart", at the 2024 academic year opening, Dr Marla Koonin emphasises the importance of staying connected to our hearts to foster innovation and sustain youthful enthusiasm.

Drawing on Tom Kelley's insights from the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series at Stanford, she outlines five habits to enhance creativity: thinking like a traveller to stay observant and curious, treating life as an experiment where failure is a step towards success, nurturing an attitude of wisdom by questioning what we know, using our 'tortoise mind' to allow subconscious processing and creativity, and following our passions to align our strengths with what we love doing. Dr Koonin's message encourages embracing a mindset of continuous innovation and curiosity as keys to a fulfilling and impactful life.

Dr Marla Koonin, Executive Dean: Learning Operations and Governance
Dr Marla Koonin, Executive Dean: Learning Operations and Governance

Let’s Innovate for Life and Stay Young at Heart! By Dr Marla Koonin

If you are to believe Hallmark, then this is the month of love, the month of the heart. The heart is the essence of what keeps us alive and connected, and so today, I would like to connect us back to our hearts. 


As part of the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series at Stanford, Tom Kelley, General Manager at IDEO, presents five habits that enhance creativity, and he describes how they can help us be more innovative and successful in every part of our lives. His podcast is titled Young at Heart: How to be an Innovator for Life. It is also eloquently summarised by Guadalupe de la Mata.  


For centuries people have wondered about what the elixir is to remain young at heart, perhaps one of the ways we can do so is to be an innovator for life, and in the process, we can influence more humane sustainable societies. Kelley, in his podcast, speaks of five habits for being an innovator for life and staying young at heart that I want to share with you on this quest to stay young at heart and innovate for life.  


1. Think Like a Traveler 


Take your mind to a place you have travelled to, a foreign place, something that is new to you. When you travel to somewhere new, you are in a heightened state of reality, you notice things differently and your brain is on elevated alert, your senses are enhanced, and you become more aware of the things that are happening around you.  


Kelley explains that in these moments of newness, you observe your environment in more detail, and you switch off the autopilot that takes you through everyday life. He encourages us to keep that part of our brain switched on as often as possible.  


We need to breathe, pause, and engage in life as if our senses are heightened, like we are travellers in our own life. We need to, as he says, “turn up the traveller part of our brain to capture the deep and up-to-date knowledge of what is happening around us.”  


2. Treat Life as an Experiment 


Kelley prompts us to succeed, we will have to fail. He reminisces that “unfortunately, failure is seen as undesirable in our society; however, people forget that most innovations are preceded by a number of failures.”  


At DaVinci, as part of the Mode 2 approach to knowledge discourse and our approach to learning and teaching, as well as in the TIPS™ Managerial Leadership Framework, we highlight the importance of promoting experimentation. We explain that if you want to truly be agile as a managerial leader and for organisations to embody agility, they need to Manage their Technology and Innovation through several competencies and practices, one of which is to promote experimentation.  


As a Business School DaVinci’s position on promoting experimentation is viewed through the lenses of Kolb (1984), Gelb (1998) and Leonardo DaVinci himself. To sensitise society about the benefits of experimentation in learning and working, experimentation should occur at both the individual and organisational levels. Underpinned by the principles of divergent thinking, assimilated thinking, convergent thinking and accommodative thinking and substituted by Gelb (1998), with reference to Leonardo Da Vinci’s principles of Curiosita (seeking the truth), Dimostrazione (taking responsibility), Sensazione (sharpening awareness), Sfumato (engaging the shadow), Corporalita (nurturing integration), Connesione (embracing holism) and Scienza (cultivating balance), individuals could develop an awareness of the power of integrating different modes of thinking, thus, successfully co-creating lasting solutions and innovations.  


The competence to promote experimentation and to take risks in a safe-to-fail environment encourages self-reflection, stimulates novel and adaptive thinking, and assists in overcoming habits that may restrict creative thinking. Applying effective communication strategies (adult, parent, child relationship), consciously supports the expression of ideas and aspirations, which allows business leaders to find their voice. This competence of promoting experimentation tends to optimise collaboration and facilitates and grows cooperative mindsets (DaVinci 2020).  


So continually remind yourself that no matter how young or old your heart feels, it is ok to fail, as long as you take lessons from the failure and refine your thinking, shift what you are doing, continue to grow and keep moving forward. If you want to stay young at heart and innovative, then never stop treating life as an experiment.   


3. Nurture the Attitude of Wisdom 


Kelley states that it is “not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it is what you know for sure that is not so.”  


To nurture the attitude of wisdom, we need to keep an element of seeking and discovery in front of our minds. We must always distrust what we know, just enough to prompt us to keep searching. We need to think outside what is in the box and cast our minds to what is beyond our understanding and socially constructed reality of truth to see what is yonder and the possibility of what we cannot see but is out there to be discovered.  


4. Use your Brain and your Tortoise Mind 


Kelley tells us to think with our tortoise mind. Yes, that’s right, slow and steady even wins the race in innovation! Kelley positions the tortoise mind as a part of our subconscious mind that works in the background of our consciousness. It is the part of our mind where, even without knowing, we mull over thoughts, ideas, problems, solutions, etc., for days, weeks, months, and years as they tick away. It reminds us to stop thinking that the moment of innovation is that “aha” moment that seems to come like a bolt of lightning to one’s mind. Instead, the “aha” moment is the result of engaging the tortoise mind. It is just the moment of us stepping across the finish line, not running the race.  


The tortoise mind needs time to process - so turn off your music and calls the next time you are driving home from work and give your mind time to daydream, think and be creative. Go on and engage that tortoise mind and stay young at heart! 



5. Follow your Passions 


We all get told to follow our passions to be successful, and then we will never work a day in our lives, but how does one put this into practice? Kelley encourages us to think about following our passion in three circles, as summarised by de la Mataas follows:   


Circle 1: What are you good at? 

It is important to keep in mind what you are good at. However, just because you are good at something doesn’t mean that this is the only thing you can do in life.  


Circle 2: What are you born to do? 

People have a good idea about what they are good at. But it’s harder to figure out what you are born to do. Take the time and reflect, even for just a few minutes a day on what it was in your day that you felt the happiest doing. Start reflecting over time on what that is to trace what it is you are passionate about and born to do.  


Circle 3: What would people pay you to do? 

Finding ways to get paid and live on what you love doing is the best blessing: you will never work again. 


If you live your passion, you will naturally do so with more energy and invest more time into it and leverage your strengths by doing so. Innovators cannot be stuck in their ways; they must be flexible, creative, and continuously evolving to make an authentic change, and that requires us to give ourselves the space to reflect and engage our tortoise minds. I implore you to keep innovating and stay young at heart and mind no matter how your body ages.  


For the full podcast, click here.



Dr Marla Koonin

Executive Dean: Learning Operations and Governance: DaVinci Business School

*The views expressed in this speech present the personal insights of the speaker, which are not intended to represent DaVinci Business School's official positions or beliefs.


Short Bio: Dr Marla Koonin

Dr Marla Koonin at Davinci Business School
Dr Marla Koonin

Dr Marla Koonin stands out as a visionary leader in the field of higher education, boasting an illustrious career that spans over two decades. Her journey began with a solid foundation in journalism and public relations, which paved the way for her ascension to senior roles in academic administration, institutional research, and program development.

Dr Koonin's expertise extends to the intricate process of accreditation, underscoring her dedication to maintaining high educational standards.

At the heart of her professional narrative is her role as Executive Dean of Learning Operations and Governance at DaVinci Business School, where she has been instrumental in shaping innovative educational practices and policies. Her academic credentials are impressive, with advanced degrees in Communication, Journalism and a PhD focusing on the nuances of Organisational Communication Culture and Climate. This academic prowess complements her practical experience, providing a strong foundation for her leadership and governance roles.

Dr Koonin is also celebrated for her contributions to scholarship and public discourse. She is a prolific writer, with her works published in esteemed academic journals and mainstream media outlets, and is a respected author and editor in her fields of expertise. Her writings not only reflect her deep understanding of public relations and journalism but also her commitment to advancing knowledge and fostering informed discussions.

Her vision for education is characterized by a relentless pursuit of excellence, innovation, and inclusivity. Dr Koonin's leadership philosophy centres on enhancing the student experience, ensuring that educational programs are not only academically rigorous but also accessible and relevant to a diverse student body. Her efforts to streamline operations and governance at DaVinci Business School have been pivotal in creating an environment that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and lifelong learning.

Beyond her administrative and scholarly achievements, Dr Koonin is a mentor and advocate for students and educators alike. Her dedication to education extends beyond the confines of her institution, influencing educational policy and practice on a broader scale. Dr Marla Koonin's career is a testament to her unwavering commitment to shaping the future of higher education through leadership, innovation, and a deep-seated belief in the transformative power of learning.



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