The Internet and the Underground Railroad

Dr. Sybril Bennett shares seven elements of innovation

By Bill Aiken

Dr. Sybril Bennett at RCC 2014 (photo by Jeff Huett).

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 4, 2014) — "The Underground Railroad was among the most disruptive, effective and innovative networks in United States history. And so is the internet." So began an engaging multimedia presentation by the award winning professor and TV newswoman Dr. Sybril Bennett.

Using a lively mix of storytelling, table games, body language and YouTube videos, Dr. Syb, as her students at Belmont University know her, shared some of the lessons to be learned from the determined and creative efforts of early African-Americans to escape the bonds of slavery in the Southern slave-holding states and travel to freedom in the northern US and Canada.

Fusing this history with the cutting edge work of contemporary thinkers like Malcolm Gladwell, Clay Shirky and Seth Godin, Bennett arrived at what she called her Seven Elements of Innovation, namely:

  1. Identifying the Problem to be solved
  2. Adhering to Principles, grounded in integrity that will provide a solid foundation for your ideas.
  3. Knowing the Purpose of your innovation – where are you heading and why?
  4. Developing the Perspective or mindset that will enable you to accept and facilitate change.
  5. Pioneering – whether the innovation is entirely new or a re-mix; it needs to be original.
  6. The indomitable force or Passion to give ourselves completely to the task.
  7. The element of Play, or creating an enjoyable, creative and collaborative experience.

According to Bennett, some of the problems faced by the slaves of the mid-18th Century involved some of the same challenges we face today in the world of Internet communications, namely issues of ownership, access, boundaries and privacy.

"To succeed in the world created by Facebook and Twitter, it's not enough to just criticize them – you'll just be left behind," she said. Rather as communicators, Bennett urged us to show the same creative and passionate spirit as those who traveled into the unknown world of the Underground Railroad, and like them, move toward building a better world.

Bill Aiken is a member of RCC and Director of Public Affairs, Soka Gakkai International - USA.

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