President Hultin Becomes Contributor to Economist Blog with 'Fast and Furious'

Fast and Furious

Blue jeans, innovation and learning from failure

This is the first in a series of blog posts by NYU-Poly President Jerry M. Hultin for The Economist’s new Ideas Economy website.

I was the freshly-minted dean of technology management of an American engineering school as I walked across campus in 2003 with one of the academic leaders of Party School of the Central Committee of China’s Communist Party. This school’s existence was a closely held state secret in China until the mid-1990s, and yet it educates almost all of the top leaders there. I was probing my Chinese colleague to learn his toughest challenge when he surprised me with his forthright answer: “Teaching our leaders how to create a market economy inside a socialist framework.”

Why did first chords of “Green Onions” and a pair of blue jeans come to mind when he said this? It’s because as Dan Aykroyd introduces “Green Onions” in the iconic 1980s Blues Brothers film, he shouts out, “…As you look around the world, you go to the Soviet Union or Great Britain or France, you name it, any country... Everybody is doing flips and twists just to get into a genuine pair of American blue jeans!” As I gave further thought to this Chinese educator’s words, I realized he was doing “flips and twists” not to get into American blue jeans, but to get into what American blue jeans epitomize: innovation, including the appreciation of failure as essential to creating an innovative economy and culture.

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