December 3, 2021 | NEWS | By Lucaiah Smith-Miodownik | Photo courtesy of Colorado College
Monday, Nov. 29 marked the final First Monday talk of the fall semester at Colorado College. For those who are unfamiliar, the First Mondays Event Series is a campus-wide function that occurs at the beginning of each block, with a new speaker and subject each time.
First Mondays aim to disrupt the often single-minded focus demanded by the Block Plan by engaging students, faculty, and staff in refreshing cross-discipline discussion. Topics of conversation vary drastically, regularly exploring themes and concepts connected to broader social questions and concerns.
The latest installment of First Mondays was titled “What is Innovation, Anyway? Creativity & Innovation in Higher Education,” presented by Dez Stone Menendez ’00. Menendez began her post-collegiate career as a serial entrepreneur and quickly involved herself in the creation and execution of several startup businesses.
In 2016, she came back to CC as the Director of Creativity and Innovation. This unique role has allowed Menendez to provide the resources that allow for professors to explore new, unconventional, or multidisciplinary ways of teaching.
The Block Plan may still require intense focus and rigorous academics at times, but the approach to learning can lend itself to a more diverse, interconnected, and experimental ethos of academics.
For Menendez, the best way to start this process of innovative meaning-making is to take a step into the unknown. As such, her talk was anchored by the term “Terra incognita.” This phrase has its origins in the discipline of cartography, when map makers charted what to them was unknown and unexplored territory.
Menendez co-opted this term, expanding it to represent a willingness to move forward in life “without a road map.” It is this place of uncertainty, she argues, where innovation thrives.
Menendez also makes it clear that stepping out on a limb does not mean instant achievement. In fact, the opposite is often true. It is this exact defeat, however, that pours gasoline on the fire that is innovation.
“I’ve always learned more from my failures than my successes,” Menendez said.
When it comes to her job as Director of Creativity and Innovation, this sense of persistence and grit is what drives Menendez’s approach. Under the larger umbrella of creativity, CC views innovation as a combination of resilience, problem solving, and mindfulness. These three traits then come together to create the optimal conditions for making change.
Of all the ingredients for becoming a change maker, mindfulness can often be the easiest to forget. Living in such a fast-paced environment like CC, Menendez asserts that we too often slip into a mindset where we must always be doing.
“Busyness is the new laziness,” she said. The constant desire for productivity can actually be our greatest inhibitor when it comes to creativity and innovation.
Such an idea may very well go against our mainstream narrative of what it means to be important and to make lasting contributions in society. “[It] sort of made me reflect on whether I’m working in the right ways while I’m here at CC,” said Walt Jones ’25 of Menendez’s talk.
Aidan Powell ’22 agreed. “I find my schedule often gets unintentionally busy at CC. Although this is mostly a good thing, there are days when I am so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, I lose awareness for the needs of the people and places around me,” said Powell.
Menendez’s words clearly have an effect on those who take the time to listen. In closing, Menendez outlined a desired future where the ability to stop, listen, and take time to create and innovate are sought after character traits in the business world and beyond.
Colorado College also offers First Mondays Circles, a space where students, faculty, and staff can meet after a First Mondays talk to explore their thoughts and discuss ideas. For more information on the First Mondays Event Series or First Monday Circles, visit the CC website and continue to check your email for updates.