The Universitas Manifesto
The greatest cities in the world —Florence, Paris, Athens— were hothouses of creativity and innovation. The very environment of these cities lured artists, scientists, philosophers, choreographers, entrepreneurs, and writers. Gathering in salons, cafes and other collaborative circles, these creatives and innovators often worked together, shared ideas, and drew inspiration from each other.
While new ideas often arise from individual geniuses, those geniuses require an environment that fosters and nurtures their ideas. Creativity and innovation need a community to thrive. The great cities of the past nurtured such creative environments by developing and maintaining a “soft infrastructure” of association between creatives and innovators. Universitas will create such an environment here in Columbus.
Creative environments are built from more than simply linking and networking; they require active domain bridging between different disciplines. We will create a hothouse environment in Columbus by “mashing up” and connecting the city’s creatives and innovators. The city is already developing a number of creative clusters in the arts, in technology, in the entrepreneurial community. Universitas constitutes a “meta-cluster” and will mash up these different groups.
We assert that innovation is neither a linear or logical process subject to management and rational process. Innovative and creative ideas often emerge at the intersections between different disciplines, especially the unexpected associations between seemingly different domains.
In seeking to bridge artists and scientists, entrepreneurs and philosophers, software engineers and writers, Universitas provides a space where ideas can flow between disciplines, curating the conditions for domain bridging and the new ideas that subsequently flow from such associations. We do not know what will result from such unmanaged domain bridging, but we do know the results will be combustible.
Universitas is the Latin word for “community” (like a community of scholars) and the word from which we derive “university.” We do not seek to create another university here in Columbus, at least not as that word is understood today. In seeking to foster a community of creatives and innovators, Universitas:
- • draws participants from the business world, the arts, technology, government, the non-profits, as well as traditional academics.
- • consists of freely formed associations (no silos, no departments)
- • has neither students nor teachers (or, rather, everyone is a student, everyone is a teacher)
- • has no curriculum: no pre-set, pre-established, pre-scribed list of activities
- • has no “admissions” requirements (participants join and leave as they like)
Universitas is like a permanent Burning Man, SXSW, and TED, but a daily activity, a regular part of the fabric of life in Columbus. It must be remembered that Universitas is a way of thinking.
Innovation and creativity cannot be planned or managed. We assert these spring from serendipity, the unplanned and often chance encounters between ideas and people. Universitas provides an “architecture of serendipity” unlike any other organization in Columbus.
Universitas is a platform that enables groups to self-organize. It does not decide the ideas, activities and innovations that may develop (and will not pick winners and losers), but will provide a neutral atmosphere for spontaneous association and unplanned activities to be determined by interactions among the participants of the platform.
The goal of Universitas is to make Columbus a destination city because of its society of artists, entrepreneurs, designers, technologists, thinkers and doers, and the environment of creativity and innovation it nurtures through conversation across domains.
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David J. Staley, Chief Catalyst