Featured Entrepreneur in Residence:

Christine Nieves

Mk Haley

College of Fine Arts

Interviewed by Professor Mary Stewart, FSU Department of Art

MK Haley is the Entrepreneur in Residence for the College of Fine Arts. She has over 25 years of experience in Themed Entertainment Design, Interactive Experiences and Education. The co-mingling of Art and Science has been a common thread through both her professional work and her teaching models.

What is your background? How did it prepare you for your work as an Entrepreneur?

My Computer Animation major at the University of Massachusetts was designed as a dual program in Art and Computer Science. So, from the very beginning of my career, I viewed ideation and implementation as partners. As both a creative and a technical director in Themed Entertainment, I continue to combine the creative and technical realms.

Working directly with the end user as well as with installation and production teams has also provided invaluable preparation for my job as an Entrepreneur in Residence. In the College of Fine Arts, I work directly with faculty in Dance, Theatre, Art History, Art Education, Studio Art and Interior Architecture. And, students from any major are welcome to take my classes. Consequently, to be effective I must embrace multiple disciplines and view problems from many perspectives. In my classes, students from diverse disciplines must work together to solve a very challenging real-world design problem. Using my professional expertise, I can help them stay on track and gain invaluable experience in the process.

We tend to think of an entrepreneur as a person who envisions and invents a new business. To what degree do you fit this definition—and to what extent do you differ?

I do not fit this definition one single bit. Rather than focus on the invention of new businesses, my focus has been on both process and the intersection of diverse disciplines to create new models and opportunities in business.

For example, when asked to chair the 2013 SIGGRAPH Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (the world’s premiere destination for research and presentation in this area), my first focus was on the participant experience, which would then lead to better engagement with the content. My leadership team and I reviewed the process for content submission and review, discussed the onsite guest experience, developed financial support for those unable to attend otherwise, and strengthened the volunteer recruiting and training effort. It's a giant eco-system, and making sure all participants are well supported results in the highest quality experience possible.

Because we focused on the onsite experience, great people were better able connect with each other in meaningful ways. In effect, conversations among the participants expanded understanding of the research presented.

Working as a professor at Carnegie-Mellon seems to have served as an invaluable expansion on existing work in industry. What did you do there, and how does it inform your current teaching?

When working at Walt Disney Imagineering in the mid 90s, I shared an office with Dr. Randy Pausch, then a professor who was on sabbatical from University of Virginia. (Many people know Dr. Pausch from The Last Lecture, which he gave when he was terminally ill.) He was flabbergasted at how different the educational process was from the workplace. Rarely did college students work on teams, and they never worked across disciplines. He wanted to better prepare students for success, so we envisioned a wide range of models for the next generation of education. Mostly late at night on lawn chairs in the parking lot, we waxed poetic on the future of education. Based on his experiences at Disney, Randy soon started a novel cross-disciplinary and project-based graduate degree at Carnegie-Mellon.

I served as adjunct faculty with the program for many years, and then moved to teach there in 2009 when Randy passed away. Coming from industry, I expect the highest standards of excellence from my students. At the same time, I provide them with the tools needed to attain such excellence. In industry if somebody is struggling you don’t fire them; you give them the tools to succeed! This approach is fairly stunning to students who are used to being "weeded out" if they show any signs of weakness.

In your TEDx talk, you focus on “fearless innovation.” This invites a cluster of questions. Let’s begin here. Why is innovation so daunting?

Traveling the presumed path and doing familiar work well is safe and tends to be reassuring to the individual as well as the community. By contrast, stepping off the path can be terrifying and spending ones own money or reputation can have serious personal consequences. There is also a loss of control. When we try something truly innovative, we really don’t know what will happen. Will the innovation work? The greatest innovators must be willing to risk failure in order to attain greater success.

What is the role of research and planning?

Not surprisingly, people are often scared of the unknown. Analyzing the hazards, and taking the proper steps to mitigate risk allows us all to move forward with greater vitality and less fear. Asking, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” and then having a backup plan in the event of disaster creates a better path forward.

What advice do you give to your students?

Rather than advising them to simply “Do what you love,“ I say “Get yourself to a point where you can support doing what you love.” Then, risk-taking can be exhilarating rather than intimidating or irresponsible.

How do your ideas dovetail with development of the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship?

I am super-excited about the work we are doing here at FSU connecting academia and industry. We are seeking to engage the entire University in innovation, not just an isolated program. And, I am so impressed by the commitment to human capital. As our students move forward and begin impacting industry, we can create a ripple effect that will really transform lives.

When we research our creative heroes, their biographies, influences, achievements and significance are especially important. Can you provide examples of your “hero" entrepreneurs?

From Clara Barton, who provided a lifetime of service and developed a revolutionary model for healthcare, to the early pioneers in the education of women and the underserved, we can see that progress requires a shared commitment to change. Seemingly impossible when first undertaken, breakthrough ideas can seem obvious in hindsight. But at the time, those brave enough to step up to the challenge are often marginalized, ignored, or attacked for trying to change the status quo. Entire communities may be running on fear and thus, resistant to new ideas. As a result, my heroes often work quietly, behind the scenes, solving day-to-day problems one step at a time.

As a result, I see every student or partner success as significant—even heroic. Every significant accomplishment is fueled by risk-taking and tenacity as well as creativity.

Ms. Haley teaches IFS2063: Creating Experiences, which is open to all students.

Contact Ms. Haley: mk.haley@fsu.edu

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