I remember being a school kid and having to take home a report card for my parents that accused me of being a daydreamer. “Vanessa needs to apply herself,” it said. The subject was math, taught by a grey man in a grey suit covered in a layer of chalk dust. “Mr. Grey lacks imagination,” my teenage self reassured herself.
I hate to admit it, but Mr. Grey was right. Dreaming is one thing. Doing is another. Think of all those half-formed ideas that float through an undisciplined mind; any potential little gems escape back into the ether without ever being fully grasped or realized. Perhaps the real act of creativity lies not in the fleeting idea, or even the a-ha! moment of a game-changing discovery, but in the weeks, months, sometimes years of determination and effort that take something from concept to actuality.
If it weren’t for people who apply themselves, the world would get stuck in a standby zone. Happily, the UBC community is brimming with determined types – from inventors and entrepreneurs to scientists, social advocates and artists. Things get done, here. Over the past 50 years, UBC folk have disclosed 3,000 inventions in diverse areas ranging from human therapeutics to computer software and engineering. But as you’ll find out on page 16, a brilliant discovery is only half the battle; the other half is transitioning that knowledge or idea into a treatment, device or other life-enhancing product.
On a cultural front, how many tantalizing premises for the Next Great Canadian Novel never make it past the stage of idle contemplation? There is no such waste of imagination in UBC’s Creative Writing Program. The glass showcase on the fourth floor of Buchanan displaying the published works of faculty and alumni speaks to a culture of keyboard tenacity. Writing is all about rewriting, as poet Tess Gallagher told a class of students when she visited UBC recently: “Consider the moment of revision to have the equal possibility of creation,” she said. The program’s students are involved in a high school outreach program that is planting the same good habits in Canada’s youngest writing talent (page 21).
When it comes to innovation, it’s the following through on an idea that really matters. One of the most interesting facts I came across while working on this issue is that the .CA country code domain name originated at UBC in 1987. This is only because forward-thinking computer facilities manager John Demco thought it would be a good idea to register Canada’s identity on the internet – two years before any of us had even heard of a place called the World Wide Web. Then he volunteered his time for the next 13 years maintaining the domain and registering 100,000 domain names, before handing the task over to a non-profit he helped create. Now that’s what Mr. Grey would call applying oneself. The two millionth .CA domain is anticipated this year (page 18).
Having a good idea won’t change the world, but seeing it through just might make a difference. This issue is full of stories about people who had the brilliance, gumption and determination to do just that.
Vanessa Clarke, Editor