Dan Atkins

President - MinneAnalytics - Chief Community Entanglement Particle, Optum




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Dan Atkins

President, MinneAnalytics – Chief Community Entanglement Particle, Optum

I can’t explain the principle of quantum entanglement as well as a physicist could, but I believe in its application to the concept of community engagement nevertheless. There’s a way that two particles, separated by immense distance, can become entangled to the extent that what happens to one affects the other. Einstein called quantum entanglement “spooky action at a distance.”

Entanglement is something I try to enact every day; in fact, “Chief Community Entanglement Particle” is my self-described role in all of my endeavors. This is what it can look like: when I give a talk, I have a strict rule that no one can sit down next to someone they already know. I tell the audience that if they want to attend quietly and then return to their office without having met anyone, then they’re missing the point of communitybuilding and they might as well leave now. (My rule has worked so well that sometimes when I’m just walking through the building people talking to each other will jump apart when they see me.)

I insist on this entanglement because such community action—which begins with an introduction, a conversation—can be driven to surprising results.

Community engagement is just one of innovation’s key elements, though; you also need creativity and education. As a state, we value, encourage, and reward creativity, which is reflected in our arts scene. By almost any measure, Minnesota is at or near the top in this regard. You can’t be innovative without being creative. Linear thinking and deductive reasoning can bring innovation, but not in the way inductive reasoning and serendipitous brainstorming can. Innovation is a chaotic process (even if “chaotic process” sounds like an oxymoron).

Interestingly, this all has to play against a tradition of aversion to risk. You only have to go back a few generations to realize that if you didn’t plan for what you were going to eat six months into the future, you would be dead. Minnesota winters have a habit of negatively reinforcing a lack of planning. Innovation demands an acceptance of risk and a willingness to fail. Repeatedly.

Having the privilege to work with a lot of college students, it’s exciting to see all of this—creativity, community engagement, their learning—in their young faces. They are an unfiltered exaggeration of all these great things. They are smarter and more creative than any generation I’ve encountered, and they are eager to change the world with little concern about failing. I hardly need to suggest that they go and mix things up. Everyone should be this way.

In my field, data science, it’s by its nature DevOps. The same goes for Innovation. You deliver while you’re still developing. You learn and adapt on the fly with a tolerance for failure and underdeveloped ideas. You can iterate multiple times and deliver a winner while others are still talking about it.

When we combine a culture that fosters creativity with a dedication to community engagement, then entangle a great education system and the broader culture, we have the perfect formula for a great community. Take initiative, fail, pivot, fail, win, repeat. Entangle yourself with others and with other communities. Change a life. Change your little corner of the world. Just do it already.

Dan Atkins is a classically trained capitalist that’s culturally a startup, working for a Fortune 6 enterprise as an executive-in-residence for a 501c6 community nonprofit. Known by many friends & colleagues as simply “Danalytics.”

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