I confess that I love football. I played it in high school. Some of my teammates went on to the college gridiron, and one of them even had a long career in the NFL. That’s the dream, isn’t it? Big plays and big money on Sunday. Well apparently things are changing these days, and with good reason.

John Urschel doesn’t really conform to the stereotype of a professional football player. Yes, he’s 6 foot 3 inches tall and 300 pounds, but he’s also a master chess player and currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics at MIT. Recently, he made headlines when he retired at the ripe old age of 26 from a very lucrative career with the Baltimore Ravens. Why? Because he plans on using his brain the rest of his life.

According the New York Times, a recent study at Boston University found that out of 111 donated brains from deceased football players, 110 had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is essentially permanent brain damage caused by repeated hits to the head. This changes the odds of a football player having a prolonged disability from possible to probable. So, how can innovation save this game that has become a beloved national pastime?

There are a number of creative ideas coming from all corners. Let’s divide them into three types: equipment innovations, diagnostic improvements, and rule changes.

One of the most interesting suggestions for equipment changes is to go back to the old leather helmets used in the 1930s and 40s. The rationale is that there were far fewer reported concussions then because the soft shell and lack of a face mask made it almost impossible to use the head as a weapon.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are efforts to make the helmet out of sophisticated composite materials. A high-tech Seattle company, VICIS, has created a space-age helmet that they call the Zero 1. It’s highly engineered and multilayered with a metal shell, somewhat similar to those worn by Formula One race car drivers. This solution underscores the severity of the impact that these on-field collisions produce.

Some sports have been pretty much saved by equipment improvements. Consider how NASCAR changed its specifications for vehicle design, race track configuration, and safety systems after superstar Dale Earnhardt was killed at the Daytona 500 in 2001. But this ethos doesn’t seem to apply to all sports.

There are significant innovations that are greatly aiding in the diagnosis of a brain injury. Sensors in the helmet can record and transmit impact data, and inexpensive smart phone apps for concussion recognition are commonly used by team trainers. But these innovations are useful only after the damage has already been done.

Finally, the rules of the game are changing at all levels. For example, using the head as a weapon is now a penalty. In college, it results in an ejection from the contest. In the NFL, it brings a fine and suspension. While big-time college and professional programs have the ability to review game video footage, many high schools and sandlot teams do not. It really comes down to the officials. Their training and their ability to control the conduct of the game matter.

John Urshel may be unique in his quantitative abilities, but not in his decision to leave football. Others have also recently quit the game in their so-called prime. NFL ratings are down, and participation in youth football is waning. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if football can take on an innovative new form in the future.

If not, what will we do with these gargantuan stadiums? And, please, please, please don’t say they will be used for the so-called “Beautiful Game.”

This article was originally published on The Next Idea.

In the early 1990s, I visited billionaire George Soros’ office in New York City to provide some direction on an investment his firm had made in a technology startup run by senior Israeli Air Force officers. Their technology was something akin to an iPod, and this was almost a decade before you could store your entire music collection on a device the size of a bar of soap.

The officers had the prescient concern that the internet was not designed to be secure and that this vulnerability would eventually lead to cybercrime and espionage. They believed there would come a time when we would customize the part of the web we needed and keep it secure in our own pocket. These brilliant innovators had a solution, except it was 25 years before we knew there was a problem.

Well, as they say on Broadway, everything old is new again.

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission decided to eliminate most of the net neutrality regulations that required broadband providers to inform customers about how they manage their networks. The commission is now led by Ajit Pai, the former legal counsel for Verizon. Apparently, this appointment isn’t seen as a conflict of interest.

The upside of this decision is that it may provide economic incentives for investing in innovations that improve network connectivity and speed. The downside is that it will cede control of who has access to the net, and at what price, to the largest broadband carriers.

While government officials and public advocacy groups are waging a war of words in the media, little attention is being paid to the opportunity this creates for more disruptive technology companies like that little Israeli startup from the 1990s.

In President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress, he repeated his campaign pledge to spend $1 trillion revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure. But infrastructure is more than just roads, bridges, and airports. It’s also digital.

Over the past 50 years, taxpayers have invested billions in the development of the internet. That makes us majority shareholders. Why should the rights of the telecom shareholders be well represented with these changes to net neutrality, and not ours? It’s hard to imagine anyone investing in a company without some form of control or transparency. But that’s exactly what our government is now demanding that we do.

The convergence of delivery options such as cable internet, DSL, 4G wireless and satellite drives today’s competition. Add to this mix upstarts with radical new technologies, low-cost providers from other regions, and fluid pay-as-you-go business models, and the market looks very different than today’s oligarchy of sluggish behemoths.

But is the net really being deregulated? Are the barriers of entry really being lowered to encourage true free market competition, or are these simply different rules to protect the interests of a few incumbents? Look at who receives the best government contracts. They are not the most innovative companies. Instead, they are the largest. The fix is in.

If you’ve visited Delhi or Seoul lately, you probably noticed how much better their service is than here at home. These cities see their investment in digital infrastructure as an engine of economic growth. The number of high tech start-ups growing to over a billion dollars is also following this trend. They are now creating larger numbers of tech jobs faster than we are in the U.S.

Given that we can’t even get sufficient funding for passable roads and drinkable water, what hope is there that our government will adequately support the development of a superior digital domain? The irony is that smaller organizations are far more likely to introduce breakthrough innovations than their larger rivals because they lack the resources to compete on scope or scale. Ingenuity is all they have. They are the seedlings that grow into larger job producing companies.

When the next breakthrough communications technology emerges, we can only hope that people like George Soros allow us to invest in it. That way, we have a reasonable chance of being treated like shareholders, and getting some real return on our investment.

Jeff DeGraff is the Dean of Innovation: professor, author, speaker and advisor to hundreds of the top organizations in the world. Connect with Jeff on Twitter @JeffDeGraff.

This article was originally published on The Next Idea

Thirty years ago, University of Chicago Professor Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind. The book deconstructed higher education’s failure to prepare students with the knowledge necessary to lead enlightened lives. Bloom’s emphasis on reading the Great Books was met with adulation by conservatives, who viewed it as a declaration of traditional values, and with condemnation by progressives who thought the work was a perpetuation of social class inequities.

What started as a discussion about “what every educated person should know” ended in a contentious debate about the virtues of meritocracy versus democracy, as if the two ideas were mutually exclusive. When I was a junior professor, I was certain that Dr. Bloom was just another misguided old classicist. These days, however, I’m beginning to wonder if he may have been right all along.

In any age, ideas are assembled, disassembled and reassembled according to their usefulness and whoever has the power to move them. For example, what the founding fathers considered inclusive would now exclude over half of our current population. So, over time, ideas get updated, like versions of a computer program. Each version is an extension or a complete reimagining of the previous one.

Innovation is built upon ideas of every hue – old, new, strange, obscure. They never seem to fit at first but with time, and a little luck, these ideas may actually hold up while the rest of our world shifts and shakes. Professor Bloom cautioned that cultural relativism would have us mistake the teetering edges for the unmoved middle. He saw Plato, Marx and Freud as the compulsory bedrock upon which more advanced ideas could be balanced by an independent mind.

What I think Dr. Bloom was getting at was is that it’s not about political doublespeak, spin doctors, or fake news. It is about the closing of the American mind. We no longer collectively possess the ideas, the range of lenses, or the apparatus to think clearly, freely and independently. The constructive conflict of classroom debate was replaced by safe spaces and trigger warnings, and with it went the courage to confront the mediocrity of second-rate ideas. Ironically, this has left us without the ability to rightly judge fact from fiction. Bloom predicted that there would come a day when many Americans saw the truth as relative. That day is here.

We have always had people who use ideas to swindle and deceive. But there have also been those among us who are not so easily fooled. They think deeply. They connect the dots. They recognize the patterns. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see these people and even harder to hear them.

So let’s start looking for the next idea by asking a few questions to those who actually know about the last idea:

Where have we seen an idea like this before?

When has this idea been tested?

How will this idea actually work?

Who is proposing this idea?

Why are they trying to advance this idea?

What are some alternatives to this idea?

Like Professor Bloom, I too believe that great ideas, like people, are works in progress. Perhaps the first step to uniting our divided nation is to reestablish a common ground. It may be that we need to retrace some of our past – to revisit the great thinkers – before we can reopen our minds and recommit ourselves to finding a way forward – together.

Jeff DeGraff is the Dean of Innovation: professor, author, speaker and advisor to hundreds of the top organizations in the world. Connect with Jeff on Twitter @JeffDeGraff.

This article was originally published on The Next Idea