5–1/2 Questions for Michael Crow

CJ Cornell
7 min readSep 26, 2022

Michael Crow

President, Arizona State University

Dr. Michael M. Crow is an educator, knowledge enterprise architect, science and technology policy scholar and higher education leader. He became the sixteenth president of Arizona State University in July 2002 and has spearheaded ASU’s rapid and groundbreaking transformative evolution into one of the world’s best public metropolitan research universities. As a model “New American University,” ASU simultaneously demonstrates comprehensive excellence, inclusivity representative of the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the United States, and consequential societal impact.

Lauded as the ”#1 most innovative” school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for seven straight years, ASU is a student-centric, technology-enabled university focused on global challenges. Under Crow’s leadership, ASU has established more than twenty-five new transdisciplinary schools, including the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and launched trailblazing multidisciplinary initiatives including the Biodesign Institute, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, and important initiatives in the humanities and social sciences.

5–1/2 Questions for Michael Crow

1 — If you were just starting out today — what essential skills would you learn and try to master?

Yeah, I think the most important one thing to understand is history. If you don’t understand history, you’re basically an idiot. And so many things are basically long term processes. The emergence of American democracy is not a switch. It’s a process. It’s not a straight walk. It’s a hill. And so if you don’t understand where the hill started, and if you don’t understand where you are on the hill of whatever it happens to be, then you have no idea what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.

So the skill is that it’s basically contextualization. So the skill is like reading a map. And so your map skill, which is essential to the navigation of everything you do, has to be grounded in something. History is the best foundational mapping skill going forward in terms of where you want to go is completely determined by where you are and what it took to get there. Whatever that happens to be — in a particular industry, in the military, in a country, in a state, in a region, whatever it happens to be.

2 — What is the worst or most dangerous trend in your industry today?

I think within higher education and within knowledge creation, the most dangerous trend is the denial of science. You can’t pick and choose what parts of science you want. You can’t say, I’d love to have Lasix surgery with lasers on my eyes, and then not believe the same physics that then tells you that the climate is likely to change because we’ve introduced higher levels of methane or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. You can’t pick and choose your science. It’s either all in or no science. Well, obviously, no science doesn’t work, and so it’s the denial of science.

3 — How often do you have to convince people to turn a no into a yes? Who are they and how do you do it?

Always, it’s all the time.

If you don’t know how to sell an idea, if you don’t know how to adjust your idea, if you don’t know how to adapt to the market in whatever condition you have, you’re never going to win. I mean, you’re just not going to win. And so the upselling and the selling of ideas is ongoing and continuous because no, it’s one of the simplest syllables you can pronounce. No, it’s the natural thing. No. What’s the first word out of a baby’s mouth? No.

Everybody can say no. And then they have to make their case. And so you have to be ready. You got to have the data. And people say no to me every day. They say, that’s a bad idea. That’s a stupid idea. Why are you thinking this? This is not the way to go. So what I’m most convinced by then is the logic and the evidence of why the no is the best answer. And then often I’ll take the no and then make my own adjustments.

4 — What part of your work is the hardest for you?

I think the hardest for me is working through individual selfishness. So what I mean is, like, the person is advancing their career. Well, why don’t you advance the institution and then your career will advance as a function of that, or the person is only interested in their own outcome. Well, your own outcome is too narrow of a conceptualization. And so everybody’s selfish. And so the hardest thing is getting people to work as a team, getting people to pull together, getting people to recognize each other. And so that’s the hardest thing.

5 — What is something you do outside of your career that most people would be surprised to know?

I was a heavyweight wrestler in high school. I was a nose guard in football. I was a javelin thrower in college. So I’ve been involved in pugilistic sports for a long time.

.. and

5–1/2 — BONUS “Color” Question

Elon Musk chooses you to be on the first Mars mission — do you go? Tell us why or why not.

I’m a big believer that the way you go to Mars is the way that our faculty member Paul Davies suggested — that is there’s no way back, so you need to send younger people than me. And so what I mean by that is I’m a big believer in the settlement of Mars, the population of Mars, but I’m also a big believer in Paul Davies idea. You go there, you resupply them, and then they technologically work their way back. So therefore it just creates it was sort of the way the pioneers went. When you moved to California in 1850, that was it. When you were a Polynesian explorer and left Samoa and found Hawaii, well, that was it. And then you started from there. So we need more of that. So if Elon had a way to get a bunch of people up there where I could take my whole family and we would just have the ability to advance up there, sure, but no way back.

When you started at ASU. entrepreneurship with one of the top 8 initiatives. Now, as an academic, why entrepreneurship?

Well, so it’s one of our eight design aspirations. Universities, in my view, had become overly isolated, not acting as entrepreneurial as they could, public universities relying too much on just simple government models of funding, simple bureaucratic models of funding. So what I was interested in was taking the intelligence and the creativity and the drive and the ambition of our faculty and then making the university itself entrepreneurial in every possible way, which is what we really look to do. I was not interested in ivory tower and walls of ivy covered, walled off institution, but a front line, highly innovative, highly entrepreneurial university operating and driving forward economic change, social change, competitiveness, all those things.

For more 5–1/2 Questions Interviews, see:

“5–1/2 Questions” from CJ Cornell is a new series of mini-interviews with leaders in the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem around the world. In less than a half-dozen short questions, we’ll try to learn more about each leader, and what makes them successful and unique.

The questions are designed a little like a “Magic Eight Ball” (my GenX colleagues know what this is): A set of questions, posed at random. Plus, at least one question, or half-question, is designed to find out something about their personality that most people might never suspect (I mean expect).

CJ Cornell is a serial entrepreneur, investor, advisor, mentor, author, speaker, and educator. As an entrepreneur, CJ Cornell was a founder of more than a dozen successful startup ventures that collectively attracted over $250 million in private funding; created nearly a thousand new jobs; and launched dozens of innovative consumer, media, and communications products — that have exceeded $3 billion in revenues.

He is the author of the bestsellingThe Age of Metapreneurship — A Journey into the Future of Entrepreneurship.”

And the upcoming “The Startup Brain Trust — A Guidebook for Startups, Entrepreneurs, and the Mentors that Help them Become Great.”

Follow him @cjcornell or visit: www.cjcornell.com

CJ Cornell

Professor of #Entrepreneurship & Digital Media. Serial/Parallel Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, Mentor, Angel Investor, #VC. Crowdfunding & #Startups Evangelist