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Tech inspiration

Maggie Shiels | 08:00 UK time, Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Harnessing the spirit of Silicon Valley has been at the heart of Peter Friess's mission ever since he arrived at the Tech Museum of Innovation five years ago.

The building is a landmark in downtown San Jose stretching for around a half a block and painted a very bright orange. It is close to Valley stalwarts like Adobe, HP, Intel, eBay, PayPal, Google, Apple and Yahoo - technology companies that typify the creativity of the area and serve as a constant source of inspiration.

As he prepares to step down as president at the end of the month, the German-born Mr Friess took some time to reflect on his tenure.

Peter Friess stands in front of a photo of the Tech Museum, the orange building at the top

"Silicon Valley is a very interesting place in the world," he says. "There are lots of ups and downs economically but the people here don't stand still. They invent and reinvent themselves again and again."

It is a state of mind that Mr Friess said excites him as he prepares for his next challenge. But for the moment he talks about what needs to be done to fire up the next generation to invent and dream the future. That, he said, starts in the classroom:

"Electronic media, whether it is the iPad or smartphones, offer a lot of new opportunities in how we can teach young kids. It has to be more about teaching them how to learn and and not just teaching them a lot of stuff," said Mr Friess.

Children at the Tech Museum

"The way we got taught at school was we were not so distracted by mass media. Today kids are on the internet all the time. They are dealing with this electronic media in a way that we cannot comprehend. This must reflect on the style we teach at school. These kids have their own speed and we need to reflect that."

Mr Friess, who usually scoots around the museum on a Segway scooter, said institutions like his have a vital role to play in getting the message across that maths and science count.

"I would say 90% of people only go to a science museum once in their life. But that is a few vital hours where you can influence a person and teach them about the importance of science in our life.

"We give the random a chance. It is not a must that you have to go to a museum. It is your free will. But learning here is so different from a classroom at school, where you have to turn up every day at 8am. So I think the museum has its own role in education."

Being based in Silicon Valley, an area of the world that is regarded as the most inventive on Earth, gave Mr Friess a lot of pause for thought when he first arrived at the museum.

"I think we are completely different from other museums which look at the past," he says. "I was looking for a concept for this institution - it was basically a science centre like many you find in the US and the rest of the world. We thought hard about where we could make a difference in the museum industry that would excite and inspire and look to the future."

Children at Tech Museum

Some of the ways the museum tries to differentiate itself are by ensuring the exhibits are as interactive as possible, that they are custom made and original, and that there are experts to answer questions and get their hands dirty with real live experiments.

"Science develops so fast. You have to engage in life-long learning, and museums like ours are very good places to learn about things going on in the world. We have a really important role in our society and our community."

With so many big-brand companies on his doorstep, Mr Friess has not had to look far for his sources of inspiration:

"This is the place that makes a difference in the world and it's great to be here and represent those companies," he says. "We are not looking at the history of these companies - that is looking at the past. We want to look forward.

Visitor to Tech Museum interacts with exhibit

"People who come to our place get introduced to the technologies these companies invented and are still inventing and hopefully go home and think: 'I can do this too. I would like to invent something myself.' And hopefully they will go into their own garages and become the next generation of inventors and innovators."

Garages are something of a symbolic touchstone in Silicon Valley because that is where companies such as HP, Apple and Google all started.

It is perhaps not surprising that the spirit of Silicon Valley which Mr Friess so enthusiastically espouses has affected him. This former master clockmaker had envisioned a lifetime running museums but said that he is giving up the profession to try something completely new:

"The innovation bug has infected me and I am going to become an entrepreneur myself."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I'm slightly concerned by that photo of Mr Freiss: he looks like he's leaning backwards off the roof to have his photo taken!

  • Comment number 2.

    Maggie Shiels.

    ""I think we are completely different from other museums which look at the past," [Mr Friess] says. ... Some of the ways the museum tries to differentiate itself are by ensuring the exhibits are as interactive as possible, that they are custom made and original, and that there are experts to answer questions and get their hands dirty with real live experiments."

    sounds a lot like the [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]Philips museum in Eindhoven, which I visited in the 1970s as part of a school trip. perhaps "German-born" Mr Friess knows of it?

  • Comment number 3.

    moderators.

    "[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]"

    don't you think you might be a little overzealous removing the link?

    granted, the homepage is written in Dutch but it does have a prominent 'English Version' link. perhaps you believe readers would struggle?? or is there an unstated 'house rule'?

 

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