Tech Forward: Coach and Mentor Jim Fish

Drone view of the Michigan Technological University Campus on the Houghton, Michigan waterfront with fall colors, buildings and the Portage Lake Lift Bridge in the background.,
Drone view of the Michigan Technological University Campus on the Houghton, Michigan waterfront with fall colors, buildings and the Portage Lake Lift Bridge in the background.,
Michigan Tech's thought leaders lead the charge to position the University at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Innovators and entrepreneurs are on campus today to talk about how the Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing the world—and how Michigan Tech leads the change. Alumnus Jim Fish is featured in this pre-talk Q&A.  

As part of the Tech Forward series, a panel of industry leaders will share their insights on the disruptive forces driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The discussion takes place at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the Rozsa Center For the Performing Arts. 

All of the presenters are Michigan Tech alumni who are part of the 14 Floors program, which focuses on fostering entrepreneurism and high-tech innovation in the context of global culture and economy. Fourteen Floors is designed to be an infinitely expandable structure analogous to the floors of a building, with something different happening on every floor, providing virtual suites of experiences for Huskies that connect them to innovators, entrepreneurs, mentors and potential employers.

Jim Fish ’90, an innovation consultant and one of the presenters, shares his views about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and how he thinks it will change our work, communities, organizations and economy.

A man with gray hair and tall skyscrapers in a city behind him.

 Jim Fish is on the panel of innovators and disruptors visiting campus this week. 

Q: You are a coach and mentor. What does that mean to you?

This work is a true passion of mine — helping highly creative entrepreneurs, who just happen to work at large companies, succeed in creating new value propositions. I help teams and people understand that thinking in counterintuitive ways is fundamental to succeeding.

Q: Why do you enjoy this type of work?

I love seeing the power of creativity and creating value via innovation. This theme resonates across everything I do, from the classes I teach at Wayne State University to the boards I serve on.

Q: How will the Fourth Industrial Revolution change our work, communities, organizations, and economy?

I’d say it has changed! Much of the change we already engage with every day. Chatbots communicate with us, machine learning-enabled solutions touch us constantly. I still remember my first email account at Ford in the early 1990s. As quickly as email became ubiquitous, it is now as quickly being phased out in favor of better solutions. Technology enables more than new solutions. It enables new ways of working, transactions and socializing. The Digital Natives — the Millennial generation — are comfortable with the pace of change. The rest of us just try to keep up!

Q: How do you best believe Michigan Tech can prepare graduates to lead and be successful in this era?

When I graduated from Tech in 1990, we were all pursuing jobs for life. Coming from a very small farming community, this was our ultimate aspiration. While many 1990s graduates still work for the company they started with after Tech, most have changed jobs and even careers. Flexibility and adaptability is critical to success in the digital world. The life expectancy of publicly traded companies has been shrinking for decades, but the compression of life is accelerating with the dawning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. One of my favorite quotes from Einstein says it best: “A person doesn't need to go to college to learn facts. He can get them from books. The value of a college education is that it trains the mind to think. And that's something you can’t learn from textbooks.”

Q: The Fourth Industrial Revolution means a lot of fast change. How should people handle this amount of change?

Those who thrive in these times of accelerating change are ironically those with strong entrepreneurial traits: curiosity, flexibility, persistence and having an open mind. Living your career like a start-up will lead to success. Don’t be afraid to pivot and don’t overestimate the risk you take by changing course. With a Tech education, you will be well-prepared to thrive if you apply the lessons learned.

Q: What are two of the most common questions you get asked in your work?

“How do I pursue entrepreneurial activities at a big company?” “Can we meet and connect?” I gain tremendous purpose by connecting “ingredients” together. Having a strong network means the ability to connect two people together. It is easy to put our heads down and focus on the array of short-term tasks that we have to deliver. Making time to connect gives you valued perspectives and makes you more effective. Networking and reading are hand-in-hand; dedicated time to these activities has a compounding effect.

Q: What led you to Michigan Tech?

My high school chemistry teacher was a Tech grad, and he got me thinking about a Tech education. Being from simple means meant my choices in college were limited. Michigan Tech is and was a great value.

Q: Why electrical engineering and business engineering administration?

Honest answer? Because I got a D in my first term in calculus at Tech and that put me on the immediate five-year plan. After another term of carrying only 12 credits, I stacked the business degree on top. The degrees led me down a career path that allowed me to find out what I was really brilliant at: product marketing and strategy. I’m forever grateful to those who made a difference in my life at Tech including Karol Pelc and Doc Wiitanen. Getting two degrees wasn’t my plan, but neither was starting and owning my own business. What a ride it’s been!

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.