Swatch watch co-inventor and innovation advocate Elmar Mock sat down with Northeastern Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Stephen W. Director on Tuesday afternoon to discuss Mock’s passion for creativity, risk-taking, and disruptive inventions.
Mock was the latest keynote speaker in Northeastern’s Profiles in Innovation Presidential Speaker Series, which brings the world’s most creative minds to campus for conversations on innovation and entrepreneurship.
In his lecture, Mock implored some 200 guests who filled the Raytheon Amphitheater and an overflow room to design an innovative way to help people and use the hurdles that will no doubt impede the journey as an opportunity to learn and grow.
“Create something. Transform something. Doing is important,” Mock told them during his talk. “Explore new know-how. Take interest in the know-how of others.”
In the early 1980s Mock co-invented the Swatch watch, a less costly alternative to a Swiss watch. It not only became a popular tool for telling time, selling more than 600 million watches, but it also became an iconic fashion brand.
During the Q&A following his remarks, Mock was asked how he knew the Swatch was worth developing. “We did not know we were starting a revolution,” Mock replied. “You never know you are starting a revolution in the moment you start it. You realize it later on.”
After the Swatch revolution, Mock founded Creaholic, an innovation factory where he and his team of 30 multidisciplinary fellows have worked on more than 700 projects. to find innovative solutions to global problems. One company Mock highlighted in his talk was Simixin, which offers smart water systems that promote water conservation and good hygiene.
“We have a misunderstanding [of the meanings of] innovation and renovation,” Mock said. “Renovation is just going step-by-step through a controlled situation. Innovation is not the pleasure to find something. Its clear target is improving the margin, which is the oxygen of industry.”
Growing up the son of a Swiss watchmaker, Mock said it was a forgone conclusion that he would continue in the family business. But that did not stop him from returning to school after working for a few years to expand his professional horizons.
Director noted how Mock’s blend of education and real world work experience mimics Northeastern’s co-op program, the cornerstone of the university’s experiential learning model.
“The way [Northeastern] is educating this young generation is very similar to the way I was educated in Switzerland,” Mock said. “Hands-on, learn out of the classroom, and explore what you learned in your work.”