In a recent meeting with Billy Stewart and Shomikho Raha from DFID, interesting questions were posed when we explained our innovation training offering, the Certificate in Innovation Management. Can you really teach innovation? Is there any school in the world which is teaching innovation? Isn’t innovation an inherent skill? My initial response to these questions was that innovation is not only about being creative. If innovation involves developing solutions that generate maximum value for end users, it can certainly be taught. But the big question is how?
Many design schools in India, and all over the world, have started encouraging students to develop their own methodologies for doing research to arrive at design ideas. In the process of doing so, students realize the value of user research for design. What is missing though is an understanding of a framework that can be applied to create context-specific designs, possibly because there is greater emphasis on form, function, and aesthetics, as opposed to the meaning of design. More importantly, there is a common perception that innovation cannot be structured as it would hinder the creative process.
Some large private corporate firms in India that we have interacted with or approached in the recent past are also looking for out-of-the-box, “creative” solutions to radically develop their innovation portfolio. However, they lack an understanding or focus on the larger, industry-specific challenges they need to address through these ideas. Developing their business portfolio may not be a good enough objective to arrive at solutions that make a substantial impact in the market. If they desire to achieve a competitive edge, they would need to approach innovation from a 180 degree turn, essentially thinking about the challenge first as opposed to solutions.
Approaches or methodologies to arrive at user-centered solutions may vary, some more participatory than others. However, the overarching innovation framework, which involves developing concepts more closely aligned with specific user needs and challenges and filtering the most effective solutions based on the value generated for different stakeholders, can certainly be routinized and taught. In order to achieve this, a mind shift change is required not only in academia, but also in industry, in terms of how to approach innovation.