‘Innovation 101’



By Aditya Dev Sood

Yesterday, the entire staff of UK’s National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) participated in what they called an innovation 101 seminar. Their goal was to expose the 70 odd people who work there in different capacities to everything that one is talking about when one talks about innovation — and that can be a lot of things from a lot of disciplines.

To be an innovation expert today, you would need exposure to Economics, particularly the writings of Joseph Schumpeter, Sociology, including perhaps the work of Everett Rogers and Herbert Simon, Management, through Peter Drucker, Cybernetics and Systems Thinking, including Joseph Engelberger, User-Centered Design, as in Eric von Hippel, and Design Theory, for example Armand Hatchuel. You still wouldn’t be done, because you’d need to know something about how start-up innovation works, and how new products actually come to market, for which you’d be better of reading contemporary blogs, such as those by Fred Wilson and even, for example, this blog, Design Public.

But beyond the theoretical sources, you might also want to learn the basics of ethnography, how to undertake design analysis, how to plan and participate in an innovation workshop. You would want to know how to manage a design team and how to plan an innovation process as its activities unfurl over the course of a year or more. You would want to acquire confidence through collaboration and learn how to make new things possible.

This list is intimidating, but that is not the point. Rather, we must recognize that innovation is not taught in a structured manner in most institutions of higher education today. It naturally follows that those of us who are involved in this area of emerging expertise must find ways of organizing this knowledge for ourselves and teaching it to one another in appropriate ways well into our adult lives and professional careers.

There would seem to be a tremendous need not only for exposure to the theoretical materials mentioned above, but also for the practical knowledge of how to apply that knowledge to real world challenges. This could be an area where CKS can make a real contribution, but we cannot do it alone. How could we better provide this kind of training to organizations and individuals who need it?

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