23 June 2009

Design and the Business of Innovation

Following on the heels of my last post - "There's no such thing as a science of innovation" - I've been giving more thought to the business of design and its relation to innovation. As noted in that post, the GBC Research Labs offers our industry partners Innovation Support Services that comprise the intentional application of design and expertise within our faculty and student community to support industry projects. Design is "a new and underestimated aspect of innovation," according to the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (p. vii), and is one way that Canada can differentiate itself in the innovation marketplace. While there are many facets to design, design in all of its permutations is certainly on the ascendancy in terms of its relative merit to the science, technology and innovation enterprise.

As I noted earlier, the GBC Research Labs focuses on human centred and participatory design in our approach to innovation support and problem solving. Our staff are trained in these methods and precepts, and are expert at engaging all of our stakeholders in the applied research projects we undertake. This underscores our mandate of complementarity in the R&D continuum. I read recently about a distinction between science and technology that has its antecedents in 19th century industrialism. Science in this context is about discovery,whereas technology is about applying discoveries to problem solving.

University of Toronto President David Naylor, in his recent column in the alumni magazine, draws on this distinction as he outlines his view on the role of "Universities and the Innovation Economy." Naylor acknowledges the BERD|HERD disparity that hampers innovation in Canada, and posits a basic and functional antimetabole about the role of research in general:

Think of it this way. When industry does or sponsors applied research, necessity is the mother of invention. That’s an excellent source of incremental innovation. But when basic research is taken to the marketplace, invention becomes the mother of necessity. And whole new industries can emerge on the backs of disruptive technologies.
Key here is the difference between incremental and disruptive innovation. Both are essential components of the innovation equation.

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