29 June 2009

GBC Research in the News

Pandemic preparedness is a hot topic, and researchers from GBC's School of Emergency Management are working with Tenet Computer Group to test the company's Pandemic Management Toolkit. Read the press release here. A follow up story in Computer World Canada outlines the project in more detail.

The project with Tenet is part of our NSERC College and Community Innovation Program.

25 June 2009

ONE Way to Work Together in Support of Innovation

John Wilkinson, outgoing Minister of the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI), yesterday launched the Ontario Network of Excellence (ONE) during a speech at the Economic Club of Canada. The announcement is an update on the Ontario innovation system, and outlines how MRI is leveraging the considerable, collective assets supporting R&D in the province. Central here is the idea of an innovation ecosystem that MRI has been promoting for some time. This is the collaborate to compete model whereby all aspects of the system function in a complementary fashion in support of research, development and innovation. All of us involved in the innovation equation are oriented toward the same goal of increasing social and economic productivity in Canada.

Features of ONE include a client-focused and collaborative approach to the Ontario Commercialization Network whereby the parts are better integrated and coordinated, in order to make it easier for industry to access the intellectual and financial capital needed to create and improve new products and services. This is a transformation of the Ontario innovation system, said Wilkinson, calling it a "reboot" whereby industry can "access, understand, navigate and collaborate" with any part of the whole. This any point of access philosophy is in keeping with the kinds of systems approach many jurisdictions have constructed, from the EU, to the Boston Corridor and Singapore. A virtual, distributed research cluster built on the principles of a mesh network will offer seamless service delivery in support of R&D and innovation.

Four pillars will define ONE:
  1. The Ontario Centres of Excellence will lead the academic/industry partnership development portfolio, something OCE is already excelling at.
  2. Bringing new technologies to market will be led by MaRS, primarily through their Business Accelerator Program.
  3. Regional Innovation Networks across the province will provide points of presence and contact for industry for the network.
  4. Strategic financing will be provided by MRI.
All of these will be conjoined and oriented toward common metrics. These metrics, perhaps the most significant aspect of ONE, will ensure accountability and delivery on results. The metrics will be consistent across the network. ONE will "make geography irrelevant," as the focus will be on common innovation service delivery where the quality of ideas, depth of commitment, and the drive to succeed will be defining factors in the overall success of all, working together.

George Brown College, and our partners in the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII), are a core part of this network. Funding received in the last provincial budget has supported the continuation and expansion of CONII. GBC's own innovation support services are founded on this model of articulation and complementarity, and the ability to work within the innovation ecosystem in support of our common productivity goals.

Education is the foundation of the innovation economy, Wilkinson reminded the audience. Bringing talent into the innovation system is a key differentiator of the global economy where capital and labour are increasing mobile. The Ontario education and innovation systems will be well placed to integrate as the new MRI minister. John Milloy, is also Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. Our focus on fostering innovation literacy in our graduates commensurate with work on industry-facing applied research projects is fully aligned with the direction MTCU and MRI are headed. This is a significant step forward in ensuring that Ontario can regain its competitive edge and be a global player in research, development and innovation.

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.

12 June 2009

"There's no such thing as a science of innovation"

Shlomo Maital, noted economist and innovation guru, gave a talk to the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto the other day, in which he reminded the audience that "There's no such thing as a science of innovation." Science is based on the premise of contingent knowledge, whereby current understandings of the world are testable and evolve as we observe, review, and learn about phenomena. Maital's premise is that innovation is about breaking rules: there is no science inherent to innovation. Innovation is likened to the state of creativity a child has before going to school. Those who survive school with creativity intact are more likely to succeed in entrepreneurial activity, Maital posits. His talk - "Stumbling on the Star Trek Principle: Innovation Secrets of da Vinci, Edison, Einstein and Picasso" - outlined his view that, in order to succeed at disruptive innovation, we must "boldly go where no one has gone before". This is particularly important now, in the midst of a global depression, as history teaches us that depressions are the fulcrum for great innovation. Loathe to deploy business school jargon, Maital invoked the "paradigm shift," whereby the rules by which we do business will be fundamentally rewritten. Every single industry, he says, will rewrite its rules. Those who do the writing will emerge as the new leaders.

Many pundits have weighed in on similar issues, and there is evidence to support Maital's claims that innovation emerges from depressions. His trenchant question--what will the new rules of the game be?--can be resolved only through a creativity that leads to thinking differently. We must also be amenable to failure. "A reason to fail is a powerful lever for innovation," as it is the freedom to learn from failure that is the hallmark of innovators. "Innovation is breaking the rules" he says, and our ability to imagine the future (via a "future photograph"), combined with an ability to learn from mistakes, lets us enable a future state.

Maital ended with a call to action, to use the principles of design to design our lives. This is the basic principle of the Innovation Support Services that we use in our applied research services. That is, we focus on the intentional application of design and expertise within our faculty and student community to support innovative activity within the College and within industry partnerships. Design for us is the fulcrum for solving industry problems. A triad of programs at George Brown College--the Institute without Boundaries, the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Community Innovation, and the Research Commercialization and Innovation programs--all have design as a component of their educational programming. The GBC Research Labs has expertise in human centred and participatory design, and this informs our approach to collaborative problem solving with our partners.

While there may be no science of innovation, there is definitely a need for science in innovation. The intentional application of applied research and innovation services to industry needs and contexts means we focus less on discovery, and more on the design and diffusion of innovation - how to test the practicality of new products or services (adoption and adaptation). This application requires disciplined approaches to problem solving, to induce innovation and encourage its incipient growth.