30 August 2010

Innovation Receptor Capacity for Canada's Research

University of Toronto president David Naylor and UBC president Stephen Toope today debunk seven myths regarding innovation in Canada. In "Don’t swallow these innovation nostrums," Naylor and Toope make a strong case for complementary research - linking basic and applied research - and the building up of Canada's business receptor capacity to commercialize ideas and innovations. I don't agree with their assertion that governments should not set research priorities. Rather, setting priorities enables us to focus our energies and resources on those areas and issues that will have the most impact on our national economy.

Naylor and Toope articulate the value of science and technology education, but also the importance of producing graduates with social innovation skills gained through non-technical courses of study. Promoting innovation literacy means producing "independent-minded university and college graduates from diverse backgrounds [that] are critical to building creative societies with innovative foundations." This is required reading for prescribing a national innovation system.

23 August 2010

Innovation and Human Centred Design

An excellent article in today's Globe and Mail discusses the relationship of human-centred design and the business of innovation. In "Extreme affordability: Why we must wear the user’s shoes," Neil Seeman and Kenneth Lam illustrate how important it is to foster a user-centred perspective when designing any innovation and its ultimate integration into practical use. Theirs is a case study in the need for applied research and experimental development - the two latter phases of research according to the OECD Frascati Manual - where low cost solutions are found by putting ones self into the everyday experience of the end user of a particular product or service.

There are many examples of this approach around George Brown College. From Jamie McIntyre's (CCET) innovative approach to New Product Development using a quasi experimental/retrospective approach to user inclusion, to RJ Clements' (CSHS) experimentation with the Wu Casting Technique to lower the cost of prosthetics for third world applications, many GBC programs such as the Institute without Boundaries and the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Community Innovation (BA&D),  integrate this approach. The Research Commercialization and Innovation teaches this explicitly because we understand the necessity to equip our graduates with an innovation literacy that includes the ability to understand the end-user experience as a foundation for building future innovative products, services, and processes.

As I've noted earlier, our expertise in human centred and participatory design informs our approach to collaborative problem solving with our partners.

18 August 2010

Recombinant R&D

I was remiss in posting another link to a good article in Monday's Globe: "Commercialize or Calcify" by Daniel Muzyka, dean of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. Muzyka adds to the growing chorus about the need to "re-energize Canada's economic engine . . . through innovation and commercialization." Like other university commentators Muzyka's focus is solely on the role of university research, neglecting the importance of leveraging all aspects of the innovation system in the colleges and polytechnics. Regardless, he offers important words of advice on the nature of innovation (it's incremental) and the need for businesses to step up their game, invest in R&D while leveraging financing available from funding agencies such as NSERC who are committed to supporting business and academic partnerships in support of innovation and improved productivity.

16 August 2010

Open Innovation in Practice, Not Theory

Here is a link to a good piece in the NY Times on Open Innovation: : Innovate, Yes, but Make It Practical http://nyti.ms/9L9hit. It contains a few examples of what it means to listen to market needs in the development of new products and services. Thanks to Andrew Jenkins, member of GBC's Innovation Advisory Board, for sending the link.

On a somewhat related note, Roseann O'Reilly Runte, president of Carleton University has this to say about education and its relationship to civic engagement. While Runte focuses solely on university education and financing it in support of broader wealth creation, the same arguments apply across the education system as a whole.

10 August 2010

Comment on Canada's Innovation Malaise

Conference Board of Canada president Anne Golden's op-ed piece today comments on Canada's Innovation Malaise. Golden does a good job of explaining why Canada is so poor at innovation, focusing on our cultural disposition toward "our traditional sense of caution." It is this sense of caution that prevents us from taking risks. As one of the comments points out, Canada does too good a job at tearing others down, rather than celebrate entrepreneurial thinking. Perhaps this is a throwback to having to live together in a harsh environment - we've taken a sense of community too far to countenance divergence (in this regard we exemplify the Japanese proverb "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down"). Regardless, we need to continue to foster education that trains highly qualified and skilled personnel with innovation literacy and with downstream effects on productivity front of mind. We need to reassure ourselves that it is okay to focus on the commercialization of ideas emerging from basic R&D. Taking  a complementary approach to conducting R&D within open innovation, and not shying away from risks but rather celebrating risk-taking and finding reassurance in failure as a basis for learning will help us find new ways of doing things to replace simple fealty to resource extraction.

06 August 2010

New funding for college applied research

The Canada Foundation for Innovation recently announced its anticipated College applied research infrastructure program. While details are yet to be forthcoming, this is another positive step toward ensuring that the Canadian innovation system can meet the R&D needs of SMEs. As I've written about previously, improving Canadian productivity is essential. This is particularly so given the world economic crisis from which we are slowly emerging.

Other recent research funding news of note is SSHRC's new program architecture. SSHRC is making headway in fostering partnerships - the focus of their first round of grants under their new program. Partnerships are the cornerstone of complementarity, and, as I've said before, the Canadian innovation system requires a complementary approach that articulates universities, government labs and colleges working together with industry -- and community partners -- toward common goals of national importance.

SSHRC's role in promoting social innovation will be significant. SSHRC is ideally positioned to play a lead role in social innovation and entrepreneurship, essential components of a balanced approach to our collective national attempt to improve social and economic productivity.