25 April 2011

ORION Summit 2011 a Success

The ORION 2011 Summit - Innovation Needs A Backbone - was one week ago, and I've been remiss in posting some thoughts on it (other than through Twitter). In short, it was a very good conference that included many excellent discussions on the future of RD&I: research, development and innovation, as enabled by high bandwidth technologies such as ORION. On Monday I convened a panel discussion on the role of colleges in applied research. It was an excellent overview from knowledgeable people who are focused on improving our record on innovation and productivity. The role of student training was nicely discussed - reflecting earlier thoughts on the multiplier effect of preparing a future workforce with innovation literacy skills.

Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS, introduced day 2, reminding us to galvanize our local assets as highly qualified and skilled people are highly mobile globally. Significantly, she said we need to generate "stickiness": an affinity to Canada that will help get our best ideas into the market. During a panel convened by MRI on the new Research and Innovation Centres (RICs), one panelist commented on the need for virtual density - the way in which RICs and all actors in the innovation ecosystem are connected through ORION to provide any point of access service to discoveries seeking market entry from university labs and/or firms seeking innovation support. The notion of distributed research clusters is one that Canada can particularly excel at, given our wide geography and distributed expertise. Linking talent across the country to provide innovation support services - a point  GBC made in our submission to the R&D Review Panel - is one way we can build Canadian capacity to accelerate innovation, and enable the innovation economy generally. And there is good precedent for this: have a look at a recent study on clusters in Norway referenced in this Blogging Innovation post: Innovation Requires Global Pipelines Not Local Clusters.

It's worth providing the following in full; it's food for thought:
The results indicate that firm innovation in urban Norway is mainly driven by global pipelines, rather than local interaction. The most innovative – both in terms of basic product innovation and radical product and process innovation – firms are those with a greater diversity of international partners. Local and even national interaction seems to be irrelevant for innovation. Furthermore, the individual attitudes of the manager make a difference for the firms’ engagement with the outside world. More open-minded managers have a greater diversity of international partners and rely more on global pipelines, whereas those with higher levels of regional trust depend on local and, to a lesser extent, national contacts. (p5)
When local interaction does not suffice: Sources of firm innovation in urban Norway, by Rune Dahl Fitjar and Andrés Rodríguez-Pos.
Dr Gilles Patry, President of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, gave an overview of infrastructure supports CFI provides, including the new College-Industry Innovation Fund. He reminded the audience that "it's people not organizations who innovate." Innovation is a social act; promoting people-centred innovation is a key focus for those of us engaged in supporting Canada's innovation system. Patry outlined three issues:
1. We are in a global war for talent (see Ilse Treurnicht's comment, above)
2. Innovation is a national agenda
3. The power of networks.
Patry's point is that we need to develop an entrepreneurial, risk-taking culture as part of a national innovation strategy, and this should be enabled by the training of skilled workers through research-based education. Part of this involves developing what Matt Ratto, UofT faculty member and founder of the Academic-Private-Public consortium DDMIT lab calls "interactional expertise." This is a great term useful for describing the kinds of amorphous skills we can associate with people-centred innovation and innovation literacy - the capacity for adoptation and development for in situ innovation.

13 April 2011

GBC Students to showcase OCE Connections Projects

Join George Brown College faculty, students, and industry partners on Tuesday 3 May at the Casa Loma campus (see map) to learn about the applied research and innovation projects conducted this past year as part of the Ontario Centres of Excellence Connections program. For those that cannot attend the whole day, you are invited to join us for the Networking Lunch to learn more about George Brown College's applied research and innovation industry support services, and what our talented faculty and students can do to enable your innovation.

Please RSVP to research@georgebrown.ca

10:00 AM Opening Remarks
10:10 AM Sustainable Housing Design in Earthquake and Tsunami Zones
10:25 AM Prototype of a Wheelchair Hockey Stick
10:40 AM The Design, Implementation and Integration of IP PBX and Google services
10:55 AM City Systems Year Two: Universally Local Urban Revitalization Strategies
11:10 AM BREAK
11:25 AM Genetic Variation and Fat Taste
11:40 AM Nuevo Chiflon del Diablo: Sustainable Tourism Development in a Post‐Mining Economy
11:55 AM Portable Wind Powered Generator Test Bed
12:10 PM Integrated Energy and Home Automation Systems
1:25 PM Afternoon Opening Remarks
1:40 PM Heart Monitoring Vest – Female Vest Prototype
1:55 PM Comparative Pectin Analysis for Mill Pond Fruit Butters
2:10 PM Community in a Container: Community Systems Exploration and Design
2:25 PM Powered Water Pump for Developing Countries
2:55 PM Remote Operated Vehicle Test Bed
3:10 PM IP PBX and Application for VoIP Based Home Automation System
3:25 PM Resilient Cities: Exploring Community Resiliency After Natural and Man‐made Disasters
3:40 PM Vertical Axis Wind Turbine: From Proof of Concept to Production
3:55 PM Closing Remarks

Entrepreneurship, or, Enabling the Innovation Economy

I've been giving innovation and entrepreneurship a lot of thought - particularly since we are having a whole day on this at the Polytechnics Canada conference on 5 and 6 May. Part of the conference will be working sessions designed to articulate solutions that leverages all aspects of the education and innovation system and the innovation skills needed for Canadian productivity.

One thing that I came across recently that is of interest to anyone in this space: Skills for Innovation and Research (2011) OECD Publishing. There is a good definition of entrepreneurship, including the summation: "creativity seems to be a necessary but not sufficient precondition of entrepreneurship." To this I would add the ability to analyze, think critically, and focus on human-centred product or process development and what I have called "adoptation"--the ability to adopt and adapt: precepts central to innovation literacy.

I've written before on the double helix nature of the multiplier effect needed for our "innovation DNA": the need for both graduate/undergraduate trained innovators with complementary STEM/nonSTEM skills as essential for productive innovation. A mixture of skills is needed for innovation, but this mixture is always in flux. There is no static model for what constitutes the optimal mix of skills as these are variable and according to the need of innovation-in-context. This is a very important point as it means there is no magic bullet solution for fixing innovation. Rather, we need a constant commitment to reinvention and an additive ability to learn, to translate (user needs to design specifications, for example), to embrace change and adoptation. These skills are additive both in terms of what it means to an individual and in terms of the multiplier effect in work groups or teams, but also in the ongoing iterative nature of innovation that builds on histories of innovation and invention.

OECD's Skills for Innovation and Research tells us that there are several influencers of what innovation skill sets are required. These include: "the stage of innovation, the type of innovation, and the industry structure," to which I would add industry context vis-à-vis other industries. This last point refers to concepts such as open innovation, participatory innovation, and the ability for firms to collaborate across industries. Here again, the OECD Innovation Strategy skills show the value of nonSTEM skills as a complement to STEM skills in providing ways to develop business ideas based on science. Technical skills are the substrate on which innovation is based. We must assume this "ground", and look at the ancillary skills we associate with innovation literacy as being the "figure" of innovation. This figure is the entrepreneur, set against the backdrop of innovation-in-context.

One thing this OECD document states is that "More evidence is needed on the relationship between specific skill groups and innovation" (12). I've not mentioned this in this space before, but GBC is leading a large scale study on Measuring Innovation Literacy that will do this - the first of its kind in Canada. I'll post more on this study later, but our hypothesis is that we will show the value of the double multiplier, particularly the STEM/nonSTEM mix aspect - to be crucial to improving our innovative capacity as a country. In the Skills for Innovation section (p31 ff) we see the difficulty of coming up with a taxonomy of sorts to define what is needed to foster innovation. This is our collective opportunity to define the genre of innovation in Canada. That is, a complementary mix of skills is needed, including a solid grounding in STEM disciplines. But innovation leadership requires more than this. STEM grads need business training in order to fully realize their place in the innovation economy. Managerial and entrepreneurial talent are the purview of nonSTEM disciplines. This does not get enough discussion. Pundits typically decry the lack of STEM skills in North American society - and to be sure we need scientific literacy firmly grounded in our educational psyche. But we must not ignore the nonSTEM disciplines as adding a lot of value to the mix. Again, this is not a zero-sum game. (As an aside, here are two Twitter posts on both sides of this equation: People-Centred Innovation: WSJ.com - Vint Cerf's Opinion: How to Fire Up U.S. Innovation and Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities. My opinion: neither is right; neither is wrong.)

Education is the single biggest element of innovation here - providing it, encouraging it, and supporting it life-long, and life-wide. What I am arguing for here is an "entrepreneurial upskilling" of STEM/nonSTEM talent alike, as well as the need for innovation literacy at all levels of the workforce. Complementarity of education systems - university, polytechnic and college - is essential. Here the OECD tells us that universities are adept at disruptive innovation and basic research, whereas the vocational college/polytechnic is adept at incremental innovation - the applied research and experimental development parts of the innovation value chain. Both are necessary. This complementary linkage of differentiated actors in the educational/innovation system was nicely highlighted in the discussion that followed my appearance, alongside Queen's University's John Molloy at the R&D Review Panel last December.

The Public Policy Forum recently published Innovation Next: Leading Canada to Greater Productivity, Competitiveness and Resilience, which further underscores the need for bold leadership across and within sectors and silos. We are all oriented to the same goal of increasing and improving our productivity. Our discussion in May will be drawing on these insights and leveraging the group convened to push this agenda forward. Entrepreneurship is key to enabling the innovation economy. The responsibility for improving innovation does not rest on any one system actor, group, or set of disciplines. Rather, it is in the mix of a people-centred, participatory innovation.

08 April 2011

MEIC launches new Board, charts the future of innovation

Earlier this week I attended the inaugural Annual general Meeting of the Mobile Experience Innovation Centre (MEIC). The MEIC is led by OCAD, and is bringing together public and private organizations to support and sponsor innovation in the mobile technology space. The AGM featured presentations from some nifty mobile start ups -  including one called Guardly that is doing some cool social media stuff with emergency alerting and the like. The AGM featured the election of a Board of Directors - myself included - and I am looking forward to working with my colleagues to move our innovation agenda forward. MEIC has really been leading in the mobile innovation space for the past several years, and what's next promises even more excitement. Stay tuned.

04 April 2011

Polytechnics Canada welcomes NAIT as new member

Today marks the return of the Northern Alberta institute of Technology to the Polytechnics Canada fold. Read the press release here.

01 April 2011

Desgning the Future: World IP Day

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) is participating in Designing the Future: World Intellectual Property Day on 26 April, with events all month. CIPO offers Canadian schools access to good case studies on IP issues. These are excellent resources relevant for anyone learning about or working (or about to work) with applied research where IP will arise (read: likely all). Understanding IP - and the rights and responsibilities we all have when working on all forms of research - is an important component of innovation literacy.
See www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/worldipday.