Businessweek’s innovation guru Bruce Nussbaum offers a view on educating for innovation by comparing what he sees happening in Chinese and US education; meanwhile, over at Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter argues for the advantages for innovation the accrues from serving the disadvantaged. First, Nussbaum, reporting as he travels China for four weeks:
* Asia wants to shift its education from math and science to creativity. America wants to shifts its education from creativity to math and science. Maybe we should just exchange teachers.
* Asian universities are opening thousands of design programs and departments to promote creativity. The most popular degree in America continues to be the traditional business degree (22% of all degrees granted in the US are in business).
* Asian governments are pouring billions of yuan, Singapore dollars, won, Taiwanese dollars and other currencies into the promotion of creativity, innovation and design in their countries. The US is still defining innovation solely as technology and pouring billions of dollars into hard science, biotech, nanotech. Not much into creativity.
Conclusion? How do you spell “road kill,” as on the way to the future.
And second, Kanter, who is wonderfully finding a nexus between service to the disadvantaged and developing skills of innovation, by taking the problems and challenges of the disadvantages as incentive to find new solutions:
When solving problems of disadvantage is at the forefront, five innovation advantages can accrue:
- Bigger idea pool: a wider search is wider for broader ideas with bigger potential. People search more broadly, see more opportunities, and generate more ideas if they are encouraged to think about the world and not just about their function. If they look closely at society, not just as a market abstraction but as a collection of fellow humans with needs worthy of attention, they see that there is always room for improvement. “Better” is always a moving target. Having more ideas enter the innovation funnel provides more options and more improvements.
- Greater solutions-orientation: motivation to serve customers and users. When people feel their ideas will contribute to serving society, beyond the quest for revenues and profits, there is an additional motivational boost to focus on new solutions, not just pushing more of what they already know. They care about solving the problem because it is connected with their values, and they are willing to keep working until the problem is solved, not just until they have a product to throw over the transom. They want to engage those who have the problem in defining if the solution works for them. This puts passion and heart into user-directed innovation.
- Open innovation: a greater willingness to draw on resources outside the organization, to work with partners, and to share ideas. Open innovation — the sharing of ideas among partners and willingness to draw on other people’s technology in the service of a higher end — relies less on pride of ownership; the important thing is getting the job done.
- Less politics, less controversy, greater cooperation. Values and principles provide a basis for cordial internal conversation that elicits cooperation. This makes it possible for innovators to assemble the right team quickly, because others in the organization share a common goal despite the different positions they occupy. Invoking shared values can also wear down opponents and critics, surfacing the underlying interests that negotiations scholars find makes “Yes” a likely answer. Tying projects to enduring principles helps people rise above politics. Putting the good of the wide external community first helps get backing in the internal company community.
- Faster execution: shorter communication and feedback loops. The very articulation of societal purpose as a driver of innovation helps shorten mental and organizational loops. Greater awareness on everyone’s part of their role in an end-to-end chain of impact can help bridge the gap between theory and practice. The research lab can come closer to the world of users, and those working with the wider society closer to the developers of new technology.