Here’s a question: can you train someone to be innovative; or is it a talent? In the next couple of years I am going to be testing this issue by setting up a PhD researcher programme focussed on innovation as a partnership between The Work Foundation and Lancaster University. The PhD students will develop skills and practices around knowledge exchange, enterprise and team building and we hope to launch a pilot next May where we will be matching students and industry experts, drawn from partners of The Work Foundation, to work on an innovation related issue.
Innovation: innate talent or a skill that can be taught?
Authors: Professor Christopher May
Professor Christopher May, Professor of Political Economy, Lancaster University
20 November 2013
Of course, I hope we don’t discover that innovation is just an innate talent as otherwise it’s going to be difficult to train people in innovation - unless I develop a test for finding those who have a talent for innovation in the first place. And it is unlikely that they would be the most likely to benefit from what I have in mind if they can already do it without help! I have no idea whether it will work but one of the much valued aspects of my role at Lancaster University is that I can start work on this without a firm idea of its plausibility; I have an opening to be creative and innovative myself which is a good start.
You might want to know that I am the Associate Dean: External Relations & Enterprise in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Lancaster University where as part of my managerial role, I developed a new enterprise centre for the faculty employing a small team with a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to expand and further develop knowledge exchange activities.
But perhaps most importantly, before I became a professor I worked in the private sector for 15 years – in the record industry and then for my family’s small company. I’ll save that story for another blog if anyone is interested, but I have some sympathy for the argument that you learn a lot more from failure than success. Dealing with my father’s failure as a businessman and rescuing the family’s company taught me a lot that I hadn’t learnt working for successful firms. What this varied experience means is that I have (I think) a good feel for how the commercial sector and the university sector might profitably engage and collaborate. The programme I am working on reflects this conviction and over the next weeks and months, I will be sharing my ideas on the development of the programme. I will be seeking your help and advice on things that I am trying to resolve, trying to further develop an understanding of the requirements for innovation, and perhaps revealing something about the contemporary world of higher education.
If you want to keep up with my musings more regularly, why not follow me on Twitter (@chrismayLU) to see what I am thinking about on a daily basis. As a political economist, I spent 15 years exploring the issues around intellectual property (although I have now moved on to other work) as well as issues ranging from the music industry’s future to why John Ruskin’s ideas might relate to the financial crisis; I have a page on academia.edu where this work is free to access should you be interested in exploring my reflections on these and other subjects.
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