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Questions on Accelerating Innovation




Charles R. B. Stowe MBA, JD, Ph.D


Some futurists claim that the “future” is approximately 30 years away (  Whatever the “average” amount of time between conception of a “new” idea ,and its attainment (the future), the interesting question is whether a society has the ability to “accelerate” innovation.  Is there something that society can do to increase the rate of change of innovation and discovery? 


The creation of the internet emerged from the US Department of Defense that was aimed at increasing research productivity through a shared  network of scientists communicating and sharing information with each other.  Having achieved a world-wide, inexpensive to use system, are there any other strategies that society can harness to speed up the rate of innovation?


In April 2010, a team of prominent deans of business schools under the auspices of the AACSB International (an organization that grants accreditation to business programs)  published their findings related to the role of business schools in promoting innovation.  Lead by Dean Bob Sullivan (University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California), the team suggested that business schools have not exactly been invited to table by media, governments and trade organizations interested in advancing innovation.  The team observed that many reports dealing with the need to promote innovation that received extensive publicity did not include representatives from the nation’s business schools.  The team called for efforts by business schools to re-look at their curriculum.


Years ago, academe debated whether entrepreneurship is an innate talent or whether entrepreneurship can be taught.  After nearly a decade and thousands of published studies, most business professors concluded that entrepreneurship could be taught and courses in entrepreneurship jumped from some 250 in the early 1980’s to well over 2,000 courses by 2000. 


As with entrepreneurship, the issue of innovation will require wrestling with some basic questions:  can it be taught?  If so, how should it be taught and by whom?  It is one thing to talk about behavioral issues such as government incentives for entrepreneurship, it is quite another to define the skills sets and information that would actually train or educate a person to be “innovative.”  Some will argue that being innovative is a state of mind, like a personality trait that is either present or absent.  But, it may be likely that academe will find that as with entrepreneurship where necessity is the motherhood of invention, the same may be observed in innovation. 


It may be useful to explore a strategy to better investigate innovation.  First, developing a focused definition may be useful.  And second, the proper context is critical.  For example, innovation should not be tied to scientific, patentable inventions or we will be looking a merely developing more engineers in the name of promoting more innovation.  A definition that allows innovation to span all types of organizations (such as government, private business, and non-profits) may allow for a more significant path of discovery.  Getting to a definition is important because too narrow a definition may shut out other disciplines such as psychiatry, psychology, education, fine arts, political and other social sciences as well as the business disciplines. 


The next line of inquiry may be to investigate how we recognize what is innovative.  My studies reveal that much innovation is quite hidden from the casual observer or that the innovation is so prevalent that it remains unseen and unstudied. For example, one of the major innovations that literally transformed Wall Street and the merger and acquisition industry was the development and use of electronic spreadsheets (LOTUS 1-2-3, and Microsoft’s Excel).   While many attribute Wal-Mart’s success to their innovation of “everyday low prices,” such a strategy would not have been profitable if Wal-Mart had not developed incredible logistics and inventory management systems. 


There is a body of research and commentary that may help in the quest to determine whether innovation can be accelerated by education that includes the works of Schumpeter and Drucker and Chao.  Drucker’s book on Capitalism and Innovation written in the early 80’s suggests seven different sources of innovation.  Chao’s Innovation Nation builds a strong case that America is losing its competitive advantage in being entrepreneurial.


The effort to investigate our understanding of the process of innovation has significant implications for management education.  Managers in all forms of organizations need to be better equipped to manage the process of encouraging innovation while also having a deeper understanding of how to influence or develop an innovative culture within their organizations.


The issue of innovation is central to the rate at which society can cope with its challenges.  Welcome aboard!





This Economics & Policy article was written by Charles R.B. Stowe on 4/26/2010

BA Vanderbilt, MBA University of Dallas, JD University of Houston law Center, Ph.D Warsaw University (School of Management). 15 Years Venture Capital, Corporate VP New England Paper company & CEO Real Estate Development.
27 years in Higher Ed. Currently, Dean, College of Business and Public Affairs, Lander University, Greenwood, SC. Author “”How to Start Your Business with No Investors and No Debt”” Edpubtech, Inc.