Innovation research: why you don’t need a heart attack to qualify as a cardiologist

Today's Businessweek piece by Maddock and Louis Viton  on how education and professors might not do much for innovation made me smile. Because this is exactly how I thought before becoming an academic  from being a hands on manager. The logic is like going to a doctor whose qualification must include  having your illness. The MD is hardly relevant!  But I digress…

To be a college professor with tenure you need to be a proven expert by publications in your field. In other words, you should have first learnt and then extended knowledge in whatever field significantly before you are tenured after which you sort of continue extending the field out of well, habit. A bit like the cardiologist who goes through  years of residency under close supervision and keeps honing her/his skills with every patient and recent medical research.

There are literally thousands of pieces of research on the "fuzzy front end" of innovation that the authors talk about. The professor is able to bring the most relevant pieces to the table for a particular audience. If it involves culture change "on a template"  there is lots of research on how that is done. In fact there is a Harvard case on IDEO which explains why organizations outsource design because they are unable to change their cultures to accommodate designing just as organizations outsource advertising to advertising agencies and don't try to create ad copy in the marketing department.

Organizations is a key word here because you can't bring scale  to an innovation without an organization and organizations need people and processes to scale . Recent innovators like Facebook have expanding organizations  who are hiring. And you can be sure that the Facebook organization has processes and developing more as they go along.  Professors studying innovation and it's processes don't sound like "doing" much but it's like becoming the expert cardiologist who knows exactly which artery to unclog.

Full disclosure: This blogger is a college professor !

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