“The goal of innovation is positive change, to make someone or something better … and is … important topic in the study of economics, business, entrepreneurship, design, technology, sociology, and engineering”(Wikipedia).
Unfortunately, most people restrict the definition of innovation to technology innovation, which limits the impact of innovation on wealth creation. New technology innovations can offer enormous societal and economic benefits, but only when users adopt them and wealth is created for these users and the technology producers, and consequently for regional economies. A country emulating a comprehensive innovation agenda must look at the broader role of innovation, both in terms of enabling technological innovation and improving or sustaining our standard of living.
Researchers often assume that simply developing novel technology will lead to rapid adoption and dissemination of the technology, but there is little evidence to support this assumption, or research to investigate how adoption and dissemination can be enhanced. Given that most (95%) technologies fail to reach market, and that most (90%) new ventures created from university research employ less than 10 people, existing assumptions about regional wealth creation need to be challenged.
The transfer of innovation to the broader community involves an understanding of society, and how trends and demographics will affect the demand for innovations. It requires an understanding of both the psychology of individuals deciding whether to adopt an innovation, and a comprehension of the economics of marketplace efficiencies.
To be successful, innovators need to understand how legal systems work, specifically how IP can first be protected and then shared. They also need to understand how institutions function, the role of trade policies and the nature of trade barriers. For innovations taken to market through the creation of a new venture, a better understanding of entrepreneurship is required, as well as the traditional business skills of marketing and finance. Further, the successful development of high growth companies (rather than just start-ups) requires a profound understanding of how people assess risk, manage processes, and build and develop personal networks.
Reducing barriers to innovation success requires a better understanding of people, their values, their skills, their relationships and their decision-making processes. Developing this understanding is at the heart of a strong innovation agenda. An understanding of how society and individuals will adopt innovations is critical; the alternate technology push model will consistently fail.
In reviewing the current issues that may limit innovation adoption rates this month, we note: globalization (G20), pollution (BP), privacy (Facebook), moral hazard (bank bailout) and demographics (health care costs). These are people issues. Technology does not drive innovation; people drive innovation.
If Canada is truly to become and innovation nation, we need to address critical challenges that combine both technology innovation and an understanding of the social issues around each. Technology development in a vacuum will not achieve the required results.
Bringing research into law, government policy, economics, management, psychology, finance, sociology and history can contribute to Canada’s innovation agenda. Improved understanding of each of these disciplines is not an adjunct to innovation, or simply a catalyzer of technology innovation. These disciplines help us to define the process of innovation, measure innovation outcomes and identify opportunities for improvement.
Andy is currently working at the Canadian Innovation Centre and pursuing a Ph.D. in the area of new venture creation at the University of Waterloo. In his spare time, he enjoys teaching technology entrepreneurship at UTM and the University of Waterloo.