We must cross the academia-industry barrier twice

Like Jane Goodall, the legendary researcher of chimpanzee behavior, entering her field research site in Africa, another academic researcher has just crossed the magical divide separating the safety of her academic life from the, so called, “real” life. Now, armed with a clipboard and a pen, she sits quietly in an office chair, surrounded by a local firm’s population of males and females. The employees.

They are busy with themselves. The researcher almost succeeded in blending with the group. They seem not to notice her presence, but still she reminds himself “No sudden movements!”, as not to interfere with the natural order of things and thus taint the project by what is known as “the observer effect”. To be subjected to reinvention, the employee organizational behavior, the usual menu of leadership styles and teamwork patterns, must be observed and described in its natural environment and its natural expression. Warts and all.

Several times during the day the individuals aggregate around the place where the water source is located. These random meetings provide opportunities for strengthening social interactions and, probably, help dominants maintain the status quo, for it always is in need of maintaining. For example, a young buck, a freshly matured male, tries to assert his social status by presenting to the rest of the population a new tool, the operation of which is not easily accessible to the older males. They watch his nimble fingers effortlessly moving the cursor on the screen during his presentation of a new and complicated software package. A new generation is clearly poised to take over.

During a ritualized ceremony, organized by another young individual on the occasion of her birthday, all other members of the pack were offered food items (clearly to reduce potential acts of aggression), but not until they all sang, in unison and a capella, a loud song. The functional significance of this social custom has yet to be ascertained, although one may speculate that such behavior evolved to deter predators (read: auditors) and ensure safety of the population.

Some behaviors, known as very effective agents for strengthening social bonds, are surprisingly rare in this population: mutual grooming and removal of skin parasites, or sharing regurgitated food, are virtually nonexistent. At least in the presence of the researcher. Sporadic bodily contacts through the proverbial and nonsexual “pat on the back” may occasionally be observed. In spite of this, or thanks to it, social capital seems to be healthy and all individuals seem to be genuinely happy to come to work.

However, it does not make the researcher’s work any less stressful. When distributing her surveys, the researcher assumes, a priori, a nonthreatening or even submissive pose and uses self-deprecating humor. This always works in reducing potential aggression or resentment and then the researcher is happy: special moments occur when she strikes brief but friendly conversations with some of the individuals. And so, hours turn into days, days into months, and finally an academic publication will see the light of day. And begins its march to academic oblivion…

It is, therefore, crucial that the culmination of the entire research process should be to traverse the academia-industry barrier for the second time, in the opposite direction, to bring the knowledge back to where the data originated. Any researcher should strive to make time for this last step. The researcher must explain to the company managers not only what the employees actually do in the workplace but why they do what they do. That is when the academic research becomes relevant and contributes to the process of business reinvention.

Michal Jasienski, writing from the Center for Innovatics, Nowy Sacz Business School – National-Louis University, Poland.

The elusiveness of innovation

The apparent inability of European countries to catch up or win the innovation race with the United States is puzzling. The problem persists in spite of substantial funding efforts and numerous initiatives on the part of the EU. I believe one of the main causes is not lack of material support but insufficient emphasis on developing appropriate organizational cultures, particularly soft skills. This is indeed ironic, since changing organizational cultures requires only modification of mental attitudes, not costly investments in infrastructure etc. Traditional and non-innovative modes of thinking dominate not only in universities and governmental institutions, but also in R&D organizations, think tanks and foundations.

Even  start-ups created by academically-trained entrepreneurs, often develop organizational customs and informal behaviors that, unwittingly, resemble those dominating in more traditional organizations. The typical features are: a hierarchical pecking order, hierarchy based on age and title rather than accomplishments, and cross-disciplinary or even cross-institutional links greeted with suspicion. This is a recipe for stagnation, not innovation.

In contrast, even those universities (such as Harvard University) that place great emphasis on cultivating traditions and customs, have established new policies and organizational cultures that ensure energetic and vigorous commitment to pushing the innovation frontier. Mentioning here the innovation-oriented and youthful entrepreneurial cultures of Silicon Valley or the Kendall Square area in Boston would be stating the obvious.

I argue that a workplace  conducive to innovation should possess certain characteristics:

  • stress-free and peer-pressure-free, because employees are easily intimidated and embarrassed, when their contributions are expected to be non-standard or novel
  • hierarchy-free, because employees perform better and their spontaneity is improved when formal relations among them are minimized rather than emphasized
  • routine-free, suspenseful and fun, because people are easily bored, enjoy being spontaneous and tend to be more creative when they are playful
  • stimulating by providing immediate feedback and hints, because people are impatient and adding a sense of urgency has a beneficial effect on the creative process
  • orderly, because providing easy access to fact checking facilitates idea evaluation by removing ambiguities or imprecision. “Creative chaos” is beneficial only if it is under control
  • interdisciplinary, because providing inspiration from other disciplines may generate the beneficial effect of “consilience”. Innovative managers should look for inspiration in areas other than their area of technical expertise, but always staying in touch with the needs of the industry. Radically new ideas and novel solutions to old problem reside in the zone of influence of many disparate disciplines.

How then to build an environment conducive to innovation? First, training for soft skills, i.e. of training non-autocratic management styles and creative/heuristic methods. I believe it is possible to train managers to be “softer” and to train employees to be more creative.

 

Michal Jasienski, writing from the Center for Innovatics, Nowy Sacz Business School – National-Louis University, Poland

Maybe brainstorming isn’t such a great idea

A recent Co.Design post posits that “Brainstorming is Dumb“. Instead, the post – based on research published in Human Factors and Ergonomics Society by Paul Paulus – suggests that a process referred to as “brainwriting” is much more effective. So, what’s the difference between the brainstorming we know and love and brainwriting? The main difference lies in the solitary work involved in brainwriting. So, next time you’re looking for a fresh new idea, instead of getting everyone together for yet another vocal brainstorming session, include solitary time during which individuals articulate ideas on paper.

A “business model” for academia?

Academics put a lot of effort into conducting research, writing about this research and getting their papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Unfortunately, many practitioners find these papers dense and perhaps even a bit boring, and so avoid reading them. Meanwhile, many of these papers offer implications that could be of value for business.

In response to this and the growing popularity of social network sites, some academic journals have embarked on interesting experiments in which they leverage social network sites, such as LinkedIn, YouTube and even Facebook, to provide shorter, more approachable, presentations of research findings.

Here is an example, produced for the Journal of Product Innovation Management:

Benefits of customer co-development of new products

Perhaps what we are seeing here is evidence of a reinvention of the “business model” for academia.

 

 

Reinvent presence at the 8th European Economic Congress (EEC)

Last week, the 8th European Economic Congress was held in Katowice, Poland. i3D participated in the congress by presenting some of its innovative projects. Besides the i3D team, there was strong Reinvent-representation with two Reinvent researchers present, Magdalena Rzeznik (currently seconded at i3D as part of the Reinvent project) and Joanna Bubala (formerly seconded at Reykjavik University and Wyższa Szkoła Biznesu – National-Louis University as part of the Reinvent project). Magdalena and Joanna made a presentation of the Reinvent project as a great example of an industry-academia collaboration.

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EEC is the most important business event held in Central Europe, and this year attracted 8,000 guests from Europe, Asia and Africa. The three days were packed with debates on trailblazing ideas that will shape the economic future of Europe. 700 speakers took part in more than 120 discussions.

 

A healthy disturbance

In a discussion with one of the participants in the Reinvent project over dinner, the notion of the “healthy disturbance” came up. What is a healthy disturbance? It is exactly what the IAPP program (which funds the Reinvent project) is about. It’s about someone coming in and asking a stupid question or making an off-the-wall proposal. Something no one would have thought of, but the outsider – who has nothing to lose – voiced.

Some early findings

Among Reinvent‘s goals is to understand the use of business models and business model innovation in SMEs in creative sectors in Europe. To this end, we are collecting data among managers of SMEs in Iceland, Poland and Denmark. At the beginning of January 2016, the data collection in Iceland was complete and the data collection in Poland was well under way. So, the findings presented here should be viewed as early findings that provide a „sneak peek“ of business models in 319 Icelandic and Polish SMEs in creative sectors.

Reinvent report of early findings

 

 

Industry-to-academia pathway

A few of us who are involved in Reinvent, were also involved in an earlier IAPP (Industry Academia Partnerships and Pathways) project. Today, one of the StageIt participants from industry, Thomas Schmidt, proved that there is a potential pathway from industry to academia when he defended his PhD thesis from Syddansk University in Denmark.

Embrace the winds of 2016

There have been a lot of news items about unprecedented and unexpected winds and water recently. Faced with the unexpected, we can choose to complain, hang on, adjust or exploit. In business – and probably in life in general as well – the last two options are much more interesting than the first two.

We have a new year, full of new opportunities and new challenges. Let’s make the most of them!

new year 2016

Photo: Elfa Frið (elfafrid.smugmug.com)