Everyday Innovation June 7, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life, Regional innovation.
Tags: consumer innovation, eric von hippel, household innovation, jeroen p j de jong, stephen flowers, united kingdom
add a comment
Have you ever modified something you bought, to make it work better, or to serve your own unique needs? Have you ever created something from scratch to solve a problem?
This is what innovation researchers call “consumer innovation” or “household innovation,” and it turns out it’s surprisingly common. MIT Professor Eric von Hippel, long famous for his studies of user innovation, has just published a fascinating study of household innovation in the United Kingdom.* Hippel and his colleagues did phone interviews with 1,173 adults, and found that 6.1 percent of adults in the U.K. had created something, or creatively modified something–that’s 2.9 million people! Among the household innovators, on average each of them had created eight innovations in the prior three years, innovations in many different categories, like these:
- Craft and shop tools: “I created a jig to make arrows. The jig holds the arrow in place and turns at the same time…Jigs available on the market do not rotate.”
- Sports and hobby: “I modified the cricket bat so it improves the play and contact with the ball.”
- Dwelling related: “I wanted my washing machine to spin only. I modified it…I bridged one of the circuits and inserted a switch.”
- Child related: “I colored two halves of a clock dial with different colors, so a child can easily see which side is past the hour and which before the hour. I used it to teach my kids to tell time.”
- Pet related: “My dog was having trouble eating [because the food bowl kept sliding across the floor]. I used a flat piece of laminated wood and put an edge around it like a tray to stop her bowl from moving around the kitchen.”
- Medical: “Because I have a spinal problem, I built a nearly diagonal slope for my keyboard. It is very handy for people who cannot look down when they are typing.”
Amazing evidence of the potential we all have to be creative!
Then, the researchers asked the innovators how much money they’d spent on their innovations. The average annual investment was 1,098 pounds; if you multiply by the 2.9 million projected consumer innovators, that’s a total expenditure of 3.2 billion pounds! In contrast, the total corporate R&D spending on consumer products in the UK in 2007 was about 2.2 billion. This means consumers spent more on innovation than the private sector!
The study also found that very few of these household innovators attempted to patent their creations. In fact, a large number of them freely shared their ideas.
What a fascinating study of the importance of every creativity! It should inspire all of us to find our inner creator, and solve our own everyday problems. Do you have a story of household innovation?
*Eric von Hippel, Jeroen P. J. de Jong, Stephen Flowers (2012). “Comparing business and household sector innovation in consumer products: Findings from a representative study in the United Kingdom.” Management Science, Articles in advance (published online ahead of print), pp. 1-13.
KANEKO: Creativity in Omaha April 5, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Genius Groups, Innovative networks, Regional innovation.
Tags: bow truss, hal france, jun kaneko
Tonight, I’m giving the keynote talk at a big event at KANEKO, a creative space in the historic center of Omaha, created by artists Jun and Ree Kaneko. KANEKO is an “Open Space for Your Mind” that aims to foster creativity in the arts, sciences, and philosophy. As one of their brochures puts it,
KANEKO is a new kind of organization–not a museum–not a gallery–not solely a library nor a research center–but a space for minds that nurtures and promotes creativity in the arts, sciences, business, and philosophy…an open space in which creativity and innovation are freely explored.
KANEKO has been responsible for bringing to Omaha thought leaders including Ken Robinson, Nicholas Kristof, and Daniel Levitin, and also creators like Roseanne Cash and Joan Acocella.
It’s a beautiful space, a converted warehouse with a Bow Truss ceiling. My keynote talk is on creativity and collaboration, so it’s really cool that tonight’s event also includes an improvised music performance along with a group creativity activity for the entire audience. Thanks to Executive Director Hal France for making this event happen!
The Art of Business September 3, 2011Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Regional innovation, Uncategorized.
Tags: coca, cocabiz, kevin carroll, peter sims, red rubber ball
add a comment
This week I participated in a fascinating event here in St. Louis, a business creativity conference called “Play @ Work.” In this photo, I’m seated and two of the keynote speakers are with me: Peter Sims at the left (author of Little Bets) and Kevin Carroll (author of Rules of the Red Rubber Ball). The two days were filled with workshops where local executives participated in dance, art, and theater workshops–all designed to foster communication, collaboration, and creativity.
The event was organized and hosted by the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) and their new “COCAbiz” initiative. Kudos to COCA for such a successful event!
U.S. Senate Debates Patent Reform March 2, 2011Posted by keithsawyer in Regional innovation.
Tags: first to file, first to invent, patent reform, senate
I probably could have thought up a more exciting title for this blog post! It’s hard to make patent reform sound exciting (apologies to my law colleagues who study intellectual property!). But getting it right is absolutely critical to a country’s innovation.
This past Monday (February 28, 2011) the U.S. Senate began debate on a patent reform bill that would change the patent system from the current “first to invent” system to a “first to file” system. First to file is the way just about every other country does it; what it means is that whoever files the patent first gets the rights. In contrast, First to invent means that filing for the patent first doesn’t guarantee that you’re the owner; someone can challenge your patent by claiming that they actually had the idea first. Then, in a long (and expensive) court trial, that person has to present documentation that proves they had the idea before anybody else.
The basic issues seem to be:
1. First to file is a lot clearer and simpler. No more long legal battles where the court has to pore over lab notebooks and listen to technical arguments about whether this or that sketch is “really” the idea represented in the patent being challenged. Patent disputes would largely disappear from the courts.
2. First to file seems to favor big corporations, who can afford to have patent lawyers on staff who can file patents almost immediately after their researchers come up with something new. The independent inventors can’t file as quickly because they have to find a patent lawyer, bring them up to speed on their technology, etc. And it costs $4,000 to file a patent (although there is a $110 “provisional application” that would still establish priority).
The bill has already been unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and appears to have bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.
So which system will foster greater innovation? In recent decades, the U.S. has been the most innovative country, so defenders of the current system can argue “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But many other countries are also innovative, even with a first to file system. So much of U.S. innovation comes from small startup companies, that I have to admit I’m nervous about shifting to a system that could disadvantage those small startups vis-a-vis the big corporations. The key, for me, is to make sure a first to file system doesn’t end up favoring big corporations at the expense of small entrepreneurial startups.
Europe: Knowledge and Innovation Communities February 15, 2010Posted by keithsawyer in Regional innovation.
Tags: australia, cooperative research centres, european parliament, knowledge innovation communities, mark dodgson
1 comment so far
This article by Mark Dodgson of the University of Queensland describes a major new initiative of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), established by the European Parliament in 2008 “to further policies encouraging innovation in higher education and business in Europe…to compete with the U.S.” Three Knowledge and Innovation Communities, or KICs, have been created with funding of up to 100 million Euros over 15 years. Dodgson describes one of the three KICs:
The KIC researching the future information and communication society, for example, involves leading research groups in London, Berlin, Eindhoven, Helsinki, Paris and Stockholm. The London hub is based in Imperial College with University College as a partner. Its corporate partners include IBM, Hewlett Packard and British Telecom….The work of the KICs encompasses research, education and innovation. The research agenda of the future information society includes the personalisation of digital services in transport, health and cultural heritage and explores the economic and social significance of pervasive computing and virtual prototyping.
This sort of top-down approach to innovation sounds odd to U.S. ears; our own “national innovation system” is much more diffuse and bottom-up. If you look at all of the nationally-guided efforts to innovate an economy, there are not many successes. Dodgson acknowledges that past European top-down efforts to foster innovation failed; in his opinion, not because top-down innovation is always doomed to fail, but rather due to “parochial political demands from individual nations, and a naive policy belief in collaboration for collaboration’s sake.”
In contrast, the KICs are elitist, with a competitive granting process. And they are creating “new organizational structures encouraging collaboration” and “investing heavily in creating the digital infrastructure for supporting collaborative research.” (I’d link to learn more about exactly what they are doing to foster collaboration, especially virtual collaboration.)
Dodgson then compares the new KICs to an existing Australian national initiative called Co-operative Research Centres or CRCs. He is critical, saying they have not built connections to business, they are not developing educational offerings, and nor are they creating entrepreneurship development programs. All three of these are central to the KICs.
So what makes the U.S. an innovative economy, when we don’t have anything like a national innovation center? A complex question–but ultimately it has to be a bottom-up answer. Rather than guide innovation from the top down, we have created conditions that enable innovation to emerge from the bottom-up. That involves many complex variables: intellectual property law, financial regulations that foster venture capital, tax policies in favor of small business, labor laws that make it easy for start-ups to hire and fire workers, bankruptcy laws that allow a “fresh start”, a corporation structure that creates a strict line between business finances and personal finances of the founders, strong universities to educate the next generation, smooth technology transfer between universities and corporations, government funding for basic research that has no immediate profitable application…wow, this list has gotten really long in just thirty seconds of typing.
So imagine if you’re a national government and you have two choices: (1) make all of the difficult political choices involved in changing all of the variables I just listed; (2) vote to distribute 100 million dollars among your top businesses and universities. Which one sounds political easier?
In closing, Dodgson referred to “The 2008 Cutler review of innovation in Australia” and I’m going to track this report down…stay posted!
Finland’s Innovation Economy November 6, 2009Posted by keithsawyer in Regional innovation.
Tags: finland, innovation economy, pisa, timss
This is my first posting from Europe, during my two-month stay as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge. I have about twelve guest lectures scheduled and I’ll be posting about my travels.
This week I’ve been in Finland, giving a series of four invited lectures at four different universities.* If you have ever looked at those national rankings that come out every year, comparing how students in different countries score on math and science and other subjects, you may remember that Finland is usually number one. What are they doing that makes them so successful?
Finland has made an impressive investment in education, both directly in their schools and in university-based education research. My colleagues in the schools of education here tell me that many of their best students want to become teachers; for every opening in a teacher preparation program, they receive ten applications. And all teachers must complete a five-year program that leads to a Master’s degree; to receive the degree, they have to write a research paper, and these are often of a quality that would warrant publication in a scholarly journal.
The Finnish language is only spoken by the 5 million people in Finland, so everyone has to learn other languages. First of all, Finland is officially bilingual in Finnish and Swedish, as a result of Finland being part of the Swedish empire for centuries, so every student has to learn both Finnish and Swedish. And then after that, they all learn English. I didn’t meet anyone here who didn’t speak good English. So if you’re spending so much time learning three languages, who has time left over to get so good at math and science? Somehow Finland does it.
Of course it’s complex but I think the short answer is a strong national commitment and a willingness to invest resources in education. Finland’s leaders know that the days of manufacturing paper and paper mill equipment are mostly gone. They realize that high tech companies like Nokia are the future for Finland’s economy. And they know their human resources are their most valuable resources.
They are also committed to equity; they have substantial investment in special education, they have no significant variations in learning outcomes across regions, and in school districts where students seem to be struggling, they invest more money than the national average to try to bring them up. Finland demonstrates that a commitment to equity is not incompatible with excellence.
*University of Helsinki, University of Jyvaskyla, University of Tampere, Tampere Technical University
Regional Clusters: More Complex Than You Think October 27, 2009Posted by keithsawyer in New research, Regional innovation.
Tags: jan heide, paul tracey, regional clusters, silicon valley, simon bell
Economists have noted for over a century that similar firms tend to “cluster” near each other. In the last few decades, research on clusters has picked up dramatically, in part because they are associated with more rapid innovation. One of the best-known examples of a contemporary regional cluster is Silicon Valley and its cluster of electronics and software firms.
Clusters are often assumed to work due to openness, collaboration, loose organizational boundaries, and information sharing. A new research paper* by Simon Bell, Paul Tracey, and Jan Hiede argues that it’s often more complex than this. They call this “standard” model of a cluster “a relational model of governance based on implicit rules and understandings.” And they point out that there is a lot of evidence for another type of successful cluster: one that’s hierarchically organized, with “unilateral rules originating from a dominating firm” (they cite several examples of research showing this, from the U.S. to England to Shanghai). The problem is that most research has only focused on the relational type of cluster, within which “innovation is an interactive and collective process requiring joint action on the part of cluster members” with “organic” interaction patterns between cluster members. A hierarchical cluster, in contrast, has “centralized decision making structures, rules, and formalized interactions.”
So their research question is, how does a cluster evolve into one or the other form? What variables make one more likely than another? The authors argue for two causal variables:
(1) information tacitness: tacit information is not codified and is difficult to communicate explicitly. It often involves unspoken practices and behaviors. The authors propose that the greater extent of tacit information in a cluster, the more likely it is to be relational.
(2) transaction specific investments: Someone has to pay to build the factories, machinery, hire the workers, and build a brand. In some industries (think automobiles) this costs a lot more than in others (think creating a web site). The authors propose that the greater the degree of specific investments required, the more likely the cluster is to be hierarchical.
The authors identify four other propositions that are too complex to summarize here, but this is an intriguing paper. In many ways, although the authors don’t say it this way, it challenges the mystique of clusters as being nice, good, and collaborative. (After Saxenian’s book comparing Silicon Valley to Boston’s Route 128 came out, it undeniably made Silicon Valley look friendlier and happier and made Route 128 look old-fashioned and uptight.) For example, on p. 630 the authors note:
For many of the key players in the global electronics industry, the motivation to belong to geographical clusters stems from a desire to control information flows between plants and to reduce spillovers, rather than from a desire to create new knowledge through a process of interactive learning.
This is a long a somewhat complex academic article, but it will reward close reading.
*Bell, Tracey, and Heide. 2009. The organization of regional clusters. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 34 No. 4, 623-642.
Alden B. Dow Creativity Center April 4, 2009Posted by keithsawyer in Regional innovation.
Tags: alden b dow, dominic pangborn, midland michigan, northwood university
add a comment
I’ve just returned from giving a keynote talk at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan, hosted by the Alden B. Dow Creativity Center. Alden B. Dow was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s top architect students, and he had a long successful practice. (If Midland sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because Dow Chemical is located there.) The Dow family donated the land that the university is on, and A. B. Dow designed most of the buildings on the Northwood campus, including the NADA center where the conference took place.
Northwood is a business school, founded about 50 years ago, that has always emphasized the important role that creativity and the arts play in business success. So it’s natural that this year’s conference theme is “Creativity: The Business Toolbox Essential.”
One of the other speakers was the Detroit-based designer Dominic Pangborn, famous primarily for his men’s ties. Of course I had to buy one, at the Northwood University art gallery and store…the tie design called “irresistable.”
Midland is a special place, but a bit hard to get to…you fly into the Saginaw/Bay City airport, a bit north of Flint, Michigan. When Michigan eventually rises out of its current economic slump, it will no doubt be because of creativity and innovation, fostered by institutions like Northwood.
The Innovation Exchange May 9, 2008Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Innovative networks, Regional innovation.
Tags: bill peck, carliss baldwin, christoph loch, conference, education, innovation, jeff degraff
Today’s conference at Washington University, called the Innovation Exchange, brought together top scholars and business leaders to think collaboratively about fostering innovation. It was hosted by our new Institute for Innovation and Growth. Keynote speakers included:
Bill Peck (former Dean of Washington U. Medical School and founder of Innovate St. Louis)
Carliss Baldwin (Professor at Harvard Business School and an expert in the relations between design and the economy)
Christoph Loch (Professor of Corporate Innovation at INSEAD, possibly the best business school in Europe)
Jeff DeGraff (Dean of Innovation at the Competing Values Company and a professor at University of Michigan)
Key insights that emerged included:
* The need to transform business school education to teach for innovation
* The desire for managers and innovation champions to have a forum where they can exchange problems, issues, and solutions
* The need for managers and staff to be educated about how innovative companies work, and how they can make their own organizations more innovative
Watch this blog in the coming year, as this new Institute for Innovation begins to take shape.
The State of Creativity February 15, 2008Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Innovative networks, Regional innovation.
Tags: creativity, economy, education, oklahoma, regional development, school reform
add a comment
I spent a few days last week in Oklahoma City, as a keynote speaker for an event sponsored by the Creative Oklahoma initiative. Believe it or not, but Oklahoma is working hard to become known as the “state of creativity” (and they’ve gotten a good start by securing the domain name www.stateofcreativity.com). Like many of my readers, I was at first skeptical; Oklahoma doesn’t typically come to mind in connection with the creative economy. But Oklahoma’s creativity initiative has the backing of top political and business leaders, a rare combination. I met the Governor as well as a substantial number of local business leaders. And both Democrats and Republicans were united behind the initiative.
For about five years now, Oklahoma’s initiative has been guided by Sir Ken Robinson, a leader in the field of creativity and education who has spent most of his life in the U.K. (thus accounting for his knighthood by the Queen) and, seven years ago, attracted to the U.S. by a top position at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles. No doubt as a result of this expert advise, Oklahoma is doing everything right–the campaign is proceeding on multiple fronts, including education, culture, and business.
I was invited to talk about innovation in the schools of the future. Oklahoma schools have adopted the A+ schools model that originated in North Carolina. If we want a creative economy, then we absolutely have to start with our schools, because the creative economy depends on creative workers. I haven’t written much on this blog about my research on schools and creativity, but let me just say that most schools today do a very poor job of fostering creativity in students. When I see Oklahoma investing in its schools in this way, I begin to believe that it truly could become known as the “state of creativity.”
They’ll have to be in it for the long haul; regional transformations like this historically have taken between ten and twenty years. Another invited speaker was Pascal Cools, of the Flanders District of Creativity project. Flanders is the Flemish region of Belgium, and until a few years ago was thought of as an agrarian backwater. Now it’s a center of the global innovation economy. In the small Belgium town of Leuven, Pascal coordinates a global network of “districts of creativity” that include Qindao, China, Karnatka, India, Catalonia (“in” Spain although the Catalonians would deny that), and yes, Oklahoma–the only state in the U.S. to be a member in this international effort.
I wish Oklahoma great success in this transformative effort.