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Innovation Science: An Emerging Field

The emerging field of Innovation Science encompasses a broad space.  Three primary dimensions have historically been pursued, in varying combinations, to understand innovation and innovative activity.  The first, and most classic, is the “locus” of innovation – i.e., the object of analysis that is to be improved through innovative activity. This locus has shifted over time from an emphasis on “solution” novelty and differentiation (e.g., product innovation, incremental vs. radical innovation), to the study of classes of “problems” (e.g., general purpose technologies), to a focus on the “user” (e.g., user centered design and disruptive innovation), to the more recent emphasis on “impact” (e.g., enabling vs. progressive innovation).  The second dimension is the cognitive frame employed to understand the conditions and actions that lead to innovation.  This too has moved over time from debates of nature vs. nurture, to the definition of innovation-prone circumstances (e.g., serendipity vs. facilitated intersections), to the study of heuristics (e.g., analogical reasoning), to a formalized discipline of creativity (e.g., outcome oriented design, intentional design).  And, the third dimension is the domain of application, which may span academic/research settings, commercial for-profit activity, or altruistic/socially motivated pursuits.

With these disparate inputs in mind, the Innovation and Leadership Studies Program aims to bring order to the space and integrate insights across these aspects of innovation through research anchored on the inherent linkages between innovation and impact oriented design.  This reframes the study of innovation as the study of a generalizable approach to problem solving that can be broadly employed regardless of domain (much as the constructs of the scientific method or emergent thinking).  The design process provides a robust lens through which to frame in-depth exploration of the mindsets, behaviors, attributes, tools and methods employed in the innovative activity of individuals and organizations by presenting a bridge from problem identification and framing to adopted solution. Viewed from this perspective, it is apparent that “Innovation Science” must embrace insights from broad fields such as strategy, economics, entrepreneurship, systems-of-systems, design, policy, sociology, complexity, education, engineering education, engineering, and technology history.

Seen in this light, an array of research questions can be envisioned that have translational value across pedagogy, research, and practice (not exhaustive):

1.      What are the discoverable and transferable patterns of innovation success and failure?

2.      What metrics can be used to measure and manage innovation?

3.      What are the mindsets and behaviors essential to innovation and how can they be reduced to practice?

4.      What pedagogical techniques can foster innovative outcomes and life-long adaptive expertise in the field?

5.      What comprises an innovative ecosystem, and how can one be developed?

6.      How do individuals and organizations adapt to the change brought on by innovation?

7.      What are the technical, economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts of innovative activity?