Imagine intellectual assets harnessed to solve collectively the problems that plague society.
Much has been written about technological innovation. Indeed, its strength has been tied to U.S. economic competitiveness. However, those dedicated to the learning profession-whether their classroom is corporate or on campus-know that real value also lies in the benefit society. There is hardly a function, organization, industry, or nation that is not undergoing massive transformation. These structural changes will set in motion some impacts we may not realize for decades.
In the twenty-first century, knowledge about products and services is likely to become as important as- perhaps even more important than- the discrete products themselves. Given the acceleration of technology development and world-wide global communication systems, enterprises will have to become far more innovative in how they partner with customers to create, transfer, and apply new knowledge within and across industries.
Looking at the future of our research enterprise from a pessimistic perspective, we could envision decreased investment from industry, continued fragmentation with the science and technology community, and an academic research agenda “driven” by the needs of industry. An optimist might see, instead, a collaborative strategy emerging with innovative relationships that benefit all partners. The network of expertise, enhanced by modern communication systems, enables us to advance the standard of living in our country and throughout the world. I believe such a vision is attainable.
In the evolution of technology transfer systems; I see the emergence of a knowledge innovation system in which people recognize the dynamic nature of the innovation process. Networked enterprises would be defined beyond the confines of a particular company, laboratory, or geography. With a multitude of research consortia, joint ventures, and alliances, managers will seek a more systematic understanding of how ideas originate and enter the marketplace.
Imagine a science and technology community interconnected without unnecessary or counterproductive duplication. Imagine the scientific breakthroughs of one entity leveraging the discoveries of another. Competition plays a role, but only as a catalyst for new ideas or to preserve the identity of individual partners. Imagine intellectual assets harnessed to solve collectively the problems that plague society.
The new focus on what I call knowledge innovation-the creation, exchange and application of new ideas into goods and services could fuse many diverse interests into a shared vision. Rather than allow serendipity to dictate our future, now is the time to take steps together and embrace the opportunities posed by the changes ahead.
Debra Amidon, formerly a global innovation strategist with Digital Equipment Corporation, is head of Entovation International Ltd. in Wilmington, Mass.
[Please Note: This article first appeared in PRISM, the Journal of the American Society for Engineering Education (June 1993). Knowledge Innovation® is a registered trademark of ENTOVATION International Ltd.]