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Those in education -- especially at the university level -- described the importance of labs, buildings and centers structured around themes, rather than skills.What was surprising, and reassuring, was how intensely innovators perceived the value of environments -- familial to community to academic -- that place a strong emphasis on education.The project was conducted in three stages: We developed questions and conducted extensive interviews with 60 established innovators.
The report contains much more: more insights, more stories and a slew of recommendations. We need to conduct more definitive research and take some major steps to incorporate the education of innovation into our existing curriculums. Daniel Mote Jr., current president of the National Academy of Engineering, put our work into perspective.
“Even if it mostly confirmed our intuitive understanding of innovation, it’s opened the doors to more definitive research, and that can only help our country,” he said.
More than 60 leaders from all levels of education (K-12, undergraduate and graduate), as well as industry and government participated in a two-day workshop at the National Academy of Engineering in October 2013.
Those leaders discussed the data compiled from the interviews and formulated action items and recommendations.
Thus, with support from the National Science Foundation and encouragement from Charles M.
Vest, then president of the National Academy of Engineering, I began what became to be the Educate to Innovate research project. I first asked that question about 15 years ago, as the first wave of entrepreneurship programs at many of the nation’s top research universities got underway.I was directing a program that allowed students to pursue work concurrently in engineering and business administration.We carefully analyzed the data from the interviews and the workshop and the National Academies Press published it earlier this year (which is available as a free, downloadable PDF).Broadly speaking, our research reaffirmed my intuition: innovation cannot be taught like math or writing, or even in the current framework of entrepreneurship education.Environments laid the crucial foundation for the experiences and skills innovators need.The interviewees emphasized office designs that encourage informal discussion and collaboration along with explicit encouragement of innovation.The ones with whom we spoke emphasized gaining industrial or real-world experience that helped them focus on concrete problems and learn how to function effectively as a team member.They also emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaborations as ways to gain new knowledge and see people and problems from many different angles.But it can be inculcated by focusing on the interplay of the skills, experiences and environments of successful innovators.More specifically: Unsurprisingly, we found that innovators tend to have creativity, curiosity, deep knowledge of a field (invariably more than one), intellectual flexibility and the ability to think outside the box of a defined discipline.