Perspective on Innovation
Innovation is not limited to creating new products or starting new companies. It is a spirit and a mindset that permeates everything that we do. The most intractable challenges we face are not going to be solved by doing what we’ve always done. It is important to nurture and support out-of-the-box ideas leading to creative solutions.
First, we have to engender an environment where new ideas and perspectives can thrive. After all, we are inherently curiosity-driven explorers. We need to bring people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines into a collaborative environment to explore and realize the most promising ideas. We have to embrace risk and failure instead of just rewarding success. The traditional thinking in universities is that it is difficult to achieve excellence at scale. At ASU, we have challenged this notion and demonstrated that access and excellence at scale are in fact mutually reinforcing. We are constantly looking at what society needs—whether that is in the local community, across the nation or at a global level—and adapting our efforts to address those needs. This is largely due to the spirit of innovation that permeates all of ASU.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.- Albert Einstein
As the Chief Research and Innovation Officer at Arizona State University, I am committed to infusing innovation in all aspects of the university. As a first step, we need to model the behavior we want to see. I often catch myself unconsciously doing the things I’ve seen my parents or my teachers do. The university should, therefore, exemplify what we want our students to be. As a professor, a mentor and a researcher, I strive to always be curious, innovative and entrepreneurial.
We are not only committed to empowering our students with valuable skillsets, but more importantly, the mindsets that ensure their success all through their life. Many students take advantage of enrolling in multiple majors and minors, participating in teams across disciplines, engaging in entrepreneurial activities, and working in real-world projects to find solutions for challenging problems. For example, a visually-impaired student, David Hayden, a double-major in math and computer science, had difficulty seeing material on the blackboard in his classes. Instead of accepting the status quo, he decided to tackle the problem by designing a solution working with an interdisciplinary team of students. The Note-Taker device, built by him, not only allowed David to succeed in his courses, but also became a tool that was available to both his sighted and visually impaired counterparts. His prototype won the Microsoft Imagine World Cup. This is an example of the innovative spirit that permeates ASU.
Transcending disciplinary boundaries, we need to reach across organizational divides and collaborate with universities, industry, nonprofits, and government to find innovative solutions toward solving real-world challenges. For example, we recently launched a concept called Practice Labs™ that embeds partners seeking solutions with ASU students and faculty. Whether in a company at one of our innovation campuses or at ASU, students are enriched by the experiential environment, while our partners garner creative solutions and benefit from a robust talent pipeline. Another example is ASU’s partnership with companies like Starbucks and Uber to provide access to world-class ideas and education opportunities for their employees. We are increasingly committed to ensuring lifelong learning opportunities for all citizens to be successful in their careers.
Phoenix and ASU exemplify a “can do” attitude akin to the Wild West spirit. The symbiotic partnership between a vibrant metro and an innovative university is powerful. We do not look at the world as what happens to us, but instead by what happens because of us.
The Future of Innovation
We have it within our power to influence, and even proactively shape, the future in which we — and future generations — can thrive. This will require us to constantly challenge the status quo with an entrepreneurial mindset and create the future we want to see. We should unleash the potential of our innovators by investing in their ideas. We need to incubate and advance innovation ecosystems that commit to solving regional, national and global socio-economic challenges.