These last two days I have been at the University of Melebourne’s workshop discussing the vision for CarltonConnect, an interdisciplinary research and innovation hub that is being planned. Carlton connect has the ambition to increase the impact of the University’s research. Very exciting, and with a lot of potential for larger scale innovative projects across various disciplines, bridging engineering, social sciences, etc…

My enthusiasm got a big smack today, with a discussion on the Innovation strategy for Carlton connect (something arguably quite important). Unfortunately, the discussion very early started to equate innovation with IP, commercialisation, marketing strategies. The next thing was equating innovation with technology and products. I fear that if it goes further this way, it is going to be another missed opportunity!

It seems like some other speakers have issues with this as well. If we want impact-full research, innovative thinking, we have to encourage playfulness and exploration. Not structures, processes, goals and measures of success. We cannot ask for problem statements from the government or industry to solve them. If there is a pressing need or problem, thousands of people will already be investigating it, and the margin for innovation is limited by the pressure to deliver in a short time-frame. People are innovative when they solve problems we did not know we have or should have, or only very few people thought of (electricity, telephone, internet are examples).

Also, trying to compete with start-ups and small business is not the mission for a University. We are here about the generation of new knowledge, and not product development. Companies have much shorter development time-frames exactly for this reason. I a problem can be solved in 5 years, it is not a university research project, my supervisor used to say.

End of rant.