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Innovation at MIT

Spectrum_Spring2015_cover-360x556The Spring issue of MIT Spectrum is devoted to innovation. It follows the release in December of the report "The MIT Innovation Initiative: Sustaining and Extending a Legacy of Innovation" and the creation of the MIT Innovation Initiative. The December report highlights MIT's legacy of innovation, the engagement of the MIT Community and MIT's primary areas of focus to accelerate innovation: (i) strengthening and expanding MIT's innovation capabilities, (ii) cultivating innovation communities, (iii) developing transformative infrastructure and (iv) promoting the science of innovation through the new Laboratory for Innovation Science and Policy. Innovation and entrepreneurship resources available at MIT are listed here.

Innovation is a curious topic... so much more popular than research. Who can be against innovation, really? Addressing a problem by creating something new and successfully bringing it to market sounds impossible to oppose, just like (almost) everyone hopes to be a leader rather than a follower and (almost) everyone wants to use their unique skills to the fullest. While there is a bit more pushback against "blind" entrepreneurship, i.e., self-employed people whose companies barely survive from year to year and whose talents could have been used with greater impact in a larger company (although obviously at places like MIT or the Ivy League it is tempting to conflate any startups with the success stories of Facebook and the like), innovation is a concept that doesn't seem to have a downside at the moment. And maybe there is no downside, but even concepts like leadership have been found to have less savory variants than others, and most top artists have had formative periods based on rigor, discipline and apprenticeship (qualities that the media is less enamored of) before they ventured out on their own.

If I had one criticism of the MIT Spectrum articles, which showcase current innovation endeavors at MIT, that would be the focus on single individuals - nowadays few meaningful projects can be completed alone, and there would be value in reporting on those teams worked together to achieve the common goal. (The MIT report released in December 2014 itself debunks the myth of the lone scientist.) But the articles in themselves are so short that it would be hard for any reporter to do the topic any justice.

The MIT Innovation Initiative website is full of helpful links and a highly recommended starting point for anyone interested in those issues.

Comments

Possible downsides to innovation:
* creating solutions in search of problems;
* fixing what ain't broke.

It seems to me that "innovations" in the finance industry had something to do with the 2008 meltdown.

Hi Paul,
thanks for your comment! I think a potential downside to innovation is that some people are so busy trying to create new things they don't try to take advantage of what other people have done and "simply" make it better. (Obviously things get complicated in case of patents, but patents only represent a fraction of innovation.) Transformational or breakthrough innovation has its place but incremental innovation is important too in some cases. I suspect people dislike incremental innovation because they feel like followers. It's tempting to want to be the head of the pack even if it's a pack of one.

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