Recently, deans of two U.S. business schools have taken lead roles in interdisciplinary efforts focused on driving innovation.
Ajay Menon, dean of the College of Business at Colorado State University, has been named the state's first chief innovation officer, and will lead the newly initiated Colorado Innovation Network, or COIN. The Network's purpose will be to bring inventors and entrepreneurs together to help accelerate Colorado's role in driving innovation through formal mechanisms that connect research and innovation with the marketplace. Menon will continue his leadership role at the business school.
Len Jessup, dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, has been appointed board chair of the newly created Tech Launch Arizona, a new technology commercialization center focused on bringing university based research and inventions into the marketplace, as well as accelerating economic development in the broader community.
These announcements follow on the heels of the appointment of Jack Brittain, former dean of the University of Utah's Eccles School of Business, as the university's Vice President for Technology Development.
I suspect that we're likely to see more examples of business school representation and involvement in activities that connect the technological and managerial aspects of successful innovation.
Just a few years ago, when the AACSB International Task Force on Business Schools and Innovation released its report, it posited that although business schools are well-positioned to advance innovation in society, they had "only begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities." Recommending that business schools should seek to play a greater role, the task force wrote:
Public dialogue about innovation policy has seldom included business schools. This is evidenced by the tendency of reports on innovation to exclude management education in their recommendations and to focus on measures such as the number of patents, Ph.D. scientists, and the like. The Task Force has isolated three related explanations for this. First, both innovation and business schools have been misunderstood or mischaracterized. Second, there has not been a generally accepted view of the role of management in innovation. Third, aside from some lobbying efforts, business schools have not been strong advocates or champions for their role in innovation.
This appears to be changing. Those who follow the Innovation and Business Schools news feed, established after release of the report to help schools monitor news and current events related to the topic, are likely familiar with the frequency of recent developments at business schools in support of innovation, including at the National University of Singapore, the Moscow School of Management in Skolkovo, and the University of California, Davis, among others.
In addition to those noted above, numerous business school leaders have also been major spokespersons in the ongoing public conversation about innovation. Robert S. Sullivan, dean and Stanley and Pauline Foster Endowed Chair at the University of California, San Diego, Rady School of Business, chaired the AACSB Task Force and has since been an outspoken champion of the role that business schools can and should play in this aspect of economic development. Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, leads Ontario's Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity and writes and speaks extensively about role management plays in the demand, supply, and financing of innovation. Former INSEAD Dean, J. Frank Brown, has written about the need for leaders who cultivate a "change-and-innovation-oriented culture" within their organizations. Andrew Likierman, dean of the London School of Business (LBS), characterized the school's new Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship as focusing on three critical areas: researching innovation as a process, teaching innovation in the curriculum, and engaging practicing entrepreneurs.
In fact, the AACSB's informal list of business schools with centers or institutes focused on innovation now includes more than 30 centers, across four continents. Like the LBS Institute, these centers focus on teaching, research, and outreach related to innovation—some with an emphasis on fostering innovation within existing firms, and some with greater emphasis on incubating and accelerating new companies that are bringing recent inventions to market.
Business school leaders, it seems, are finally joining their counterparts in science and engineering at the innovation table.