Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Some More Reflections on Buidling an Innovation System

Countries across the world grapple with the issue of how to enhance economic growth. Innovation, particularly when done by industrial firms, is believed to be an important driver of sustained economic growth, and countries therefore yearn to be homes to dynamic innovation ecosystems. Such thinking is, of course, not restricted to the country level, but is increasingly evident at regional or state levels. Some recent articles add spice to this debate.

In a recent article in Strategy + Business, Professor Ernest Wilson, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California calls for an alignment of the quad – government, business, academia and NGOs – to provide a nurturing environment for such innovation to happen. Professor Wilson believes that this alignment can be accelerated through action on three fronts – the creation of cross-sector networks, continuous reform of the way organizations are managed, and in getting the right mix of people who can foster innovation.

Ironically, while Professor Wilson uses Bangalore as an example of a contemporary cluster, the second element is often missed out in India. Government is pouring more and more money into supporting different innovation initiatives, but it often lacks the flexibility or organizational dynamism that is required to genuinely support innovation. And as Professor Gautam Desiraju points out in his recent article in Nature, decisions on scientific research in India are often driven by the decision-maker’s position in the overall hierarchy rather than expertise or knowledge which of course runs counter to the spirit of innovation or knowledge creation.

While the US university system is often the envy of the rest of the world, within the US there is considerable debate about the role of the university and how closely it should be linked to industry and corporate interests. I remember reading a book by the former president of Harvard University, Derek Bok, some years ago where he put together lots of evidence to show that American universities were increasingly being driven by commercial interests. In a similar vein, a recent article by Ken Auletta in the New Yorker magazine asks a provocative question: Is Stanford too close to Silicon Valley? At least in the US, I wouldn’t worry about that too much – the US has such an array of powerful universities that having a few of them driven by entrepreneurship or even money probably won’t hurt. And, it’s not as if Stanford is a slouch when it comes to research… Wouldn’t we love to have a few universities like Stanford in India? But do read Auletta’s article to understand some of the dangers in becoming the university that is known as the home of so many hot start-ups.


  1. well sir , i would like to add a point here that is motivation as an under graduate student of iit i feel there is a lack of culture and enthusiasm for research. though new machines and equipment keep on coming (not comparable to stanford , off course) but there is a dearth of proper channelization of thoughts towards research. And consulting too finds a way in here due to various reasons but for true innovation we require true motivation in which we lack.

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