Innovation in a Technology Oriented University: IIT as an Innovative Studio
IIT President John Anderson prepared this paper prior to the start of the strategic planning process.
IIT will be internationally recognized in distinctive areas of education and research, using as its platform the global city of Chicago, driven by a focus on professional and technology-oriented education, and based on a culture of innovation that embraces bold and transformational ideas.
To gain national and international recognition and visibility, IIT must look beyond its traditional approaches in education and research and create an environment that promotes creativity and innovative thinking. Our students and faculty must be prepared to excel and become leaders of technology and the professions in a world constantly undergoing unforeseeable change. IIT must strive for a model of what a professional/technical university is -- call it "University 2.0". Can IIT develop a new model for the university that will be adopted in whole or in part by other universities?
To meet this challenge, I propose two parallel approaches to the strategic plan. The first is a focus on improvement by bolstering our core areas. This approach is least abstract because it aligns with current strengths and involves the re-configuration of our current activities, with requisite investment of resources. Investments made in initiatives involving the core areas must satisfy the "investment triangle" -- the initiative must promise to 1) raise the visibility of IIT, 2) offer a reasonable plan for financial sustainability, including identification of a champion for the initiative, and 3) promote synergy among different areas of the university so as to advance multiple disciplines. The investment triangle will be the metric rule for evaluating ideas now and in the future.
The second approach, parallel to the first, is development of an "innovation sandbox" -- an environment free from the constraints of discipline-oriented resource allocations -- where new and innovative ideas and programs can be incubated. Administration of the Innovation Sandbox will live with the offices of the President and Provost and open for application by all members of the IIT Community.
These two approaches overcome the two major hurdles facing strategic planners: first, the issue of turf and self-interest and the difficulty we all have in relinquishing some of it; and second, the enormous barriers blocking new ideas that emanate from strong, established programs. The first approach, selectively advancing our core, addresses the first hurdle, while the second approach, the innovation sandbox, addresses the second.
Building on the Core
The guiding principles of a university include:
- Offer a sufficiently broad menu of educational programs to meet the expected needs of the students we recruit.
- Invest in research and other creative endeavors in a strategic way to bring distinction and recognition to the university and advance the educational programs.
Proposals for university-wide initiatives must meet the test of the "investment square" for resource allocation:
The initiative must promise to bring external recognition to IIT in an area of interest to society in general and higher education specifically. The "footprint" of this recognition must be sufficient to spread some halo over the entire university. The initiative must offer IIT a recognizable niche in an area of emerging importance to society
There must be foreseeable external sources of funding, including federal agencies, philanthropy, student interest and potential tuition revenues, etc. There must be a strong indication that the investment is in an area that will attract outstanding scholars, innovators and students to the university.
Investment in a university-wide initiative must directly or indirectly stimulate improvement in more than one area of the university. Our small size dictates the importance of leveraging across the university.
Even the best idea will stall without a champion. The leader must have a passion for the initiative, be recognized for outstanding work related to the initiative, and be the spokesperson for the idea. The leader must also accept major responsibility for recruiting human and financial resources to advance the initiative.
The "Many Voices, One Vision" strategic planning process has a focus on expanding our core and strengthening the university foundation. The recommendations related to what areas to support with more resources must be justified using the investment square.
The development of the Innovation Sandbox comes from my observation that new ideas often face resistance by well established core areas. To be a vibrant and healthy institution, both sides must be protected and nurtured, but core areas change over time. The new ideas provide that change.
I envision an innovation sandbox at IIT, with the outer boundary being the University boundary -- administrative, not geographic. A sandbox is a play area without internal borders. Within the outer boundary teams and structures form, disappear and re-form over various time periods. Creativity is emphasized. Good ideas naturally attract the attention of players and spectators. Can IIT be a sandbox of innovation?
An integral part of IIT's culture is its Bauhaus legacy -- one committed to innovation and a commitment to pushing the limits of our technology in order to solve real-world problems. Continuous learning, hard work and a pure passion for problem solving through curiosity and discovery are keys to this idea of innovation. We need to harness these past notions of innovation and ignore all of our pre-standing ideas of boundaries in order to create this sandbox of innovation.
A key guiding principle is the emphasis on new ideas and their development without discipline boundaries. This means the sandbox is the play area of the faculty, students and perhaps the community. Oversight is the responsibility of the Provost. Connections to all our colleges and other academic units are desired but informal. The vetting of good ideas follows a less rigorous form of the investment triangle. In essence, the university will provide "seed resources" for promising new ideas to help them compete with initiatives from core areas. If an idea proves especially fruitful, it joins the core areas as a candidate for larger scale investment. The strategic plan will include recommendations for processes that establish and administer the innovation sandbox.