The Innovative Mind

by julia.hanigsberg | July 30th, 2012

At Ryerson we pride ourselves on being an innovation university. Our President Sheldon Levy has made innovation, particularly the innovation of our students, a key element of his vision for Ryerson. When my administration and finance management team set its values innovation was of course one of them.

But what is innovation and what does it mean to be innovative? If you put the noun innovation into Google’s search engine 0.15 seconds later you’ll get a  staggering 385 million (yes, million) hits. Everything from government ministries, agencies and programs dedicated to promoting innovative R&D to groups that support innovative solutions to social problems. And, of course, a whole host of film reviews, product offerings and not a few “dating” opportunities.

The vast proliferation of the term and its cognates on the web shows we’re all sure talking a good innovation game, however, it’s a struggle to define what’s genuinely innovative.

Disrupting the normal

Malcolm Gladwell – renowned public intellectual and New Yorker staff writer – suggests one definition in a short interview with a Vancouver business journalist  from a couple of years ago. According to Gladwell innovation is “the willingness to disrupt the normal way of doing things. I think it’s as simple as that. I think it all starts with a mindset; you have to want to change things if you are going to change them.”

Ryerson innovators

With Gladwell’s thoughts on innovation in mind consider three of the many recent and remarkable innovations – real game-changers – nurtured here at Ryerson.

We know that the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) is an innovation hub and I’m excited that two DMZ businesses are breaking out of the Zone and across the university. Director of Ryerson Campus Facilities and Sustainability Tonga Pham and her team are working with the Greengage app. The first mobile employee-engagement sustainability app, this remarkable tool deepens employees’ understanding of and involvement in corporate social responsibility and provides managers with immediate, measurable data. I’m excited to see this app deployed at Ryerson this fall as will build awareness of the importance of sustainability to the university.

Another DMZ-incubated project that’s the clear result of the kind of innovative thinking Gladwell describes is SoapBox. This online platform devised by HitSend Inc. enables people to propose and then vote on new ideas. Based on this feedback, ideas are then prioritized for review and action by decision-makers. Already in use by the Walrus magazine, Indigo and others, Ryerson will be launching SoapBox for students next month after a successful pilot within the library last year.

Finally, we sometimes need to remind ourselves that innovation isn’t about technology. It’s fundamentally about new ways of doing things to generate better outcomes. And that’s where Dr. Tetyana Antimirova, a professor in the Department of Physics, enters the picture. Recently, this outstanding educator received a D2L Innovation Award from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Antimirova was honoured for the innovative teaching tools and practices she creates and employs to engage her students and to promote their active learning.

Always innovate

In the same interview from which I quoted earlier, Gladwell comments that innovation is “a never-ending process.” Most genuinely, deeply innovative people and organizations, “never feel like they have solved the problem in front of them.”

We need to keep looking for puzzles at Ryerson and finding the ways to solve them. With an innovation culture we are continuing to build a great university for study, research and work.

What’s your Ryerson innovation story?

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