Enabling Innovation in Times of Austerity

by julia.hanigsberg | July 7th, 2014

Facing Reality

Ontario’s provincial government has targeted eliminating its $12.5B deficit in three years and we know some, if not all, of the implications of that target for Ryerson. What we can pretty safely assume is that there will be little new money and, as they have been for several years now, budget cuts will continue to be a reality.

Despite this, and perhaps because of it, we need to continue to drive an innovation agenda. We can’t possibly argue that doing the same things, the same way can possibly be the best choice going into the future.

Instead we need to look to innovation: we need to rethink how and what we do and reexamine the processes to find the way forward using all the means at our disposal.

Innovation Yesterday and Today

This isn’t new for us. We are innovators at Ryerson and have been for years.

  • When our enrollment growth was outstripping our space we took advantage of the Dundas Square redevelopment to enter into an agreement to use the movie theatres in 10 Dundas East during the hours when they aren’t profitable for commercial use and fitted them up with state of the art technology to meet student and faculty needs.
  • We take advantage of our location in the most active and dense part of our city to make ours a vertical campus eg by building our Ted Rogers School of Management above retail owned and operated by the private sector.
  • Student driven need for athletic and recreational space helped us to be creative in repurposing the historic Maple Leaf Gardens into a multi-use development.
  • We have achieved important sustainability targets and operational efficiencies by reducing reliance on paper in Financial Services long before peer universities.
  • Our student facing social media has been recognized for its leading practices.
  • Our incubator the Ryerson Digital Media Zone has been recognized as #1 in Canada and in the top 5 globally.

Innovation Tomorrow: Collaboration and Intrapreneurship

I’ve written about intrapreneurship and innovation before. Intrapreneurship is how employees within organizations take an entrepreneurial approach and apply it within an organization. Innovation is often defined but at its core is the concept of “using something new, or something known, but in a different way, different time or a different place.”

As we build upon our innovation culture the words of Ryerson Provost Mohamed Lachemi resonate with me. At a recent speech to members of the Administration and Finance Managers & Directors group a key takeaway was that “collaboration is at the heart of innovation.” Mohamed challenged us to build our innovation through the development of collaborative interdisciplinary teams.

Key Ingredients for Successful Innovation

1. Employ the strategies of intrapreneurship by making small moves small changes, testing the waters through pilots

2. Execute the innovative idea but be willing to accept failure as part of the path to learning

3. Develop and lead from an innovation mindset

  • Instead of thinking what services to cut, can we review the entire process or value chain to see if we can remove redundancies
  • Instead to thinking this is how we’ve always done it, can we look at what objective we want to achieve and then review the process to see if it should be done differently
  • Instead of being process focussed, can we be more outcome focussed – who are we serving, who is benefitting, are they really benefitting

4. Team work, especially cross-functional inclusive teamwork, builds better confidence in the new idea because diversity enhances innovation.

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