University: A Foster Home for Innovative Ideas
“I remember Lego sets back in the day. There was a time when they did not come with a manual. ” – Eric Gales
Windows has been my technological companion from humongous gray blocks to paper thin laptops. I joined the Windows Campus Rep Program in November 2011, and was sent out to Toronto for training at Microsoft Headquarters with the other UBC Campus Reps. You can find me sitting cheerfully at the PC section (yes, it’s there and it coexists peacefully next to the Macs) in the UBC Bookstore.
On April 3rd, I was lucky enough to be a part of the Microsoft Round Table Discussion with Microsoft Canada President, Eric Gales, and Associate Dean Murali Chandrashekaran from the Sauder School of Business at UBC. Eric was such a pleasure to listen to, and even more engaging to talk to. The event was even published on the front page of the Business Section in the Vancouver Sun!
In the discussion, the three topics of discussion were:
• What students need to be doing to set themselves up for success in the workforce
• Why students need to be more risk-tolerant and curious in order to establish and build career success
• How students can leverage technology to be more innovative, efficient and productive than the competition
I found that the main takeaways from the discussion, however, were of a slightly different focus. If I could summarize the talk in a nutshell, I would say the three main points were rather:
• What is innovation?
• What are entrepreneurs?
• How can students find innovation and help society?
What is innovation?
What is innovation? Innovation isn’t all about “designing that new break-through product” or “making the next, crazy do-all portable device.” Eric defines innovation as: “Doing something in a new way.” Continuing on this concept, Social Innovation BC defines it in their discussion paper about social entrepeneurship as “seeing things differently and imagining that which could be. It is about asking questions of ourselves and our institutions and wondering whether we can do better.”
Innovation is looking at a mug and seeing a coathanger. Innovation is making things larger than life. Innovation is making reality into illusion. Innovation is figuring out how two things can fit hand in hand.
What are entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs are people who convert ideas into action. They see through risk and put weight into rewards. They know their views, but do not hold a heavy bias so that they can openly disagree with themselves if they see fit. They are business leaders that attract ideas. And most importantly, they are not alone. Innovation is all about a cumulative; language exists for a reason, and that is for humanity to record, communicate, share and combine these ideas into a collective pool of information, and entrepreneurs think of ways to mold something out of them.
Business leaders: idea attraction: how to capture, cultivate and action: capture system? come from people closest to action
How can students find innovation and help society?
The problem in Canada, specifically, was identified in the discussion to be a large productivity gap and slower rates of adoption in technology in Canada. The reasons mentioned were perhaps the lack of competition, having all the tools for execution but not actually executing, an ineffective capture system for innovative ideas… the list goes on. To foster an innovative environment, we can start from university. We don’t really have issues with generating ideas, but more of what to do once you have one.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, the discussion really inspired me to stop being afraid of taking that first step or of making mistakes, because the biggest difference between people who dream big and people who breathe life into their big dreams is action. Eric commented that it is a “dog eat dog world,” but that should not be discouraging as long as you come into the world prepared. Be prepared to believe that there is a better way, as he put it. Be prepared to be wrong, but have the inner confidence to challenge yourself. Be prepared to invest your thoughts in the benefits for motivation, instead of fearing the risks.
We’re young, and it’s a good time to make mistakes. Bill Gates one said, “At Microsoft there are lots of brilliant ideas but the image is that they all come from the top — I’m afraid that’s not quite right.” There will be many people with more years (and experience) than you, but you have the advantage of coming from the source, closest to action. I am discovering so many wonderful opportunities in Sauder alone in terms of clubs, events, workshops and courses, and from what I hear, there will be an additional project-based course in development. Your university is one of the biggest foster homes for innovation, so make use of what’s available to you. It’s time for us to take charge, take risks, and take a chance.
Are you ready to be the change?