Innovation and entrepreneurship are of central importance to economic growth and employment creation, says David Gann, vice president (Innovation), Imperial College, London. With research interests that include why and how innovation happens, the ways it continually transforms the world we live in, and how it can be managed, Gann feels young people can be empowered by developing their own opportunities and sense of purpose. “In particular, there appears to be more interest in creating socially relevant ventures dealing with issues of sustainable development, health and well-being. But to be effective social entrepreneurs, one must have the ambition to cultivate fortitude, craft and grace, avoid hubris (pride) and learn from mistakes.”
Talking to Education Times about the close kinship between innovation and technology, Gann, who has authored a book titled ‘The Playful Entrepreneur’ says, “Innovation is the overall set of processes through which new ideas are developed, tested and honed to improve existing products and services, as well as to develop completely new products and processes. It is in fact ‘the successful exploitation of new ideas’. Technology, on the other hand, is an important component and sometimes drives innovation.”
“But then, innovation does not always require changes in technology since it can relate to organisational change, or new business processes such as new ways of delivering value to users,” Gann says.
In academic institutions where innovation and entrepreneurship are often integral to each other, Gann feels entrepreneurship thrives in an atmosphere of uncertainty where there is diversity of thinking. “This explains why entrepreneurs are encouraged to experiment with new ideas, but somehow that mental agility has got lost in the bureaucracy of education,” he observes.
On a recent India visit, Gann felt the country has the propensity to develop a vibrant entrepreneurial culture with government policies making it more conducive. “In the UK, the entrepreneurial culture in universities thrives through experiential-learning projects that students undertake in entrepreneurial teams. These projects are often mentored by people with deep experience of developing and growing new enterprises,” he says.
“At Imperial College, for instance, undergraduate students have an opportunity to develop skills in entrepreneurial projects as part of their degrees. The college has a range of master’s courses which include innovation and entrepreneurship in their curricula,” informs Gann.
He believes that non-STEM fields are in no way losing relevance in today’s tech-driven world. “Social Science is incredibly relevant, more so now that social media is providing data for analysis of patterns of behaviour. We have had a programme with the London School of Economics (LSE) analysing Twitter feed data of the Brexit Referendum. A computer scientist and social scientist gave it a whole new dimension, says Gann who a holds a PhD in in Industrial Economics while being a Chartered Civil Engineer.
He feels in the UK, US and Australia, people are worried about Artificial Intelligence taking jobs away. “I don’t see that worry in India though that is something that may happen in India too,” he says, almost as a caveat.