As I waited at the checkout at a kitchenware store, the woman behind me spotted an “impulse buy” item near the register. It consisted of four green siliconecovered rods about four inches long, grouped in a bundle, all attached at one end to a two-inch black circular disc. She picked it up and pulled the rods open until suddenly, the item folded out into an “X” shape. Puzzled, she held it for a second before placing it flat on the counter. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “It’s a collapsible trivet!”
I figured it out about the same time she did, so I laughed along with her; I also thought how impressive it was that someone had reimagined something as simple as a kitchen trivet. The store itself had hundreds of other such “reimaginings” on display: molded silicone cups to make perfectly shaped poached eggs, collapsible whisks and colanders, measuring cups with push-up plungers inside to scrape the sides clean so no ingredients go to waste. Today, every item, no matter how small or simple, is a candidate for reconsideration.
These are innovations with relatively small impact, though. What does innovation look like writ large? I recently read about Lift Labs, part of Google’s life sciences division, which has developed a spoon with a computer that can detect and counteract tremors, allowing people with Parkinson’s disease to feed themselves. A team at Imperial College has created a “flying 3D printer drone,” which, in theory, could fly to remote construction sites and print out tools and equipment. It’s impossible not to be amazed by what humans have imagined—and what they might think up next.
But it’s one thing to reimagine an object like a trivet or a spoon. It’s quite another to reimagine a long-held tradition like higher education. Educators are asking, “How can we teach differently? How can we better serve our communities? What does ‘innovation’ mean, for us, today?” These are questions explored in this issue. In “Setting Off Sparks,” four authors explain how they define innovation in business education. “How B-Schools Inspire Innovation” offers tips for encouraging innovation, while “Big Ideas on Campus” shares ways schools are experimenting with new ideas. “Passion Projects” presents memorable class projects that three academic entrepreneurs have brought to fruition.
One theme that emerges is that many innovations don’t need years to implement. Vasyl Taras of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, featured in “Passion Projects,” needed just one hour to start a global collaboration that now involves 100 faculty at 90 schools. In that respect, reimagining higher education might be as easy as—or easier than—reimagining a kitchen trivet. See a problem, take a leap . . . and go.