All talk, not enough action

July 5, 2012

Nick Petford makes many excellent points in his discussion of "innovation" ("Greater value than money", Opinion, 28 June). I appreciate his view that in essence, "innovation is new thinking that creates value". And he correctly addresses our over-celebration of technical innovations and our need to further nurture social innovations.

But the following passage also encouraged me to think about the place of innovation in the cultural discourse of the academy: "Once you start looking, 'innovation' crops up everywhere, sprinkled like confetti in print and broadcast media, blogs and, of course, on the professional workshop circuit, where people make a living telling others how to achieve it."

Innovation is everywhere - how can there be any social problems?

I would venture that the overuse of "innovation" as cultural phrasing is in part a result of higher education's 21st-century endearment to corporate management practices (apparently something innovative back in the late 1990s but increasingly ritualised and stale now).

Because we have apparently permanently entangled ourselves with quality initiatives, strategic planning and mission statements, we must be innovative on a nearly daily basis for "sustainability", branding and marketing purposes (or else).

If we cannot innovate, we must then be static. Stasis is not good. Even so, we should be careful not to "celebrate" innovations that have no absolute or measurable quality-of-life outcomes. I want a better life, a life I value, not more clutter or meaningless connective activities.

Accessing information is not the same as knowing something. There is so much talk and so little action - so many smartphones but so little social progress. Many of the innovations we find charming have done little to improve the teaching-learning environment (or governance and management) in our institutions.

Even the shovel and the rocking chair were innovations once. We cannot go back. But what is the praxis of innovation? Where will the dialectic of innovation take us?

Jeffrey Ross, Central Arizona College

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