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"Pay Attention To The Problems Of Your Society'

Yash Gupta, Dean Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins, tells Smita Polite why 'big' innovations happen when people focus on'big' problems

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Added 11th January 2011

yashgupta

Forbes listed the Carey Business School MBA program "Innovation for humanity" as one of the 10 most innovative business school courses for 2010. What according to you got you here?

You have to start with a philosophy that solidly underpins all your programs. Our philosophy at the Carey Business School is built on the idea that innovation is crucial to solving the big problems of the world. This world is in a bad way these days, wrestling with problems such as poverty, hunger, pollution, and disease. The bigger the problem, the bigger the innovation thats needed. And the solutions will be found in our the research labs and classrooms of our universities and business schools.

In the case of the Innovation for Humanity course, we have extended the lab and the classroom to communities within four nations India, Kenya, Rwanda, and Peru. Our Global MBA students will be working in those places for three weeks this January. You see, the best innovations are created by entrepreneurial minds, and the best entrepreneurs understand the kind of ambiguity and complexity thats so prevalent in our increasingly complex, increasingly interconnected world. So, by placing our students in settings that are foreign to them and are filled with ambiguity and complexity, they will have the opportunity to ask questions, to develop their own insights and opinions, to test what they know, and to enhance their knowledge. The point is not to be daunted by challenges and problems. Thats how you find the opportunity to create innovations and thus achieve success.


As the dean of University of Southern California's (Marshall) Business school you were known to have designed an innovation focused curriculum. What was your inspiration at that time?

Well, consider what was happening around that time, about six or seven years ago. We had just emerged from the dot-com bubble. Yes, the bubble had burst, but there remained this tremendous engine of Internet-driven commerce and communication. It has radically changed our entire world. And as this explosion was taking place, it was becoming clear that America was losing its lead in innovation. At the business schools, the focus had been and still is, at many schools on hard techniques from what I call the science of business. There hasnt been enough attention to qualities from the art of business, such as critical thinking, intellectual flexibility, creativity, empathy. The art, not the science, is the area where innovations are created.

At Johns Hopkins, theres even greater emphasis on innovation. After all, this is the oldest research university in the United States, the university that provided the model for modern higher education. Another key element of our Global MBA program, the Discovery to Market course, is in this Hopkins tradition of innovation and service to humanity. Its a tech-transfer, commercialization course, but commercialization is not the most important part, in my view. Thats the discovery aspect, the part that requires the student to understand how scientific research and development work, and how it may lead to an invention that can find a market and benefit humanity at the same time.

What would your advice be to other institutions specially those in India who want to integrate innovation in their curriculum?

Innovation isnt simply like a potion that you pour into the mix. As I mentioned above, an institution has to start with a philosophy that embraces and promotes true innovation, and then build programs to match and reflect that philosophy. You start by asking questions: What are the main problems of my society? What do I need to do, what do I need to learn, in order to find solutions to those problems? How would Indian researchers develop a role in addressing poverty, hunger, pollution, wealth disparity, all the big problems?





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