Leading the band(wagon)

Innovation is not a business-speak bandwagon

It would be easy to dismiss innovation as just the latest in a long string of business-speak bandwagons.

Companies and organizations trumpet innovative approaches, embed the language in their marketing materials and hold meetings built around the theme. It’s easy to wonder sometimes, if anyone really understands what innovation truly means.

Despite the recent hype, it’s hardly a new concept. From the Latin innovare — to make new — people have been using the word “innovate” for more than 500 years. It’s come to refer more specifically to the introduction of new methods, ideas or products as a way of changing an existing way of doing things. (oxforddictionaries.com)

At Waterloo, we like to think we’ve been setting the standard for innovation in higher education since 1957. We rejected ivory-tower models for a more hands-on approach to education and celebrated invention and commercialization long before it became common practice. Our researchers have long sought new knowledge in unconventional approaches, places and partnerships.

Stacey Ash

It’s a culture of doing things differently to make things better, inspired and sustained by people who do just that. 

Take William Tutte, for example. As one of Waterloo’s early math professors, Tutte’s way of looking at numbers changed the field of combinatorics and optimization, and helped put Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics on the map. But a much earlier breakthrough — cracking a Nazi code and hastening the end of the Second World War — was a secret this humble professor kept for more than 50 years.

That same spirit of discovery and purpose brought Bob Park, a professor of anthropology, together with like-minded explorers in the modern day search for the lost ships of the Franklin expedition. The combined contribution of Waterloo researchers, alumni and supporters included boots-on-the-ground archeology, underwater robotics and advanced ice-flow analysis, and helped solve one of Canada’s most enduring mysteries. 

"Long ranked as Canada’s most innovative university, Waterloo is both a product and an engine of one of the world’s leading innovation ecosystems. As a partner in the region’s dynamic economy, we have an important role to play in driving innovation and growth not just on our campus, but in our community, our country and the world."

After all, in order for a bandwagon to exist, someone has to create momentum.

By the way, from September 16 to 18, we’ll join with Communitech — our partner in this great community — to turn an international spotlight on what it takes to build a successful ecosystem, with the 2015 Waterloo Innovation Summit. We hope to see you there.