Why Academics Don’t Innovate

Why Academics Don't Innovate

The recent parliamentary inquiry into graphene highlighted that the University of Manchester did not fully appreciate the significance of the work on graphene that subsequently won a Nobel Prize, but is the academic publishing system to blame?

A recent study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research , “Bias against Novelty in Science: A Cautionary Tale for Users of Bibliometrics Indicators,” reports that “research based on an unusual or novel approach may lead to important breakthroughs in science, but peer evaluators are often overly cautious in evaluating such work.” Anyone involved in innovation at any level will be familiar with the “not invented here” or “don’t know don’t care and I got to go mate” responses. While some caution is always advised, dismissing ideas without any consideration is always unwise.

Part of the problem is that academics are often over-specialised and don’t understand things outside their own discipline. The report finds that the major impact of novel research comes largely from disciplines beyond its own field. Therefore restricting peer review to scientists solely within the discipline, they conclude, “may fail to recognize the full value of novel research.”

This is a significant finding as policy makers often imagine that chucking money at academics somehow results in that mysterious quality called innovation. However, by organising a multidisciplinary team involving both academics and practitioners (business executives, engineers, physicians, etc.) programs I work with, most recently MIT LinQ,  have significantly boosted the quality,  quantity and overall efficiency of innovation.

It is time for a new innovation paradigm.

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