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|Thursday, March 29, 2012|
BY LINDA BAKER
Innovation is to sustainability as 21st-century jargon is to 20th-century buzzwords.
Maybe it’s because my 17-year-old son is about to take the SAT, but that (admittedly inelegant) analogy popped into my head during a meeting of the Oregon Cluster Network this week. Titled “Nurturing A Culture of Innovation,” the gathering featured panelists from several companies and trade associations describing how their respective firms and organizations are driving innovation.
But even as a few important themes emerged, namely, the value of collaboration and diversity in spurring the innovation process, it was hard to escape the vagueness of the term itself.
Panelist Rick Turoczy, co-founder of the Portland Incubator Experiment, said it best. “Everyone is clamoring for innovation," he said. “But innovation is broad. What do we need to focus on?” When it comes to innovation, said Turoczy, “we’re kind of in a dotcom stage. It’s like: ‘everyone needs a website.'”
It's also like the sustainability craze that struck in the 1990s. Everyone jumped on the sustainability bandwagon, despite the fact that the term itself can mean just about anything: be it shifting to compact fluorescents (or LEDs), launching an office recycling program, or producing a 200 page corporate social responsibility report.
This is not to criticize the triple bottom line programs companies continue to adopt en masse. Sustainability helped make environmental preservation palatable to the business community and fueled a new era of corporate responsibility and transparency.
Today, “innovation” suffers from a similar lack of precision while also harboring the potential for transformative change — or at least that’s one of the takeaways from the industry cluster meeting.
Jon Marshall of the Northwest Food Processors Association invoked examples from the natural and corporate world--the late lamented pterodactyl and Hollywood Video--to deliver his version of the mantra, innovate or die. The pace of social, economic and technological change is occurring so rapidly that companies interested in prospering need to bring “very different viewpoints” to the table, Marshall said.
A former Tektronix employee, Marshall said the food processing industry needs to move beyond “process and product innovation,” to bring on “business level innovation.” The latter, he says, is manifest in the NWFPA’s new Business Development Innovation Program, which brings industry leaders together for workshops, mentoring and connection opportunities.
Skip Newberry, president of the Software Association of Oregon, reiterated the importance of diverse collaborations. What if, he asked, big companies harnessed the “hack culture” of the programming community “to look outside themselves and improve products and services.” In the case of a company like Nike, the result might be a mobile app providing information about a shoe’s carbon foot print, place of manufacturing and global supply chain impact.
Noting that such data “has tremendous value,” Newberry acknowledged that the success of such a project would depend on how much information companies are willing to release, although such a tool may also allow large corporations to control the distribution of such data.
Target and Coke agreed to serve as industry mentors for the Portland Incubator Experiment because "these are global corporations with massive scale yet they are hungry for innovation," said Turoczy. PIE's next step, he said is to meet with businesses outside the tech sector, architects for example, "to share some of this learning to help organizations become more innovative.”
Which raises another vexing, and age-old, problem. Before you stimulate something--i.e. innovation--you have to define it. But first you have to name it.
In his opening remarks, Scott Nelson, Governor John Kitzhaber's Jobs & Economy Policy Advisor, assured the network audience that clusters were "well-embedded" in the adminstration's 10-year budgeting process. In fact, Nelson said, "the longest debate we had about clusters is what to call them."
Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | EDITOR
More than 250 people turned out today for Oregon Business magazine’s seventh annual celebration of the 100 Best Green Companies to Work For in Oregon.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Jeff Lang and his wife Rae used to dole out campaign checks like candy. “We were like alcoholics,” Lang says. ”We couldn’t just give a little.”
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Friday, May 15, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR
The Portland Bureau of Transportation is seeking input from businesses on a $5.5 million initiative to create a network of biking, transit and pedestrian trails within Portland’s central city.
Monday, June 22, 2015
The Clean Fuels/gas tax trade off will go down in history as another disjointed, on-again off-again approach to city and state lawmaking.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN
Oregon Business celebrated the 100 Best Green Workplaces with an awards luncheon yesterday at the Nines Hotel in downtown Portland.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
Spring rains are the bane of an Oregon cherry farmer’s existence. Even a few sprinkles can crack the fruit so badly it’s not worth picking. Science to the rescue: Researchers at Oregon State University have developed a spray-on film that cuts rain-related cracking in half, potentially saving a season’s crop. The coating, patented as SureSeal, is made from natural chemicals similar to those found in the skins of cherries: cellulose, palm oil-based wax and calcium.
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