By: Karin Wall
This week InnovationManagement spoke with Nikolaus Franke, Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. Find out more about his views on innovation management, what he finds exciting about working with young, innovative minds and why he believes changes are needed in the educational system in order to foster creativity.
What is innovation management to you?
The meaning follows from the general challenges of innovations: they are by definition new and must find a market. “Newness” implies that we do not exactly know how to reach the objective. Experience from the past might not hold because things are different – thus we must find new ways. Routine alone just does not work. And during this process of discovery, we even might find that the original objective must be modified. We not only find new ways, but also new possibilities and opportunities, and usually there are also unexpected problems and constraints. All this calls for flexibility and creativity. “Finding a new market” means on the other hand, that the innovation manager needs empathy, endurance and courage. Bringing an innovation into a market is hard work – it is much more than just having a good idea. For example, there is always resistance. Thus, in order to be a good innovation manager, we need both creativity and discipline.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
I really like to work with people who have open minds, want to get things done, and are solution-oriented. Students at WU Vienna are fantastic in this respect. It is really great to see how they learn and how they further improve in their skills and abilities during our courses. Generally, we involve our students in real projects in which they try out what they had learned on a theoretical basis. Each semester, we have roughly 15 to 20 projects with start-ups, SMEs and multinationals. Student teams try to develop innovative solutions to innovation-related problems, ranging from identifying opportunities for radical innovation or writing a business plan to developing a new innovation strategy. It is extremely satisfying to see how this works and students come up with cool and professional solutions that often deeply impress our company partners. Having impact is a wonderful thing – for our students, but also for me.
And the most frustrating parts?
I think it is very sad if young people already are conservative, prejudiced, and afraid of change and innovation. From my perspective we cannot be satisfied with our educational system in this respect. Too much emphasis is placed on just reproducing, too little on fostering creativity and the entrepreneurial mindset. There is some progress, but personally I think it is too slow. Globalization, international competition, social and environmental problems – all these factors call for innovative ideas and people. They are also great opportunities. However, if you then hear “we can’t do this – after all, we never did that before” from 20 year old students, I think that something went wrong with them.
What’s your next big challenge?
Currently, we are doing a number of cool studies in the area of open and user innovation. We try to understand how firms can benefit from the great innovativeness and creativity of users – an extremely hot topic in the era of internet, Web 2.0, and open source software. So far, we found a number of interesting methods like lead user method, toolkits for user innovation and design, and crowdsourcing techniques (accessible at www.userinnovation.at). However, the more we know, the more opportunities we find. The challenge is now to keep up with this. A very entrepreneurial situation!
About Nikolaus Franke
Professor Nikolaus Franke is Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration (www.e-and-i.org). His research areas are user innovation, toolkits for user innovation, horizontal innovation networks, and more generally entrepreneurship, innovation management, and marketing. His research have been presented on international conferences and published in academic journals like Research Policy, Journal of Product Innovation Management, Journal of Business Venturing, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Journal of Marketing or Management Science. He received several awards for research and teaching. He consulted many firms from start-ups to leading multinationals, and served as invited speaker in executive meetings worldwide.