May 13, 2015, by Herve Morvan
Helping Creativity and Developing New Ideas and Perspectives in Support of Innovation
I heard recently that ‘innovation was often the result of the work of one or two men on their own’ -or something to that effect.
There is no doubt that great individuals can have great ideas and deliver great innovations. Take Frank Whittle and the jet engine in my own area of research, aeroengine propulsion, for example. Such ideas can often be disruptive too.
However, delivering innovation is also a matter of providing great minds with an environment in which to express and explore their ideas. It is also often collaborative. The example that springs to mind here is what happened at Bletchley Park during WWII. This comes from awareness (making people aware of challenges and being willing to let them see and explore them with their ideas and a fresh eye) and the role of a leading institutes such as the IAT is then to go and fetch these new ideas where they are, expose talented minds to issues and needs, some of which might be new to them, provide a canvass ready to support and receive these ideas, and create the right connectivity. With this, innovation is likely to be less opportunistic and new ways of considering a given problem can be created.
There is nothing new in the above. In the aerospace sector we have seen and still see cross-overs with associated benefits from exploring the automotive sector for example. McLaren are part of Rolls-Royce first ATI research project on their power gearbox for the future UltraFan engine. However, recognising the value of such cross-over and accepting an external challenge and perspective is still something academic researchers should do more of. And for a University, ensuring that it can thus mobilise all its best capability and ideas to address a challenge, develop novel ideas and perform original, step-changing research is also worth exploring.
Earlier this year the IAT launched its new Innovation Programme, under the stewardship of one of its Research Officers, Chris Guest. A key element of the programme is MARCh, the IAT Multidisciplinary Aerospace Research Challenge. Chris put in place an exploration and funding activity aiming to bring together Early Career Researchers (and a handful more experienced heads) with limited to no prior engagement in aerospace research and offered to fund feasibility studies to the tune of up to £50k for the best ideas.
We run our first MARCh sandpit on 24th April. The energy in the room was really palpable and I think that pretty much everyone involved enjoyed their Friday -for most people, it might have been a Friday better than most!?
On 19th May, we will take the top 7 ideas to face a Dragons’ Den panel and compete for awards.
The ideas that were formed on 24th April and in the course of preparation work leading to the 19th May are new to Nottingham and, for some, new to the sector (as best as we can tell). Some are incremental but with step change applications in the future. Others address new challenges for which solutions do not currently exist. This is very exciting.
Connections have been made, new people have engaged with the sector, bringing new skills to it and to the IAT along with new perspectives, and exploring new areas for us. I really hope that this will ultimately be a win-win-win for those involved, the researchers, the IAT and the University, and the Aerospace sector. There is real scope for novel ideas to be delivered and for impact to be made. This is innovation.