I spent the last two days on the campus at UBC and realized that once again I felt smarter just being there. For each of our three kids we spent time touring campuses at Ottawa U, Carleton, Queens, McMaster, Waterloo, Western and now UBC. Each time I had the same feeling. It doesn’t seem to matter which campus you are on, the surroundings ooze innovation. The common areas are designed to provide the best atmosphere for thinking and just walking across the campus gave me all kinds of ideas for BLOG posts.
I always take time to browse the books in the bookstore and review the texts for the courses that will be offered in the coming semester. There are just so many interesting things that I would like to learn. A university campus is perhaps the most distracting place for a generalist because it is really obvious how much you still have to learn.
On a University campus, everything is possible. This is a refreshing change when compared to the atmosphere of most commercial companies. Time for research has all but disappeared in the last ten years and the appetite for innovation has gone with it. Investors want to see working prototypes before they will provide even seed capital.
Walking through the campus today made me realize that as innovators we must be vigilant to make sure that we are not stifled by the agendas of commercial companies. I can’t count the number of times that someone in management and sometimes even R&D told me that what I wanted to do was not possible. In almost every case I proved that the idea was possible and commercially viable. Depending on the group that made the original statement, this can ruffle some feathers. People don’t like being proven wrong and over the course of my career I have done that a lot.
I meet regularly with the dean of engineering at a local Ottawa University and he has offered space on the university campus for local industry to work with students to commercialize innovative ideas. At the time I didn’t have the budget to invest in University space but I have come to realize that it has a lot of value and hidden advantages.
Being on a University campus does effect the way I think and being away from the negative influences of commercial companies definitely effects innovation. It is not uncommon for American Universities to incubate new companies and some Canadian universities have started to do the same thing.
There is something special about walking through a campus in late August and early September. Students are excited, innovation is everywhere and nothing is impossible.