Zim economy: Educational planning for innovation — Part Two…strategic importance of technology and innovation

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INNOVATION and change are important in any dynamic and changing environment such as ours.
When a company fails to innovate and change as needed, its customers, employees and the community at large, can all suffer. The ability to manage innovation and change is an essential part of any manager’s competencies.
As I have said earlier, there is a distinction between these related concepts: technology, creativity and innovation.
Technology is the systematic application of scientific knowledge to a new product, process or service.
It includes the methods, processes, systems and skills used to transform resources into products.
To this end, it is inextricably linked to creativity.
On the other hand, innovation is a change in technology.
When we find a better product, process or procedure to do a task, we have an innovation.
Process innovations are changes which affect the methods of producing outputs.
For example, manufacturing practices such as just-in-time, mass customerisation, simultaneous or concurrent engineering – are all innovations.
On the contrary, product innovations are changes in the actual outputs themselves.
Technological innovation is daunting in its complexity and pace of change.
It is vital for a firm’s competitive advantage because today’s customers often demand products that are yet to be designed.
As technologies develop, product obsolescence increases and innovative products will have to be introduced into the markets.
Managing technology requires that managers understand how technologies emerge, develop and affect the ways organisations compete and the way people work.
Technology can greatly affect an organisation’s competitiveness and managers have to integrate technology into their organisation’s competitive strategy.
Managers need to assess the technological needs of their organisations and the means by which these needs can be met.
Our education must of necessity foster creativity and innovation for it to bring about economic growth.
Innovation and creativity processes are interrelated, because finding a solution to the problems in the process of innovation requires creativity.
Innovation covers a practical application of a marketable invention. In a sense, innovation is all about novelty as it is about solving a technical problem and about improving or streamlining technical solutions applied.
Innovation is both process and product. As a matter of fact, it must lead to a new way of thinking, of creating, of making and of producing.
Such a mind-set must be reflected in schools, colleges, polytechnics and industries.
Zimbabwe must transform from a world of consumers to a world of producers, creators, innovators and marketers. Surely, the demands of innovation are not out of our reach given the fact that it does not require of us to re-invent the wheel.
What it requires of us is a little thought to transform what already exists in order to provide for our daily needs and the needs of our neighbours and beyond.
Yes, innovation is all about thinking inside or outside or without the box to usher in a new world; a new economy.
For successful diffusion of a new technology over a period of time, it should have great advantage over its predecessor; compatible with existing systems, procedures, infrastructures and ways of thinking and lesser complexity than its predecessor.
And for purposes of adaptation, an innovation should be easily tested, copied and adopted.
With the advancement in technology and changes in the natural environment and social structure, resulting in changes in competition and hyper-competition, industrial structures and strategies, customer desires, especially in terms of sophistication, segmentation, newness, quality and price, and in processes and services the world over, the phenomenon of innovation has assumed strategic importance in all spheres of life.
Recent efficiency improvement methods such as downsizing, re-engineering, quality assurance, total quality management and use conversion, among others, have also combined to make the phenomenon of innovation more important.
Partnerships in innovation
Innovation, properly understood, deals with improving the welfare of individuals and communities through employment, consumption and/or participation. Its expressed purpose is to provide solutions to individual and community challenges. Innovation is the practical application of creative thinking. As one philosopher pointed out in respect of the virtue of thinking: “A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is visible labour and there is an invisible labour.”
The invisible labour of creative thinking is what begets innovation and we owe this to the responsibilities of universities and other research centres.
Human creativity drives us forward as a species.
It’s this unique ability to harness thoughts and ideas that has produced everything from the first sharpened stick, to the wheel, to the space shuttle and to the micro-processor.

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