September 12, 2008

Chuck Vest embraces OI

In writing about the challenges of 21st century engineering education, the president of the National Academy of Engineering has acknowledged the role that open innovation will play in 21st century R&D.

Writing in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education, Charles M. Vest wrote:
IBM CEO Sam Palmasano [sic] says that we have now moved beyond multinational corporations to globally integrated enterprises. An emerging element of this evolving engineering context is "open innovation." Companies no longer look just within themselves for innovation, nor do they just purchase it by acquiring small companies. Today they obtain innovation wherever it is found-in other companies, in other countries, or even through arrangements with competitors. Working in this evolving context requires a nimble new kind of engineer and engineering organization.
Vest’s column is a compilation of conventional wisdom about the state of engineering education in the US, with an admonishment that US universities (and firms) need to run scared in the 21st century. As an MIT alumnus, I was not a fan of Chuck Vest when he was MIT president (1990-2004), and this reads like something written by a bureaucrat rather than a visionary.

Still, it does provide additional visibility for open innovation. If even 10% of the people who read the article in JEE (or the August issue of the ASEE newsletter) would google "open innovation", they would learn a lot about open Innovation. After all, after the skeletal Wikipedia entry, this website is #2 on the hitlist, #3 is Chesbrough’s 2003 book, #4 is Vanhaverbeke’s EU website and #6 is Chesbrough’s Center for Open Innovation at Berkeley. (This blog is #7).

If I gained a new insight from Vest’s essay, it was making the link between open innovation and globalization, which I think is something that OI researchers have underemphasized. (I suspect globalization researchers like my friend Ken Kraemer take OI for granted). I had not seen the article by Palmisano in the May 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, which provides more evidence of how even a modern MNC can’t do it all in-house. Of course, Chesbrough’s study of IBM’s transformation was one of the major motivations for his 2003 book.