The Telfer Way to Innovate

Dean François Julien

Dean François Julien

This year’s edition of the Dean’s Report is really the second of three connected reports. I used last year’s report to highlight engagement. Engagement, innovation and impact constitute a continuous sequence along what I call the innovation continuum. Our engagement with alumni and partners is driven by our creativity and willingness to experiment in our programs and research, while also being mindful of the importance of quality and consistency in what we deliver. This provides the basis for innovation at Telfer.

Innovative is who we are

Innovation emerges out of the input and collaboration that comes from engagement; and innovative ideas, methods and products are meaningful only when they can be applied to generate positive impact for people and provide value.That value is meant to satisfy current needs better than before or overcome emerging challenges. Innovative ideas, approaches and products arise most often out of the intersection of people from different origins, experiences and expertise. We rely heavily on our alumni, corporate partners and donors to arrive at this intersection and bring their perspectives to bear on all that we do. We also depend on our students – more than 20 percent of whom come to the Telfer School from beyond our borders – and on our faculty, many of whom have joined the School within the past decade. Our students, newer professors and researchers especially have a tendency to engage and collaborate. They search for ways to work with others because making connections helps them become established.

These connections, and the innovation that emerges from them, are happening all around us. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from students and faculty members about how they are collaborating widely and wisely, and using that collaboration to uncover innovative approaches or unearth new avenues of study. Our Enactus team is a perfect example of innovation in action. This past year, Enactus combined advanced technologies and time-honoured local knowledge to grow vegetables in Canada’s Far North year round.

Innovative is how we act

I’ve also seen this past year how more formal collaboration at our School is generating innovative initiatives and programs. Innovation is most evident in how we’ve designed and how we deliver our PhD program. It relies on team-based teaching. Our PhD professors teach sections of courses, rather than one professor taking on one full course of his or her own. This approach exposes students to a variety of researchers, resources, methods and perspectives. We also make students take at least one course outside their field of focus, exposing them to a wealth of different views.

Our new Master of Business in Complex Project Leadership also relies on innovative design and delivery. The program – which focuses on strategic procurement, management of innovation, program development, business transformation, information technology initiatives, and R&D commercialization – combines intense periods of classroom time with practical fieldwork. This fieldwork enables students to collaborate closely with professionals to develop innovative processes and products that these professionals can then incorporate into their workplaces.

Our innovative actions are also reflected in many subtler ways. We teach innovation – it is woven into all our programs. Our internal research team grants competition emphasizes collaboration of researchers, so that winning teams are positioned to be more successful in getting even larger external grants. We use the latest findings from pedagogical research to enhance our teaching methods. We take advantage of new knowledge from HR studies to improve how we interview prospective faculty members. And we encourage our administrative personnel and program leaders to be curious and take intelligent risks –and even to explore questions that may lead to dead ends. We do not punish well-meaning failures because that would stifle any impetus to innovate.

Innovative is what we must continue to be

Each innovation has its own inspiration. While many of the ways we innovate emerge from our eagerness to seize opportunities, at least as many are the result of our need to adapt to external pressures – often stemming from decreasing academic funding and increasingly stringent administrative requirements. Doing more with less means we must be flexible, agile and continually rethink how we do things. Above all, it means any innovation we nurture and adopt must be self-sustaining. That principle influences every decision we make – whether that decision emerges from taking advantage of an opportunity or satisfying a demand. Call it the Telfer Way to Innovate. It is a survival mechanism that ends up adding value to what we offer students and partners. And it is a regular pattern of behaviour here.

Discover for yourself. Learn from the stories in this report exactly how we innovate—within our School and throughout the discipline of  management. Then use these stories to inspire your efforts. Be part of the Telfer Way to Innovate.