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The words ‘intellectual property’ is used to batter CRI’s and universities around the head according to Phillip Capper.

The director of Wellington-based WEB Research says part of the problem is the over-used and undefined word, innovation.

Innovation, as applied to New Zealand’s research centres, asks the questions of exactly what they’re supposed to do Capper says. Should researchers:
• Produce innovation
• Be supporters of innovation (and act to ginger up the private sector)
• Produce stuff
• Support the production of stuff

‘The idea of innovation, productivity and sustainability are albatrosses around researchers necks,’ says Capper, an organisational and sector learning consultant who spoke at ‘Running Hot 2010’ (realising the value of research for NZ). ‘You need more than stuff to be innovative.’

He says, whether in a research environment, or in a company, introduction of new ideas, products or concepts is not a straightforward exercise.

‘If you ignore people, their culture, beliefs and values, as often as not you’ll fall over,’ he says. ‘Peoples’ motivations are highly significant. Personal and social structural constraints are highly influential on how we do work.’

From that point of view, scientists’ behaviour is not free of the pressure put on them by research funders and universities aren’t free of their structural management systems, no less than people making things Capper says.

‘Therefore you need more than stuff to be innovative,’ he says.

One of the most important things is to understand the structural context, and how people learn things. Most adult learning takes place in ‘the spaces between people, not in their heads,’ he says.

‘The belief that because a sexy new technology is introduced that the past is gone is dangerous nonsense. What is happening now is the result of accumulated history. You need to understand why things are done the way they are, why people have beliefs.’

The introduction of new technology, ideas or software requires particular attention to be paid to the ‘black box’ Capper says. That is, understanding the way people learn.

One particular challenge for New Zealand is a strong anti-intellectualism bent, which is a real problem for the country.

He compares us to Finland, where he recently lectured to a large group of PhD students. Almost all the participants were private sector managers — a situation that’s very unlikely to be seen here he says.