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Taking your Ideas Beyond

Do you have a Culture of Innovation?

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read” Abraham Lincoln
Most companies want to be innovative but do not put the right culture strategy forward to support it. Do you want to be an innovative company? Do you want your brand to be associated with innovation?
In today’s fast pace world, companies remaining at the edge of innovation have understood that there is a symbiosis between industry and education. A few examples:
  • Apple supports coding classes and has developed tools like Swift Playgrounds
  • Google is very active in the education world with tools and their Science Fair
  • Fraunhofer supports many universities with internships and continuous education for its researchers.
The integration of lifelong education and support to educational institutions into the core strategy of the company helps refocus the priorities to what is important for sustainable innovative business.
When I recommend working with universities and educational institutions I get concerned looks about uncontrolled costs like a black whole where money goes does not bring anything back for many years, where KPIs are difficult to track and to justify. Instead, it must be seen as a culture change, an investment into the company and into the future of talent and innovation.
There is value in all education
In 2014, I embarked on a 3.5-months course to get my Master Certificate in Marketing Strategy with Cornell University given by Dr. Doug Stayman. It was the second time that I had decided to use online courses to expand my knowledge and explore new areas for my professional career. The experience was intellectually very satisfying as the online for online learning have evolved so one can afford to attend a course from a hotel room while on business travel or after-work at home when the kids are in bed. As a result, I have been bringing more value to my employer with new ideas to lead forward.
Technology director Joseph Williams from California's Perri Union High School District clearly demonstrates that lending students notebooks to take home and even during summer break is a critical tool for students to study, do they homework and interact with other students that need such platform to do their own assignments. Students are more motivated, they learn about how to learn to become autonomous and better team leaders.
The participation into MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) continues to grow and their popularity increases around the world as a mean to test new interests and making learning a social life-long experience rather than a “beginning of your life” period. Diversity in the workplace brings a constantly updated stream of knowledge to drive process improvement programs and stay up to date with technologies.
Accessible to all? Think again!
The requirements for off-campus education (including lifelong education) are access to the Internet and a computer. Internetlivestats monitors continuously the number of Internet users on the planet. At the time of the writing of this article, only 46% of the world population has access:
  • Europe Eurostats 2016: 85% of households with Internet
  • U.S Census 2013: 73% of households with Broad-Band Internet
  • South America 2016 Internet penetration was 67%
  • China Internet penetration in 2016 was 52%
  • Africa Internet penetration in March 2017 was 28%.
The UNECO issued The State of Broadband 2015 in which they have listed a number of reasons for lack of access to the internet.
Beyond the fact of the access itself (wired or wireless), other factors like language (only 5% of the world languages are present on the internet) as 55% of the websites are in English; French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Russian represent only 4-6% of the sites. Another interesting factor is that most sites are in latin alphabet (the same one you are reading right now) creating a barrier for readers not familiar with those letters and numbers.
Content is King!
With the preamble above about languages and alphabets, it becomes clear that the physical access to internet does not automatically grant access to online education content. Coursera, the largest MOOC content provider, shows in decreasing order 1,683 courses in English, 52 in Spanish, 28 in simplified Chinese. A great effort has been made to subtitle many courses to make them more accessible but it is still not native language content for many. Class-Central reported in October 2016 that XuetangX (largest Chinese MOOC provider in collaboration with EdX) counted over 400 online courses with 133 courses created by Tsinghua University alone (native in mandarin Chinese), and more to come in 2017.
The workplace is one of the ideal areas for off-campus education: good Internet connectivity is usually available and the workplace allows for social interactions, helping to answer questions and provide guidance.
Theory is good, practice is better
My experience in working with electronic engineers was one of the most rewarding of all. Students from all over the world embracing The NXP Cup (then the Freescale Cup) to build and program model autonomous race cars. Accessibility to low cost development boards and online software has brought easier access to today’s technology to teens and above. Different schools and universities (including STEM groups) enrolled into global challenges fuelled by prospects of learning, fun and a possible way to get an internship in some great companies. Here, a mix of application notes, courseware and reference manuals serves as the base for learning. The car model and the race acts as the motivation and hands-on creative time to apply the lessons learned, make mistakes and improve on them. Here too, english is the default engineering language; Chinese is quickly coming into play but, in most cases, other languages are dismissed due to cost of translation, technical terminology and mass market considerations.
The technology
Like the universal translator in the Star Trek series, machine language translators are coming to the market with many shapes and forms. I have “bumped” into one of them via Indiegogo: Waverlylabs is planning to come to the market late 2017 with earpieces that would translate on the fly any conversation. For sure, this could be a great addition to being able to watch training videos, podcasts or participate into group Skype conversations without language barriers.
Quite known to many already, Google’s translate engine aims to convert webpage content to your preferred language to help with better access to information. Low cost technology like 3D-printers, development boards and online free software have revolutionises the way young (and less young) generations are learning about coding, creating a convergence between traditional teaching, hardware and software into the education world.
The creation of in-house fablabs, innovation areas or think-tanks supports the creativity resulting of applying education to projects and ideas. In house challenges foster innovation, teamwork and knowledge sharing.
The culture
Class-Central reported 2,600+ new courses posted via the several platforms and 23 million total registrants for 2016. Sounds like many but, out of an approximate 4.6 billion of the world’s working age population (age 15-64 based on an OECD statistic), this is a drop of water in the ocean as about 50% of the population has access to the internet (approximately 2.3 billion).


Companies like to advertise lifelong learning and provide, in many cases, access to platforms for education courses. Some provide funding to select employees with potential to embark into online or even on-campus courses, but other factors come into play to engage into this path. The European cooperation in education and training as set a goal of 15% of the adults aged 25-64 to be participate into lifelong learning by 2020. Eurostat published their statistics based on data extracted in June 2016 and Europe stands at 10.7%, only 1.4% higher than 2010. The main reasons reported for lack of lifelong training are:
no need for training (50%) lack of time due to family responsibilities (20.9%) and conflict with work schedule (18%).
In many cases, the balance into one’s life between professional, family and personal time makes it difficult to achieve the lifelong training goal. In addition, thinking that no further training is needed shows that the culture about learning is linked to a need, not a curiosity or a special interest.
Back to basics... with new technologies
Lifelong learning was a standard in the (very) old days as older generations were teaching younger ones about all life aspects, life-long. With the institutionalisation of school systems, the population got into a mode of “learn all what you can, then work” rather than continuous learning. Establishing yourself with degrees and qualifications to get the best possible work position is at the centre of the youth’s headache today.
Digital publishing, social media and online courses provide everyday more tools for who’s interested to learn. Possible approaches in bringing education to the workplace or to home open new opportunities for lifelong learning, sparking again the creativity and curiosity, keeping up with the technologies that surround us without waiting for retirement time to do so (make a Google search for “senior citizen education" for more).
We all win!
By actively getting involved in the education environment, young and experienced professionals get together and an important bilateral knowledge transfer happens. Young generations aren't scared in asking questions that seasoned professionals would be shy of asking and they see challenges others don’t see. They also are able to look at possible solutions without pre-dispositions, keeping older generations in-tune with the new beat of the moment.
Experienced professional have an opportunity to share their knowledge (without being pompous) and bring an element of stability and continuum into the workplace. New doors of career opportunities open, new interests arise, a better community grows together. Today’s technology provides more avenues than ever for anyone interested to learn, deepen their knowledge or try something new all-together.
Changing the Human Factor
Technology is somewhat predictable and moves forward, thrusted by the ambition and progress. The difficult step is the human factor: bringing the university to the workplace and breaking up the walls of education so everybody can be a teacher and a student. An evolution must happen in our offices and manufacturing floors, taking advantage of today’s technological evolution and keeping up with our fast pace times.
As an example, each time students would come to the office and show off their NXP Cup racing cars, sparks of curiosity and interest animated the eyes of professional engineers. Some of them would take a few minutes (or a couple of hours) from their busy schedule to give advice or ask questions about how a problem was tackled. In return, students and professors would show off their achievements, some time surprising the professionals about how they had handled a given challenge. The student becomes the teacher, the teacher becomes the student... an exchange of knowledge is established.
In any professional area, regardless if it is a home-builder, a medical doctor or an electronic engineer, lifelong learning is an important step to achieve self-confidence and establish a place in a community (for professionals, read: network). Bringing new technologies to make learning accessible to all at all times and promoting an innovation environment in the workplace are mandatory for a stable and prosper future.
Stiffan Consulting strives to help startups and established companies to link with universities and other education institutions to foster innovation and create valuable content via team assembly and partnerships. By assisting you in reviewing your goals, understand the potential markets and validate the right approach, I help create a winning strategy to ensure sustainable growth.
Taking your Ideas beyond:

© STIFFAN Consulting April 2017

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