Innovation = Engineering?

NA_werkstatt_klein11While searching for some up-to-date information on Ed Annink’s workshop “Innovation by nature” which takes place in the course of the “Ideas Park Hannover” event I’ve stumbled across a ThyssenKrupp press release (PDF ~ 51 KB) today titled: “Technology center Germany in search of a new identity”.

A key issue the press release addresses is that a recent “Study reveals image problems for engineering professions and criticizes role of schools.”

“The study by the Association of German Engineers VDI has revealed an industry shortfall of some 15,000 engineers. The number of students enrolling on key engineering courses in the winter semester 2005/2006 fell by a further 8.3%. In addition, the PISA studies highlighted serious knowledge deficits among German school pupils.”

and later on:

“Engineers are seen as hands-on implementers with too little regard for ecological and social aspects. Accordingly, the innovative abilities of engineers are not regarded as setting new trends. Given these image problems, it is perhaps no surprise that Germany now has a shortage of engineers.”

Just in case you’ve thought that the design is mentioned in the context even once I have to disappoint you. However the more you will be surprised to read that a trained engineer and Zollverein School student, Hannes Hofmann, will graduate later this year. In his recent blog posting Hannes Hofmann discussed the question “What is Design?”. Even though he did not end in a final answer some of his quotations could have clearly added invaluable dimensions to the engineering profession. Here is a snippet from his quotation of Zollverein School lecturer Bettina von Stamm:

“In the context of Innovation, three relevant interpretations of design can be found:
- Design is the tangible outcome, i.e. the end product of design such as cameras, cars, etc.
- Design is a creative activity.
- Design is the process by which information is transformed into a tangible outcome.”

Adding some even stronger argument for the integration of design (management) thinking into interdisciplinary (say engineering) contexts I’d like to note that design management has always been has been aiming to link different disciplines like engineering, marketing and design. A good example on how these disciplines can work together can be found in the DMI/Harvard Business School Case study: Braun AG: The KF 40 Coffee Machine. Interestingly the case study has made its way to several publications and more importantly into one of the primers on “Strategic Management of Technology and Innovation” by Burgelman, Christensen & Wheelwright.

So if you want to overcome what the VDI study interviewees described as follows:

“… fascination for technology is linked with an understanding that goes far beyond purely practical aspects, a successful combination of ecology and the joy of living, of creative freedom and social justice. The bar is high when it comes to getting people in Germany enthusiastic about technology. Use of technology in the medical area unanimously receives the most positive ratings, and the Transrapid maglev train actually generates something akin to national pride.”

you should consider coming to one of the upcoming events at Zollverein School. Not only engineers are welcome even though Zollverein School’s President Prof. Ralph Bruder will be delighted to share his vision on design, business (and engineering) … P.S. He’s a trained engineer!

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