Quad Summer Demo_Day 2018

Jake Eichengreen // What Is Innovation?

October 16, 2018

Jake Eichengreen is the Executive Director of the Quad Innovation Partnership.

What the heck is innovation?

It’s a good question, and one I receive on almost a daily basis. The word has unfortunately become one step less meaningful than a catch-all – it’s now a hashtag. “#Innovation” is now linked on everything from historical pieces on breakthroughs of bygone days to the hottest new inventions, foods, and clothing.

Case in point: the #innovation Twitter search I just conducted looking for inspiration for this post returned a post for a new sleeping bag from RedRock (co-tagged #glamping…ugh), a link to an old Bon Appetit article about combining tequila and gin in the same drink (also ugh?) and a quote from my old boss, Tony Hsieh.

At the Quad, innovation is much more than a hashtag. It has a specific, substantive definition: turning ideas into valuable action. For us, action and implementation are what separate innovation from creativity and invention.

Intriguingly, the Latin root of innovation means “to renew or change”. Jay Fraser wrote a fascinating post examining the history of the word and, according to his analysis, innovation has nothing to do with invention, creation, or rights, but instead, is entirely about changing something that already exists. At least historically…

Though our definition of innovation is perhaps more cosmopolitan than its etymology, Fraser’s concept of innovation as renewal is also deeply embedded in our work. The innovation we perform at the Quad is both the renewal and reimagining of things and also the renewal and reimagining of who is doing the work.

We’re in the business of putting students in the driver’s seat of problem-solving in the 21st century. Some say it’s workforce development, others say it’s consulting, and others still call it incubation. Honestly, it’s all of those and more.

We do project-based work on some of the most complex and compelling challenges facing the Pikes Peak Region and beyond. We’re currently examining the future of energy production, access to social services, and building a new social enterprise. Each project is led by a small team of interdisciplinary students from Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, and the US Air Force Academy. These teams are advised by faculty with deep subject matter expertise and managed by professional project managers to ensure that everything they produce is delivered on time and yields deep, tactical value for our clients.

The Quad plays the role of facilitator. On our partner campuses, there are almost 40,000 students, 2,000 faculty members and some of the most advanced technology and capability in the State. Our job is to match the specific needs of area companies, nonprofits, and governments with the assets and resources already available at our region’s premier institutions of higher learning and research. We ensure that area organizations have access to what they need to build sustainable solutions to longstanding problems and that our students graduate with the experience, relationships, and professional fluency essential for impact in the workplace.

Our work is innovation. It’s a process of invention and creation, sure, and also a process of renewal, re-imagination, and re-visiting ideas previously discarded.

We’re excited to bring you into this work through this blog. Each week, we will be publishing project updates, student insights, and faculty perspectives that will open a window into our world and build conversations of substance beyond the hashtag.

Welcome to the Quad.