Larry Leifer on Innovation Management

This week InnovationManagement spoke with Larry Leifer - creative enthusiast, professor and director of the Center for Design Research (CDR) at Stanford University. Find out more about his views on the different dimensions of innovation management, why policy is painful and what future challenges may lay ahead.

What is innovation management to you?

Innovation Management has two distinctive dimensions that are widely neglected.  The first and most fundamental dimension is to create the best possible physical environment for creative professional activity, i.e., a flexible creative place.  The second dimension is to “LET” people be creative, to follow dreams, hopes, and dark horses with a healthy dose of self-skepticism.  Put these two dimensions together to create a nurturing environment.  Hey, every inventor/innovator is in “kid” space.  Let the kids within, out to play.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Absolutely nothing beats witnessing creative play, people of any age and of any demeanor discovering the unexpected, putting 2 and 2 together and getting lucky with 7.

And the most frustrating parts?

Frustration has a synonym, policy.  Nothing frustrates more than conformance to policy, the enforcement of policy for its own sake.  This is especially painful when there is an absence of evidence that the policy is valid.

What’s your next big challenge?

It is curious that you have asked and synchronistic that the challenge arrived only days ago, un-invited, to my busy little email inbox.  What if someone wanted to create a University of Design and Technology?  What if it would include an International Design Center?  What if the grand challenge were to accelerate innovation around the world.  Would you take a shot at managing that innovation?

About Larry Leifer, Ph.D.

Professor Leifer’s formal academic training was obtained at Stanford University.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (BS’62), a Master of Science degree in Product Design (MS’63) and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering (PhD’69).  From 1969-1973 his research included electrophysiological measures of human information processing during flight simulation at the NASA Ames Research Center and the MIT Man-Vehicle Laboratory.  He was an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Systems Analysis at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, prior to joining the faculty at Stanford University in 1976.  He presently teaches Mechanical Engineering 310, a high-tech, globally distributed graduate course in “Project-Based Engineering Design, Innovation, and Development;” the Design Theory and Methodology seminar; and the freshman seminar, “Designing the Human Experience.”

Professor Leifer is founding director of the Stanford Center for Design Research (CDR’84) where he works with colleagues in AA, ME, CEE, CS, MSE, Medicine and the Humanities to understand and facilitate creative technical design-team activity.  He is developing objective measures of design team performance (learning) under various structured methodology conditions and using a variety of computational tools.  These studies are focused on globally distributed product design-development on campus, across campuses, and with industry.

In an effort to develop and disseminate assistive device technology, he was founding director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Stanford Rehabilitation Engineering R&D Center (1978-1989). He co-founded the Tolfa Corporation (1989-)(now Lingraphicare America) and Independence Works, Inc. (1992-2002).
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