Thinking anew: re-visiting the innovation imperative

by Alan Bruce, Universal Learning Systems


Alan Bruce discusses the Creanova project, a major EU project funded under the Transversal Research element of the Lifelong Learning Programme. This project has at its core an examination of the contours and imperatives of innovation and creativity as they apply to the world of work. The project (under the lead partner, the University of the Basque Country) combines universities, regional governments and learning-design specialists in a large web of research, experimentation and analysis to investigate the role and nature of innovation and creativity in European society. It is of particular relevance to the security sector.

The project was conceived with the awareness that preparation of learners for the challenges of the globalised labour market rests upon improvement of creative competencies. The rationale for the Creanova project is how learning situations and processes can be constructed to achieve sustainable innovation.  The main aim was to link creativity with innovative capabilities in design and preparation of new processes, products or ideas. Although innovation is one of the four pillars of the EU Lisbon Agenda, there exists little evidence on what innovation actually is - and even less on how it can be identified, fostered and developed in practical ways.

At a time of profound structural change, this impacts on the security sector in important ways. Innovation includes learning methodologies, practices, systems and applications. This includes a focus on how such innovative practice can be rolled out to improve creative competencies in work-based environments. And while security environments are often by necessity hierarchic and rigidly structured, the world of which they are a component part most decidedly is not. The issue then becomes the potential roles of creativity and innovation in security related environments. What are the limits, if any, to be placed on innovative and creative thinking and practice in these contexts?

If nothing else, the significant transformations opened up by new technologies place a dramatic new emphasis on innovation. They affect all learning and relationships accordingly.

This issue has also become a priority for many policy makers in European learning systems. Due to both the Bologna and Copenhagen processes, a profound reform of the curricula on both vocational and higher education levels has occurred. Development of research findings in applying innovative methodologies to promote creative competencies is a valuable resource for relevant professionals and training institutions. Furthermore, the application of these results to security contexts could be of great interest.

Such a process raises new issues around structures of learning, working and production and how they might promote innovation and creativity. It is necessary to consider and compare different types of organisational structures that contribute to creativity learning and innovation. It should be possible to identify different forms of organisational structures from evaluations of practice and to investigate how different methods for developing innovation and creativity work in different systems or organisations. This also raises questions regarding the nature of learning in knowledge-based societies.   It is important to consider what learning looks like in societies where hierarchies are modified or shaped in more fluid ways.

Creativity and innovation are integral parts of the learning process.  But we have found in this Creanova project that it is not always easy to differentiate between the two terms. In a broad sense creativity has been defined as the production of novel and useful ideas - doing something for the first time anywhere or creating new knowledge. Innovation was adoption or implementation of novel and useful ideas, encompassing adaptation of products or processes from outside an organisation.

Both terms are linked to the tendency to think about new and better ways of doing things and to try them out in practice. Regarding market innovation, theorists like Schumpeter have popularised the concept of creative destruction. This suggested that that the economy is a dynamic system in which old ways of doing things are destroyed and constantly displaced by new ones.

Today innovation concepts apply to a context where use of the Internet and ICTs have reshaped the market economy (globalisation) and have led to unprecedented change in observed rhythms of growth and their intensity. Knowledge has become the cornerstone on which to rest the development and survival of companies. Creativity and innovation have turned into new tools to lead processes effectively towards new aims.

In 2003 Jan Fagerbert summarised the dominant discourse about the future of European and global economies.

  • Innovation introduces novelty (variety) into the economic sphere - if innovation stops, the economy does not increase
  • Innovation tends to cluster in certain industries/sectors, which consequently grow more rapidly leading to structural changes in production and demand and, eventually, organisational and institutional change
  • Innovation is a powerful explanatory factor behind differences in performance between firms, regions and countries. Those that succeed in innovation prosper at the expense of less able competitors.

Literature on the subject indicates four main trends reflecting the effect of globalisation on innovation processes:

  • Acceleration. Technological change has speeded up substantially over the last few decades. This is mainly illustrated by the fact that the time required to launch a new high-tech product has been significantly reduced. The process from knowledge production to commercialisation is much shorter. The rapid development and wide dissemination of ICT has played a key role in bringing about this change.
  • Inter-firm collaboration and industrial networks. New products are increasingly integrating different technologies - technologies increasingly based on different scientific disciplines. To master such a variety of domains is impossible even for big organisations. This is also reflected in the costs of developing new products and systems, which have grown. Most firms do not have the capability or the resources to undertake such initiatives - this is the main reason for the expansion of collaborative schemes for research and the growing importance of industrial networks.
  • Functional integration and networking inside firms. Speedy adaptation and innovation gives the functionally integrated firm an advantage.    Flexibility, interdisciplinary linkage and cross-fertilisation of ideas at managerial and laboratory levels within the firm are now important keys for success.
  • Collaboration with knowledge production centres. Increasing reliance on advances in scientific knowledge for major new technological opportunities has been an important stimulus for firms to collaborate with scientific centres like public and private laboratories, universities and other applied research centres.

These trends, more visible in some countries than in others, reveal a new and more collaborative interconnected and relational conception in organisational culture.  They evoke a socio-economic model where the key to success is using much greater degrees of diversity, interdependency and complexity to manage risk and achieve goals. This way of doing things is diametrically opposed to techniques of hierarchy, simplification, uniformity and control used during the industrial era.

The increased importance of innovation reflects the fact that it represents a major response to intensifying competition by enhancing the learning abilities of organisations and individuals alike. Organisations can no longer establish sustainable growth without innovation and learning. The scope of the challenges posed by the globalising learning economy requires that all innovation policies rest on inclusion of a learning component.

These themes are related to profound changes in society in general and to the structured world of work in particular. There is a general acceptance that traditional schooling, the ‘front-end loading’ approach for preparation for the world of work, is no longer appropriate. This is so for a number of reasons which include:

  • Rapid changes in the world of work
  • The changing nature of goals for education and training
  • The realisation that most people will have a number of occupations and job changes during the period of their working life.

Emphasis has evolved from a concentration on instrumental concepts of vocational education as a preparation for work during the years of formal schooling, towards a concept of lifelong learning that is work related. There is a growing realisation that the demands of the workplace make it imperative that social and interpersonal knowledge, skills and competencies be incorporated into any programme of learning both for and in the world of work.

Traditional companies often saw basic training as being all that was required - simply enough to learn to do the job. This stratified and minimalist approach fits badly with the realities of rapidly changing external environments where all stakeholders have to work together in anticipating both change and challenge. Many companies increasingly see on-the-job learning as essential to growth and to enhanced competitiveness. This is because new skills are continually being acquired by staff. New ways of using old skills are also being learned.

The learning organisation must therefore produce individuals who are:

  • Adaptable
  • Flexible
  • Innovative
  • Pro-active
  • Responsible
  • Highly motivated.

A range of literature suggests that workplaces must be turned into sophisticated professional learning organisations in order to ensure that learning becomes consolidated as an essential part of the organisational culture.

This is a kind of learning which, in constantly demanding interaction with those equal to and different from us, requires large doses of intelligence and of emotional understanding that enables workers and managers to motivate and improve their relationships with colleagues, to bounce back from adversity, to work through the difficulties and disappointing moments of change, to build high-performing teams, to solve problems effectively, to value the diverse learning styles and cultural backgrounds of team-mates, and to solve conflicts when they arise.
(Hargreaves, 2003).

In a globalised environment work is no longer a uniform progression of production and consumption but is also an unfolding of a profound restructuring of all social, cultural, personal and ethnic relationships and understandings. The fact remains however, that modern society is displaying worrying levels of uneven development and disturbing levels of documented inequality, poverty and discrimination. Environmental degradation, homelessness, two-tier social service provision, absence of planning, asset stripping of public services and blind reliance on ever-increasing consumption patterns are but some of the indices of current social malaise in all countries.

In such a context the ability to cut costs, maintain increased production rates and maintain competitiveness may tend to dominate all commercial thinking and forward planning. When the imperative is to survive from day to day, most organisations can find issues around learning, planning, staff qualifications and innovation either esoteric or irrelevant. Rather, the organisation’s role should be to marshal productive activity to meaningful behavioral and social ends. In this sense, employment can become participation in activities which are profitable to all key stakeholders. Work itself, in this sense, goes beyond the mere provision of activity to the creation of value - in both economic and social senses.

Learning, in the context of organisational output, is most effectively understood when positively linked with:

  • Creativity
  • Problem resolution
  • Change management
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Improved communications.

Organisations who have seen learning as more than skill-specific training have been able to benefit from the extraordinary potential of new and diverse elements in their workforces. This has meant that the voyage of discovery around learning has become centrally linked to the strategic learning needs of the organisation as a whole. This learning of the organisation is tied directly to the learning needs of each and every member. Employers and organisations who see only cost implications in the provision of work-based learning are, at the least, missing out on the extraordinary potential of thinking and acting in different ways.

Innovation is literally doing what has not been done before. It calls for considerable creativity for employers to develop innovative practices. It is often a veritable leap into the unknown. Yet all the evidence is that the companies who achieve success do so because they are doing something new - or something old in a new way. Innovation is not about market gimmicks. It is about products and skills that emerge from new ways of organisation and human creativity. Innovation is based upon learning from the past as much as about anticipating the needs of the future.

These are the themes and issues emerging from the research findings of the Creanova project. Somewhere in there is a relevant link to the security service environment. Balancing the risk of creative innovation with the traditionally understood imperatives of tried and tested practice is a delicate process. But the technology itself compels us to think and act in different ways.

Innovation is a concept originally related to practical application and development of new ideas in the industrial world with a key focus on boosting competitiveness. However, the development of new technologies affecting production, use and distribution of knowledge - combined with the grave global structural problems - raises a parallel debate on the ultimate aims of innovation. The twin aims of understanding processes and practice in learning that promote innovation and creativity is intrinsically linked to producing social value and contributing to both organisational and individual needs. This is a discussion that is only unfolding.



  1. Fagerberg, Jan (2003).  Innovation: A Guide to the Literature. Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture: University of Oslo
  2. Hargreaves, A. (2003) Teaching in the Knowledge Society, New York: Teachers College Press.



Photograph: CERN Globe of Science and Innovation - © Henry Mühlpfordt, Wikimmedia Commons


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