Innovation. We’re hearing this word a lot these days – in our federal budget, our businesses and especially in our research work.

The use of design thinking as a method to generate innovation in spaces outside the design studio is something that I believe we should all celebrate. If, as the meme-verse tells us, creativity is intelligence having fun, then design thinking seems to be traditional innovation strategies at a rave. Design thinking and innovation. Together, the terms ring with power and potential. Their pervasive use in the business literature and in our collective hive-twitter-mind suggests the melding of strategic, creative and analytical approaches to understanding some of the most complicated and important problems of today.

But all is not as it appears to be: generating innovation through design thinking is not just sticky tabs and prototyping. Using ‘design thinking’ to solve the problems of the future cannot be solely the application of magical fairy dust  – it is a social practice informed by a culture and a community that is shared, evolved and adapted every day by designers across Canada. It is connecting creativity and innovation in action.

Our new federal budget has created an opportunity for developing an actionable and evidence based innovation strategy that integrates what I see designers doing in the studio everyday into programs and services across our country. It is so exciting to see the discussion about design thinking and innovation move beyond the myth of creative magic, and into our larger narrative about what it means to be Canadian.

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I’m excited to see the ways in which the Canadian government is focusing our attention on the critical role innovation plays in the issues facing Canadians today. I’ve been lucky to be part of round table discussions held by Startup Canada, SSHRC & CRSH and Google where they asked participants from across Canada “How do YOU define a creative and entrepreneurial Canada?” You can download the full report about the initiative here (it really is worth the read!).

Hearing from Canadians involved in creative, startup, venture and not for profit communities at those round table discussions about what they see to be the most important conditions required for building an innovative and #creativeCanada was fascinating. And seeing the role that research at the University of Calgary plays in that discussion was inspiring: as President Elizabeth Cannon has shared, our academic community plays an important part in developing innovative technology and innovative ideas.

“As leaders in innovation, universities are at the centre of cluster economies that promote and foster adoption of innovative ideas and technologies, create better underlying conditions to grow companies, and reduce the costs for businesses to operate.”

The type of problem solving work that I see happening in the design studio as designers tackle wicked and complex social problems is something that I think should be reflected in the research mandate of any great University.

Through our own research strategy, UCalgary is setting an example for how this can be done. Our aim as a research community is “to discover new knowledge and translate our discoveries into applications that provide benefits to our local, national and international communities.” and with 148 research chairs and $360.5 million in sponsored research funding, we’re making creativity and innovation a crucial part of the discussion about how we can create a better Canada. Our strategic research platform of Knowledge Translation is just one of the ways our social science research can connect with the innovation focus of both the University of Calgary, and of Canada as a whole.

This study is helping me learn more about how designers work – how they connect innovation and creativity on a daily basis – and I’m excited share that with researchers from across my own academic home at UCalgary, and from across Canada at SSHRC Congress this May. After all, creativity and innovation are key calls to action in the both the University of Calgary’s research agenda and in our government’s focus on the Canada of tomorrow.

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