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Rethinking Innovation: Characterizing Dimensions of Impact

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Opening General Session 2

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1053.1 - 24.1053.14



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Paper Authors


Freddy Solis Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Freddy Solis is a doctoral candidate in the School of Civil Engineering at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. He holds a civil engineering degree from the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan, Mexico, and M.Sc. in civil engineering and MBA degrees from Purdue University. His research focuses on innovation, design, entrepreneurship, and engineering education.

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Joseph V. Sinfield Purdue University

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Joseph V. Sinfield received a B.S. degree in civil engineering, summa cum laude, from Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, and M.S. and Sc.D. degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. He is an Associate Professor in the School of Civil Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and a Senior Partner at Innosight, LLC, an innovation consulting and investment firm based in Lexington, Massachusetts in the United States. His research, teaching and professional activities address two focal areas: 1) experimental methods, instrumentation, and sensor design, and 2) innovation management, particularly in the context of entrepreneurship and engineering education. Prior to Purdue and Innosight, he spent five years as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company and also worked as a geotechnical engineer for Haley & Aldrich. Dr. Sinfield is a frequent speaker on the management principles that can be employed to more predictably drive innovation and serves on the innovation advisory boards of multiple companies. He is the co-author of The Innovator’s Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work (Harvard Business Press, 2008), and has published in business periodicals such as Sloan Management Review, Marketing Management, IndustryWeek, and Financial Executive, as well as in an array of peer reviewed scientific journals.

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Rethinking Innovation: Characterizing Dimensions of ImpactInnovation – the introduction of novel or different ideas into use or practice that drive impact – isreceiving increased attention across many domains including engineering, science, business, andgovernment, and many schools of thought exist to characterize it. As a consequence, studies oninnovation have proliferated at multiple levels of analysis including individuals, organizations,regions, nations, and society. Yet the study of innovation has been centered on the analysis ofchange across many meta-classification schemas such as change in form or function, change inunderlying technological performance, change in the systems that involve the innovation, or achange in the perspective of the end user affected by the innovation, which all effectively retain avery local focus around the object of the innovation. This paper reframes the construct ofinnovation by unpacking a previously unexplored dimension of focus – the measures of impactcaused by the object of innovation, which span time, affected stakeholders, and functional,social, and emotional (i.e., socioeconomic) implications. To do this, the paper reviews themultiple historical dimensions that have been used to characterize innovation and frames an areaof opportunity for practitioners and researchers – the pursuit and study of innovation that isimpact-driven. The paper examines dimensions of impact using historical innovations asevidence of each type of change, both while the innovation was being developed (i.e., ex ante)and the impact that is noticeable after the fact (i.e., ex post). This treatment underscores the needto study ways to more predictably drive innovation of broad, enabling impact that facilitatestransformations across society – as opposed to relying on evolutionary processes. Theimplications of the impact dimension of innovation for engineering education are discussed fromthe perspective of research, practice, teaching, and learning. The contribution of the frameworkis a new way to think about innovation and its implications on the solutions to important,complex, and unaddressed societal challenges.

Solis, F., & Sinfield, J. V. (2014, June), Rethinking Innovation: Characterizing Dimensions of Impact Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22986

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