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"Don't be a star, be a galaxy."

Prof. Peter Gloor's research shows that successful innovations are created by groups, not by lone operators.

Published on 17.03.2016

As part of the SWITCH Executive Focus 2016, Prof. Peter Gloor (see box) gave a talk on his research findings to date regarding the laws of successful innovation processes in large groups. His conclusion is that all success stories follow the same pattern. They start with a creative entrepreneur who communicates his or her ideas persuasively, but an idea only becomes successful when people with the right capabilities work together as a group to drive the vision forward with enthusiasm.

Prof. Gloor tells us what his findings mean for Swiss research.

SWITCH: Prof. Gloor, Switzerland is rich in terms of patents but comparatively poor in terms of startups. Our ICT infrastructure, meanwhile, is outstanding. Can Switzerland do more to capitalise on its obvious talent for invention?
Peter Gloor:
That's a good question. Creativity doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with business acumen. Switzerland is already an affluent country, and "earning a fast buck" is a much more common goal in the US than here. Lots of Swiss people are creative, but the most enterprising Swiss that I see are working in Boston, Silicon Valley or Berlin. Switzerland could benefit from improvements to the telecom infrastructure for Swiss entrepreneurs who want to stay here. Videoconferencing is a good example, with SWITCH at the cutting edge.
If Swiss universities want to start more companies, they could put more effort into promoting the idea. MIT, for example, gears its lecture offering to this and most professors offer seminars on forming a startup, which looks at digital innovation in Switzerland, says that universities are excellently placed as regards ICT education and research, but business is not doing enough to harness this potential. What is your view?
I'm not totally convinced by the figures quotes, but the overall message seems right. Right at the top, world-leading IT specialists are being recruited to teach at universities, but things don't look so good at grass roots level. I think it should all start in kindergarten. Generally speaking, Swiss schools are very bad at promoting IT skills. Teachers are still very wary of computers, so we aren't developing young talent – unlike China, India and the US. In the US, for instance, Intel sponsors the Clubhouse Network, which aims to get children and young people interested in ICT. Educanet is a start, but it's half-hearted. The whole thing needs to be broader-based.

Your research is helping us to improve innovation processes. How important is it for those involved to have a fair share in the financial rewards of their "selfless" collaboration?
In my view, fairness is key. You can't hide on the Internet, fraudulent and unfair behaviour is plain to see. Fair treatment of all participants is vital in innovation communities. Without it, people will just leave.

Your advice is "Don't be a star, be a galaxy." How can an individual be a "galaxy" in a traditional, hierarchical organisation?
By practising rotating leadership, seeking out tasks that motivate you and building a network of like-minded colleagues beyond your own workplace.

Prof. Peter Gloor

studied computer science and mathematics at the University of Zurich and has been researching collaboration in innovation networks at the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT in Boston since 2003. He is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of the software firm Galaxy Advisors. Before embarking on an academic career, he worked for UBS, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte Consulting. He is also an honorary professor at the University of Cologne (Department of Information Systems and Information Management).

At the start of February 2016, Prof. Gloor published a blog entry entitled "Homo Collaborensis – Why Steve Jobs did NOT create Apple", which summarises his key research findings to date. This is expanded on in a 120-page manuscript (PDF).

SWITCH Executive Focus

The SWITCH Executive Focus is the most important information and inspiration forum for decision-makers in management at Swiss universities. It is held once a year.

The topic of this year's event was "Digitalised university administration between process optimisation and a minefield". Videos of all the talks and discussions can be found on SWITCHtube.

The SWITCH Executive Focus 2017 will take place on 15 March 2017.

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