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conference contributionposted on 2017-12-06, 00:00 authored by D Ferguson, J Cawthorne, B Ahn, Matthew OhlandMatthew Ohland
There is widespread agreement in society that innovations, derived from improvements in the use of technology and science, have significantly improved our lives in the past 100 years (National Science Board, 2007). This qualitative research study explores the description of innovative behavior in engineers or ‘engineering innovativeness.’ The goal of this exploratory research is to identify the major agreements and understandings, or lack thereof, about how engineers innovate in products, processes and concepts. A purposeful convenience sample of eight expert and award winning engineers and engineering entrepreneurship and innovation educators was used in the study. The research questions were: “What is an innovation?” and “What is the set of individual attributes (key skills, knowledge, attitudes, and other intrinsic and extrinsic factors) that enable engineers to translate their creative ideas into practices (innovations) that benefit society?” The interview protocol consisted of open-ended questions for a semi-structured interview. Participants were asked to reflect on their own innovative experiences and those of other engineers with whom they were familiar and identify attributes associated with innovative behavior by engineers. Inductive analysis of the data was done through open coding, construction of a code book, consolidation of emerging themes though collaborative discussions and strength testing of quotes and assertions. All study participants identified an innovation as something new, useful and adopted by a community. The most important innovative behavior attributes of engineers suggested by study participants were: domain knowledge, opportunity recognition, teamwork skills, curiosity, risk taking, and persistence. Creativity as a unique attribute was seen as essential to jump start the innovation process but clearly not sufficient for getting an idea successfully introduced into the marketplace. Entrepreneurial behavior was also seen as a critical component of the innovation process supporting implementation of the new idea but not sufficient unto itself for creating a successful innovation. Innovative behavior was perceived by some participants as a process that can be taught or knowledge that can be acquired. Other participants perceived some aspects of engineering innovativeness as relatively fixed personality characteristics, meaning “some engineers have it and some don't.” Next steps in this research are to pursue interviews with a larger sample of engineering innovators and investigate the innovative behavior of engineers by stages of the innovation process.