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O.C. Needs Rapid Transit for New Ideas

The unhindered flow of innovation is the key to a strong economy and high quality of life.

September 03, 2000|DAVID H. BLAKE | David H. Blake is dean of UC Irvine's Graduate School of Management

In the ongoing debate on how to protect the quality of life in Orange County as the population grows, we talk a lot about transportation, housing and the environment, as well we should. But we also need to pay closer attention to another resource that is vital to the future of this region, the county's intellectual infrastructure.

Orange County's economy today is largely based on information, knowledge and creative ideas. The county has evolved from its rural roots to a vibrant and nationally recognized center of technology-driven businesses that attracts innovators and risk-takers who quickly turn ideas into action.

The process of developing new ideas that lead to innovation works only when it is intensely and continuously interactive. If the county is to maintain its strong economy and high quality of life and find solutions to the problems that come with growth, we must encourage a continuous, informal, free flow of ideas between all kinds of institutions, as well as among citizens. Knowledge must be shared if the county as a whole is to reap the benefits of the intellectual richness of this region.

This kind of sharing is happening increasingly at UC Irvine as schools campuswide seek ways to bring community and business leaders, faculty and students together so they can learn from each other. The extensive partnership established recently between the UCI Graduate School of Management and Conexant Systems Inc. is an example of the type of intellectual exchange that needs to happen more among diverse groups in the county.

The partnership involves a wide range of activities that bridge the gap between the corporate world and academia. For example, through a customized executive education program, business school faculty members are helping Conexant leaders hone their management skills. In turn, Conexant leaders serve as an important information resource for faculty as they develop leading-edge course material or conduct research on the impact of technology on business.

Another crucial part of the exchange of intellectual capital with Conexant is the engagement of MBA students in the life of the company. Fifteen MBA students from UC Irvine worked as interns at Conexant this summer, and, in the fall, teams of eager graduate students will be conducting projects for Conexant. In the reverse direction, Conexant executives and scientists will be plugged into a variety of intellectual activities at the Graduate School of Management through a special extra-net information exchange designed by staff at the school.

The UC Irvine Graduate School of Management offers many other opportunities for sharing knowledge. For example, a number of businesses including the Boeing Co., Canon Information Systems, ADL, IBM and Microsoft as well as Conexant are involved in the school's interdisciplinary Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations (CRITO). This National Science Foundation University/Industry Cooperative Research Center brings industry and university faculty together to jointly develop research ideas.

From these structured programs, we already are seeing a set of more informal contacts that will result in a greater sharing of ideas and opportunities. All of this increases the intellectual capital of the county.

At the Graduate School of Management, students are developing a model of idea generation and business creation that could and should be emulated more broadly throughout the county. The school has become a breeding ground for building business value. MBA students from very different backgrounds are forming teams, challenging each other to think in new directions and making plans to change the way business is done.

The business school's New Venture Business Plan Competition this spring brought together 11 student teams that benefited from the coaching of corporate mentors. Some of these teams have already obtained early financing and are getting underway. Some will make it big-time; some will not. But it is clear that each of the participants will be back again to work with others to innovate, to lead and to build value.

The business school, in a way, is a microcosm of the county. And just as the school is consciously seeking to provide an environment and a culture in which bright people can identify colleagues with complementary skills, generate ideas and think big, the leaders of the county should do all that can be done to create an environment for investigation and innovation.

The future belongs to the swift, the innovative, the agile and the bold who multiply their impact through collaboration with others. Therefore it is vital that we do everything we can to remove barriers that prevent people from crossing lines between institutions and benefiting from each other's knowledge.

In addition to tearing down barriers, let's build the structures, create a climate, and strengthen a culture that will ensure the long-term success of the county.

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