MIT Professional Education offered "Radical Innovation" — a short course by Sanjay Sarma, the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering — to industry professionals in Milan and Rome in February, just days before the Italian national elections and after the resignation announcement of Pope Benedict XVI.
Despite the national news and the ongoing Euro Zone crisis, which might dampen investment in change, radical thinking was precisely what would-be entrepreneurs and “corporate intrapreneurs” were looking for.
In the two-day program, Sarma pointed out to the students — professionals who came from energy, telecom, consumer goods, airlines and professional services companies — that Italy is poised to translate its strengths into new arenas. In a country long known for innovation in fashion, sports cars, the arts and other fields, Italian companies are in a position to break out of weighty, corporate structures as well as cultural barriers. Companies, both large and small, could encourage skunkworks operations with the freedom to “rapid launch and fast fail” on new ideas, which could ultimately lead to substantial winners and economic success.
“I was impressed with the diversity of attendees, from startup entrepreneurs to those charged with recruiting innovators into their companies to those responsible for figuring out ways to survive in an environment full of would-be disruptors," Sarma said. "While we get students from all over the world to the MIT campus, it is often enlightening to hear of issues and priorities faced by industry professionals outside the U.S. when you are physically in their environment and interacting with them first hand.”
Bhaskar Pant, MIT Professional Education’s executive director, accompanied Sarma on the course’s first offering outside the U.S. “Innovation is considered synonymous with MIT, so we were already on firm ground with a course titled 'Radical Innovation,'” Pant said. “But it was a pleasure to see Professor Sarma, with his engaging and passionate style of teaching, convince attendees that the time was now to try new things, and that the resources to create quick prototypes were much more readily available than one may think, particularly via global sourcing of talent, services and funding via the Internet.”
Sarma ended the courses in Milan and Rome with a group exercise that asked the attendees to brainstorm innovative scenarios for universities of the future, particularly relevant in light of his own new responsibilities at MIT as the director of digital learning and co-chair of the Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education.
MIT Professional Education plans to offer Sarma’s Radical Innovation course in Singapore later this year as part of its continuing mission and long-term strategy to bring MIT’s expertise and world-renowned faculty to industry globally.