Picture cred – via the fabulous One Letter Pool on Flickr

What shape are you?
I ask this not to see if you're comfortable with your weight and body, but if you (or your country) is prepared for the future. In a future of increasing competition from India, China and other emerging economies, the developed world will continue to face the challenge of ensuring that it has the right people to deliver against the imperative to be innovative and innovate repeatedly and successfully. 

In the first in a series of talks called Innovation Interface (which I'm organising in Ireland to argue the case for more attention to social science in debates about innovation and design), Navi Radjou suggested that shaped people are what's needed for future success in a global and increasingly competitive economy.
Navi argued that the old R&D paradigm was science and technology driven, and that the new will be market driven or customer centric. 

In this brave new world, some companies are already there by the way, R&D will be different.
No longer about just new products it will be about new business solutions
and business models.  Not just about technical invention, it is/will be about business design and the technical expertise of R&D people will not simply be scientific and engineering but combine design with  technical and business oriented skills. 

To succeed in this world, Navi argue, Ireland needs multi-dimensional R&D skills that blend physical sciences, engineering, social sciences, and business. (To some extent the focus over the last decade has been in the sciences and the engineering – Innovation Interface series is designed to address this imbalance.) 

And to have these skills, comes the shapes. Ireland, and other countries with science and technology led innovation have plenty of I shaped people 

I – Deep engineering or scientific expertise: BS, MS, PhD 

As competition with India and China ramps up countries like Ireland can get into what is effectively an arms race that they're always going to lose and try by outproducing such people. The maths there obviously do not stack up. So instead it can think about producing some T, L or M shaped people: 

T– Business acumen + tech expertise, Arts + Science: MBA/MS, MBA/PhD, MFA/MS 

L-Engineering + complimentary analytical skills: MBA/MS in social sciences (e.g., anthropology) 

M -Eng + Business + Area Studies + Foreign Language(s) MS/MBA (major: Emerging Markets), MBA/MA Asian Studies.

To win in the customer-centric global economy, Navi argue, Ireland must invest in multidisciplinary R&D skills and act as a techno-cultural broker between West and East. And to do this effectively, it needs to produce different shaped people. It's a simple enough message, but will take time to change the educational agenda, and the technocratic mindset that currently predominates.
In the meantime, it's worth thinking about what shape you are, and what you might do to re-shape yourself. Night classes in Mandarin perhaps?

The next talk in the series is 10th November at the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin. Maria Bezaitis of Intel's PAPR group will be talking about Intel's on-going experiment with a social science led innovation approach – of which I'm a typical example. 

Follow us on twitter @innovinterface to learn about this series of events as they unfold….