reconceptualization and restructuring of the university initiated in 2002. While the complex redesign is shaped by a host of broad societal concerns, the university has sought to align its public mission with strategies to spur regional economic development, consistent with its role as a center for discovery, knowledge creation, and innovation. The commercialization of academic research is key to such efforts: One of the university’s goals, he said, was to become the “central node of an integrative knowledge discovery and commercialization network.”
To advance the role of the university in both knowledge creation and the advancement of innovation networks critical to regional economic development, ASU has developed its own approach to innovation and commercialization, rather than following models developed elsewhere. “We found that all the things that were important in California and in other innovation clusters made sense,” he said, “but could not be copied in Arizona. If you attempt to replicate what was done in Silicon Valley, it just will not work. You need to learn from them, draw on their lessons, and then work out your own solution.”
He considered the role of Arizona State University in the regional approach to innovation from the following perspectives:
- Reinforcing existing knowledge clusters. While regional economic development efforts generally focus on the formation of new knowledge clusters, metropolitan Phoenix is reinforcing existing industries—those that have been already successful over three or four decades. Rather than “stepping past them and thinking that somehow we’re going to evolve some completely new industrial cluster,” stakeholders are asking the question, what can we do to sustain the success of our industries? A dense concentration of aerospace manufacturing companies, for example, has flourished for decades in metropolitan Phoenix. Apart from their reliance on ASU for engineering graduates, however, these companies have interacted to a negligible and insufficient extent with the university or one another. A first step was thus to help them continue to remain competitive by integrating them into a cluster within which each could draw on and build from knowledge created at the university.
- Group problem-solving (1). The second strategy, which Dr. Crow called a “hard-fought lesson,” was to implement the practice of group problem-solving. He used the example of a $100 million grant awarded to ASU by the U.S. Army to develop a flexible display technology that could be worn on soldiers’ uniforms in combat. The university was not asked to “do research, problem solving, submit scientific assessments about new materials, or publish papers,” he explained. He offered the following summary of instructions from the Army: “You cluster yourselves together with whoever you have to and figure out how to manufacture this one thing. If you write academic papers, that’s wonderful, put them off to the side. All we want is a flexible display wearable on a soldier’s uniform in