Graduate USC's New Program, Demand Friends Call You "Dr. Innovation"

Dr. Innovation

In a description so buzzword-happy and circumventing it could almost be an Onion story, the University of Southern California has announced a new program for its graduate school: The USC Diploma in Innovation Program. According to the site, "students will emerge from the program with a greater ability to recognize the broad possibilities for how their academic expertise intersects with pressing societal needs and with the skills necessary to meet those needs in tangible ways." Huh? Is that not the goal for any higher education program?

This program arrives at a time when bloggers and designers are logging some serious backlash against the I-word, which has become so trendy it has nearly been rendered meaningless. (The Merriam-Webster definition? "The introduction of something new.") Some writers like Scott Berkun have demanded you stop using it. Bruce Nussbaum at BusinessWeek declared it dead back in 2008.

It seems that USC's program can't really decide what it wants to be, remaining ambiguous right down to the curriculum, which is divided into puzzling categories like "Disciplinary Perspectives in Innovation." A more detailed description of sample goals for students seems to be more akin to teaching entrepreneurial skills: "Innovations can take the shape of new products or services; new ventures, ranging from non-profits to venture-backed start-ups; as well as entirely new ways of collaborating around important ideas."

The program is open to advanced Ph.D. students from all disciplines enrolled at USC, who can take three four-unit courses during a flexible period as to not interrupt their non-innovative coursework. At least they've got nothing to lose: The program is completely free.


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  • Alissa Walker

    Jeff, I have no beef with innovation, but I was put off by USC's choice to use a word that is clearly suffering some fatigue in the industry, along with adding more buzzy words around it that further dilutes what it exactly means. I also find it really odd that it has to be taught in a separate program. Teaching students entrepreneurial skills and how to make their ideas socially relevant should be part of any curriculum. We should put innovation into *all* of our educational programs---let's just not call it that.

  • Jeff De Cagna

    Considering that Fast Company has been a champion of innovation from the time of its founding, I find the snarkiness of this post a bit baffling. And regardless of what Scott Berkun and Bruce Nussbaum argue, innovation remains an essential part of organizational success today and simply discarding the word because we've suddenly decided it is too trendy is absolute nonsense. (Perhaps the actual trendiness going on here is among bloggers who think we should stop using the word "innovation." It certainly helps raise your profile, at least in this post.)

    I think it is great that USC is taking steps to encourage Ph.D candidates in other fields to study innovation more deeply. It may help them be more successful in commercializing their ideas. Why would criticize that? The point of this post truly eludes me.