May 11th, 2012

INNOVATION

Optimize Mobility, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Gilbert Chlewicki , known as the Father of the DDI, gave the keynote address at the UDOT Research Workshop.

Gilbert Chlewicki spoke about innovation at the UDOT Research Workshop. "Innovation does not have to be provocative or really out there, it can be very simple."

Chlewicki focused his remarks on innovation and some of the key ways creativity is fostered in engineering organizations. UDOT employees are familiar with many of his talking points – leaders at UDOT purposely create an environment where innovation is encouraged.

According to Chlewicki, barriers to innovation can include organizational disconnect between engineering specialties and a general disinclination on the part of members of the engineering profession to try new things combined with fear of failure.

Most departments of transportation are structured in ‘pillars’ with very little overlap between areas of specialty, such as design or traffic operations. For innovation to occur, engineers in transportation agencies need to understand how different specialties co-relate.

For example, “it’s good to understand how geo-metrics and traffic operation work together,” said Chlewicki. He also pointed out that engineering is a conservative profession and in a department of transportation – or any organization – fear of failure can subvert innovation.

Are the cards stacked against innovation? Chlewicki seemed optimistic that innovation can be fostered and encouraged and offered some suggestions for employees and organizations:

  • Don’t get bogged down by a standard, code or a process. Finding a solution may be outside of the commonplace approach.
  • Look for uncomplicated solutions. “Innovation does not have to be provocative or really out-there, it can be very simple.” Chlewicki pointed to the Diverging Diamond Interchange as an example of a simple solution. Named by by Popular Science magazine as one of the best innovations in 2009, the DDI switches traffic to the opposite side of the roadway in order to avoid left-turn conflicts.
  • “Hang out with other innovators.” Creativity can rub off!
  • Organizations should reward innovation if possible and try to provide an environment where failure is not punished.

It’s good to make room for an ‘ah ha!’ moment. While looking to innovation as a way to solve transportation challenges is necessary in the modern world, once in a while, innovation just happens. “It’s not always need based,” said Chlewicki. “…sometimes it comes out of nowhere.”

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