A Trip to the Innovation Academy

As part of ACRITAS Marie Curie network the attendance of Innovation Academy in UCD was suggested as part of our training. I decided to write about my experience of the course.


From the course description the innovation academy seemed to be an alternative method of education. That made me feel kind of reserved about the actual procedures and the methods that I was about to face.

Day One was about creativity. Questions such as “What is creativity?”, “Who is creative?”, and “When does creativity come?”, were posed. I was slightly out of my comfort zone trying to participate and answer the type of questions that poets, writers and philosophers have tried to answer. I couldn’t help myself but ask: ‘Do you actually have any firm ideas about creativity or do you just want to check our level of understanding of creativity?’. The answer was simple and so complicated at the same time. We don’t know what creativity is nor how it is measured but we are sure that it exists. These wonderings reminded me of the fundamental questions about science: What is life? What is energy? Why one plus one equals two? In the end, we were dealing with philosophical questions. I was thinking that the course won’t teach me anything and is going to be easy. The time and the energy I’m about to spend for these 10 ESTCS credits was my major concern.

After the first task ‘defining creativity’, we had a break and a classmate approached me and asked ‘Do you have to do this course?’ I felt relieved! I am not alone, I thought. The next task was to put us in random teams and make a 30 second video. That was really challenging. I had to socialize and collaborate with two other people whom I had never met before. And their orientation was in the humanities! We started talking about the video and how it should be addressed. I had a very hard time   following their ideas. I couldn’t find the link between the story we had for the movie and the actual topic of the movie. In the end I didn’t say anything but ‘Guys, I am missing the link between the idea and the scenario’. I didn’t insist because I was thinking that this course is ridiculous and it doesn’t have anything to do with me. The movie was not bad in the end; we even won a prize, which in my opinion was a part of the course process.

Day Two started with a Belbin test. A Belbin test shows what the candidate thinks about himself as part of a team. Then the DeBono Challenge we were set was supposed to be about innovating toothpaste. In reality, it was about brainstorming, judging our ideas and finding ways to implement these ideas in the market. This challenge brought most of the team out of their comfort zone. It was the first time that we had to be entirely honest with each other and state our opinions. In the end, it worked really well. When the final decision was made, every member of the team supported the selected idea without hesitation and without thinking whose idea it was in the first place. In the afternoon another challenge followed. In this challenge we were competing with other teams. No one won; our arrogance and our struggle to defeat the other teams prevailed. That challenge taught me how to be ready to change my strategy even in the last second and to always proceed with trial and error procedure in order to build something.

As the last challenge of Day Two we had to defend a highly debatable topic about science and try to see the ethics behind. The goal of this challenge was to see how new inventions can be used for improving society and to come in touch with quandaries related to the ethics surrounding scientific advances. This was the most difficult team that I came across with during the whole course. A member in our team didn’t like an image we used for the final presentation and she decided to delete it. Even after the whole team voted for the image to stay there.

Day Three started in a different environment. We visited National College of Art and Design NCAD, the art school of Dublin. We learnt how to do market research and develop prototypes. . We knew how to work together and most of the time we kept it professional. For the market research we had to go out into the streets and ask people what they miss or what they need. It was a very interesting experience for most of the students.

Day Four was again in a different place. The coordinator of the course invited along two guys who have developed successful websites. The challenge was to find a clever addition to their web pages or see if something was missing. We needed all of the knowledge we got from the other challenges. But we got real comments from the developers and saw how companies work and how they make their dreams come true and become useful!

Day Five was a “lookback” or overview day about the past week. We talked about what we learned and how we implemented our ideas and most importantly how to accept other ideas and develop them.

Then we were grouped in four teams by Dan (the coordinator of the course) and we were given a challenge from a company. This time it was a real challenge with real data. This last challenge wasn’t a day long but spanned two weeks. Everything we learned during the first week was important and for the first time it was hard to apply them. This challenge was certainly the hardest. We had to collaborate and listen to each other’s opinion, take a final decision and apply it. In addition, the data analysis was very demanding. Every one of the team had a personal way of analysing data but in this case we needed to cooperate.

The difficult part was to show respect and accept other opinions about the same topic. This was especially tricky when the deadline was approaching, the time was limited, and everyone was tired and stressed. We were absorbed into our roles within the team and we were playing the ‘game’. In the end we got very helpful feedback about the final presentation and, as  was expected, we had to change a large part of it.

As I describe in the first paragraph, in the beginning most of the students, including myself, were thinking that this course was not important and we won’t learn anything. We were wrong. Within those three weeks, we were teamed in a clever way so that all of us had the chance to work with each other, at least once. We got to know each other, cooperate and distinguished our preferred team partners.

The fact that I could state my own opinion without over-thinking, clever or silly, was very interesting. All of us have learned how to collaborate with people that had very different backgrounds. I can say that I improved my social and presentation skills. I am not afraid to state my opinion even if this will lead to a conflict or heated discussion and, most importantly, I learned how to collaborate without hesitation.

In the end, Innovation Academy is about putting science people to do business and it WORKS!!!


Ioannis Lekkas

2 thoughts on “A Trip to the Innovation Academy

  1. For me, that perfectly summarises the experience of the Innovation Academy. From the initial scepticism to the challenge of working with people with different backgrounds/opinions/ideas and the tools presented to us to help foster this collaboration. Great stuff Ioannis


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