Andrew Hargadon has worn many hats over the years. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he found himself in Silicon Valley in the early nineties – he was one of the self-proclaimed “geniuses” working for Apple at the time – and eventually went back to school to study the innovation process. He now serves as Professor of Technology Management at the University of California, Davis. In the past six years, he said on Sunday during the Industry and Entrepreneurship for Beginners Panel at BiOS, he has devoted himself to understanding and supporting how we innovate. More to the point, he added, addressing the crowd composed largely of young researchers, what is innovation, “and how can your understanding of it change enough that you can realize what you can do with it?” In the hour or so that followed, Hargadon walked us through these questions, debunking the Great Man theory of invention and demystifying the processes of innovation and entrepreneurship, emphasizing his many points through discussions of the mousetrap (i.e., why we don’t actually need to build a better one) and erstwhile “next big things” like the Segue. His message to would-be entrepreneurs was essentially this: The idea is not the thing at all. Rather, it’s how you utilize existing knowledge to approach a problem in a unique way. Innovation is about connecting, he said, not inventing. It is about taking ideas that are already out there and putting them together in better combinations. Two very famous examples: Henry Ford and mass production of the automobile, and the iPod. How you go about this is shaped by your network, by the people with whom you surround yourself, the people who determine the raw materials at your disposal in tackling a problem. In the end, he said, you’re only as creative as your network. Indeed, the network is the innovation. Hargadon noted two different types of networks: idea networks and action networks. He spoke mostly about the former, and when asked about the latter he responded with a story. A pig and a chicken open a diner, where they plan to serve a breakfast of bacon and eggs. When it comes time to decide who takes in the greater share of the profits, the pig says to the chicken: “You might have come up with the idea, but I’m the one making the sacrifice…” Idea networks are far-ranging, low-commitment networks, Hargadon said. “Eggs are low-commitment. With action networks, now you’re talking about commitment. That’s a different set of discussions, a different stage in the development of the idea.” This segued nicely into a panel discussion on the innovation lifecycle. Federico Capasso of Harvard University, Sergey Egerov of Del Mar Photonics, Shibin Jiang of AdValue Photonics, Inc. and Duncan Moore of the University of Rochester fielded a series of questions about intellectual property issues, how best to approach potential investors, licensing technology and more.