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Those Who Want to Go Far, Go Together

Steinbeis experts support the LEONARDO Center for Creativity and Innovation with the planning and organization of knowledge transfer during the process of innovation

Our economic systems and society thrive on a continual supply of new ideas. The best ones lead to products and services that meet the complex demands of the globalized economy. To do this, it is important to dovetail relevant views and ways of looking at things into the innovation process as early as possible. Universities provide an ideal breeding ground for such approaches. Aside from offering an incomparably broad base of professional expertise, they make it possible to introduce interdisciplinary thinking to development processes – from a variety of angles, even as early as the 3I phases: inspiration, ideation, and invention.

The LEONARDO Center for Creativity and Innovation in Nuremberg has set itself the task of offering more space for this potential offered by universities, also making it possible to explore the bounds of feasibility. By applying a phase model – which, from the moment an initial idea is born, revolves closely around the innovation process – the center supports interdisciplinary teams in their work, also exploring the key factors that determine the successful transfer of promising ideas. Professor Dr. Michael Braun, entrepreneur at the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Science Management, co-founded the center and is now supporting its ongoing development with his Steinbeis expertise.

These days, institutions and companies have to operate under conditions that are considered volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. The acronym VUCA has become established as a buzzword for this state of affairs. VUCA highlights the challenges faced in modern, global society, but at the same time it points to a way to meet these challenges and potentially emerge successfully: through vision, understanding, clarity, and agility.

When developing potential solutions to complex problems or creating visions and capturing them in concrete terms, it is important not only to determine the key factors and aspects relating to specific issues, but also to understand how they relate to one another. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach by considering the views of different specialist communities and methodology stakeholders leads to ideas that can only arise in the areas of overlap between those disciplines.

Nuremberg is a city of science characterized by application-oriented research and intensive networking between universities, non-university research institutions, and innovative companies. With a wide range of degree courses, 25,000 students, and hundreds of professors and university staff, it offers the ideal prerequisites for leveraging interdisciplinarity and promoting ideas in the region.

VUCA versus interdisciplinarity

The flip side of the many things hoped for in interdisciplinarity – which sound appealing at first glance – is a realization that interdisciplinary collaboration is itself a complex challenge: The more disciplines, the more difficult it becomes to stem VUCA in the process.

As a collaborative project between Nuremberg Institute of Technology, Nuremberg Academy of Fine Arts, and Nuremberg University of Music, the LEONARDO Center is tackling this exact challenge. Its role is to establish a framework to promote the positive impact of interdisciplinarity on the innovation process, also bridging critical factors. This revolves around a model called the LEONARDO Process. “It’s a generic process that’s particularly effective in content and methodological terms during the uncertain and vague early stages of innovation by stimulating and supporting the generation and transfer of ideas between interdisciplinary teams – covering six phases,” explains Steinbeis consultant Michael Braun. As co-founder of the LEONARDO Center, Braun now supports the center with his Steinbeis Enterprise in rethinking interdisciplinary collaboration at universities in order to shape transfer in the innovation process from the very beginning.

LEONARDO supports the innovation process

The LEONARDO Process Model


Ideally, the innovation process starts with the right ideas at the right time. A foundation for this is laid by an informal setting that facilitates the low-threshold exchange of ideas in order to allow people to inspire one another and come up with ideas. It’s important to underpin this with proactive support in order to capture those ideas and make them tangible. LEONARDO offers a number of formats that are suitable for promoting communication and congregation. It also organizes, among other things, networking events, themed workshops, and talks, not only providing individual assistance but also visiting organizations.

Once an idea for a joint project has emerged, the different stakeholders require a structural framework that will help them with two important tasks: to gain trust in one another in order to gain visibility as a team and function properly; and to develop a vision together as a point of orientation. On top of this, they face another task in interdisciplinary contexts: Because teams are made up of different individuals, not only do they offer a considerable variety of views and expertise, but there are significant differences in specialist terminology, conventions, and approaches. LEONARDO accompanies the different stakeholders in making constructive use of both the differences and similarities between communities.

To ascertain the potential areas that can be explored by the project, ideation begins during the preparation phase. It is important at this point to reach agreement on areas of commonality and workflows. This includes agreeing collaborative formats that will offer the possibility to exchange views creatively, not only when it comes to current content, but also with respect to future prospects of engaging in co-creation. The LEONARDO Center supports this process by offering suitable physical facilities and a digital infrastructure, providing guidance on ideation methods and techniques, assisting with moderation and evaluation, and helping with actual implementation.

Once a framework has been put in place regarding the scope of the project, it is important to exchange ideas and suggestions, to examine those ideas, discount them, or come back to them. It is not uncommon for opportunities identified during this phase to be underestimated, such that ideas are prioritized too quickly over prototyping – even though it is precisely the diverse spectrum of knowledge regarding methodologies and different experience within involved disciplines that presents such a broad scope of potential solutions. To exploit this potential offered by interdisciplinary collaboration, the LEONARDO Center strengthens the ability of teams to experiment, lowering the entry point for “trying things out” iteratively. In methodical terms, this revolves around techniques used in creative research, innovation development, and design. In spatial terms, it involves providing access to adaptable and technologically outstanding rooms and laboratories.

Key area of focus: the transfer phase

The transfer part of the model highlights how important it is for third-party stakeholders to put existing ideas into context and provide input – and how crucial it is to continuously think about transferring content into and out of the project during the process. The interdisciplinary, collaborative approach not only results in significantly more stakeholders being recognized as important for idea development. It also ensures the required networks are put in place. As a result, LEONARDO projects may not always culminate in a finished product, process, or service. Instead, interested stakeholders are offered an ongoing opportunity to evaluate “work in progress” or findings and take these forward.

It is this transfer mindset that Steinbeis consultant Michael Braun strives for with LEONARDO, and aside from changing transfer itself, it also transforms thinking regarding projects. “The focus is no longer just on results, but on exchange and the actual ideas that emerge during the process,” explains LEONARDO research associate Dr. Daniela Bauer. Making the process just as important as the outcome paves the way for new transfer formats, also adding appeal to collaboration between universities during the early stages of innovation. For example, students can engage with companies by contributing with novel views on shared ideas revolving around a societal problem as part of a hackathon. Networking meetings allow stakeholders from research and front-line business practice to focus on exchanging ideas rather than just business cards. As a result, they arrive at shared visions and concrete collaborative projects.

This interdisciplinary approach makes it possible to raise the profile of a wide range of scientific disciplines and research questions. In addition, it allows external stakeholders from science, industry, and society in general to become closely involved in processes. The LEONARDO Model highlights the fact that transfer is not just about “lots of communication” regarding outcomes, or results at the end of projects. Transfer is also about facilitating collaboration between many stakeholders and developing ideas during the process itself.

The LEONARDO Center for Creativity and Innovation is a collaborative project between Nuremberg Institute of Technology, Nuremberg Academy of Fine Arts, and Nuremberg University of Music. The initiative was made possible by a joint Federal and State-level program called Innovative University.


Prof. Dr. Michael Braun (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Consulting Center Science Management (Roßtal)

Dr. Daniela Bauer (author)
Scientific assistant
LEONARDO Center for Creativity and Innovation at Nuremberg University of Applied Sciences (Nürnberg)

Fabian Bitter (author)
Scientific assistant
LEONARDO Center for Creativity and Innovation at Nuremberg University of Applied Sciences (Nürnberg)