Two things happened to me last week that might give pause to those of us who really want innovation to become a fixture in organizations. One wasn’t so great. But the other was absolutely great.
First, an acquaintance of mine from the Industrial Research Institute stopped in. If you’re not familiar, the members of the IRI are R&D directors, managers and CTO’s of Fortune 1000ish companies. They’re concerned with understanding how to ensure that industrial R&D is managed wisely, and how government policy impacts their budgets. Among the many, many services they provide to their membership, they oversee research projects on managing innovation, and they’ve sponsored ours since 1995. So these guys understand the concept of breakthrough innovation, and live its challenges every single day. The friend who stopped in has worked for several years in a new business creation group within Central R&D of one of the best known firms in the communications industry worldwide. He’s been with the company pretty much his whole career. When he walked in, I could see things had changed.
“Fifty months,” he bluntly stated as he sat down. “What???” I asked. “We lasted 50 months…we beat the average of 4 years by a measly 2 months.” He proceeded to tell me that the New Business Creation group had been shuttered, the CTO had left, the CEO was gone, and all 25 people in his group had been laid off.
Sadly, this is still happening in companies, I guess. Why haven’t we learned? Why don’t companies take advantage of what we’re learning out there? The evidence is mounting, as my new friend Venkat can tell you even if he does think our book is “tedious”!!!! Innovation needs to be institutionalized…made permanent in organizations. Not a 4 year junket. It’s too wasteful.
But then something positive happened. Got a note from a Prof at Syracuse University who’s planning to use Grabbing Lightning as a text for his MBA and MS in Engineering course on managing innovation. I’m sure he’s using others as well. That’s fine. In fact, it’s wonderful. If we teach people who are students all about an innovation function, when they are persons of influence in their companies someday…..maybe they’ll remember what they’ve read…if it wasn’t too tedious, that is!