Lots of talk, No Action—Part 1

Quite a few requests for talks and write ups about our research on Management Systems for Breakthrough Innovation, and Innovation Roles & Responsibilities have come in lately, and I’ve been able to get to a number of them.  It seems there is a lot of interest in improving the success rate for breakthrough innovation in established companies.  That’s not surprising since, more and more, people are concerned about these companies’ fate, and see the waste of mergers, breakups, and failures of iconic companies and brands that leverage wonderful rich troves of physical and intellectual assets and employee bases.

At the Product Development and Management Association’s Boston Chapter meeting in early July, I was describing the challenges that innovators in big companies face in their careers as they bump up against entrenched business models and corporate belief systems that prevent breakthroughs from commercial success.  As usual, after that talk, several people commented “You just described my career!”

A talk to a consortium of well–known global companies hosted by DSM in the Netherlands on the topic of metrics for breakthrough innovation provoked impassioned discussion.  In Denmark, an entire hospital system sent their leaders and innovation officers to an Innovation Leadership training program at Danish Technical University’s Executive Education center to learn the frameworks and principles underlying our research, and to use our Innovation Maturity Assessment tool to evaluate their management system for innovation.  The Industrial Research Institute’s journal, Research-Technology Management, produced an interview of me about our forthcoming book, in its July issue. The Center for Innovation Management Studies wants a shortened version for their publication in September.

Just a few weeks ago I gave the keynote address at the PDMA’s doctoral consortium, which was attended by early career scholars and some senior level academics from around the world, along with a handful of industry representatives, at University of New Hampshire.  There I spoke about what we now know about breakthrough innovation, and identified some of the next fertile fields for academic research in the field.

Actually, we know a lot more than we think we do. The industry representatives expressed amazement at what is known, and at how little of it is put to use.

From what I can tell, there is plenty of interest from industry, but not enough to drive action. With the stock market hovering at record high levels, tech companies in excellent cash positions, and the activist investor community operating on overdrive, large mature companies don’t have the will to invest in innovation.

But now is NOT the time to back away. Now, when the economy is strong, is the time to build that capability. When you think about the immense changes coming down the pike stimulated by the CRSPR experiments in gene editing, or by the onslaught of progress in 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies, by the Internet of Things, Drones, electrification, alternative energy, robotics….How are large mature companies setting themselves up to lead the way into their future?

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