Traditional R&D is dead. I like this moving media to articulate the ways in which R&D has changed in recent times. Check it out!
There is a force stronger than nature which is creating value from customer driven insights and meeting customers needs. R&D must start there, over and above what is interesting to pursue. Having a handy widget and trying to find value in the marketplace is futile. It is about identifying customer needs, and in some cases defining customer needs.
This topic led me to do some digging and in pursuit of understanding cutting edge research better, I found out some interesting things about an interesting organization, Stanford Research Institute, known as SRI International.
SRI, founded as Stanford Research Institute in 1946, is a nonprofit scientific research institute formed under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue code. It was created by a group of industrialists along with Stanford University to conduct leading edge research. SRI formally separated from the University in 1970, and changed its name to SRI International in 1977.
The organization employs approximately 2100 scientists, researchers, inventors, engineers and staff throughout the world headquartered in Menlo Park, CA.
The mission of SRI is to discover and apply science and technology for knowledge, commerce, prosperity, and peace. SRI has a broad charter that encourages its people to make a difference in the world through basic and applied research, research services, technology development, and commercialization of innovations. The SRI vision is centered on being the premier independent source of high-value innovations and solutions in the world. Their strategy is to grow by building and leveraging assets; client relationships, intellectual property, and staff, in important markets.
SRI has built a foundation of broad and deep knowledge, including expertise, to serve clients in communications and networks, computing, economic development and science and technology policy, education, energy and environment, engineering systems, health, homeland security and national defense, materials and structures, and robotics.
The company is led today by Dr. Curtis Carlson, President and CEO, who is an active champion of innovation and embedding innovation best practices within the organization. He believes innovation is a means to meeting the needs of customers, and is now the only path to growth, prosperity, environmental sustainability, and national security. His belief in this is so strong that he teaches innovation to all new hires in two-day workshop intensive. And, he is the co-author of one of the top 10 best business books of 2006 by BusinessWeek, Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want. In his book he articulates how innovation is not merely about creativity, ideas, new products rather it is about bringing value to customers. Without this, there is no innovation.
As an organization, SRI has accomplished significant innovations over the last several decades and attributes its success to the ability to deliver ideas to customers in an impactful and value driven way. For example, Siri technology now owned by Apple was created by SRI based on decades of work in artificial intelligence for US defense. According to SRI, research in artificial intelligence, including SRI leadership of the largest known artificial intelligence project in U.S. history, led to the development of the groundbreaking virtual personal assistant technology. SRI spun off Siri, Inc. in 2007 to bring the technology to consumers and in April 2010, Apple acquired Siri. In October 2011, Siri was unveiled as an integrated feature of the Apple iPhone 4S.
The method for doing innovation within SRI involves five elements or disciplines outlined in great detail in Dr. Carlson’s book: 1) Focus on customer and market needs; 2) Create value by way of a thorough articulation of customer needs, the approach and benefit cost analysis; 3) Innovation champion driven projects to implement approach; 4) Leveraging open innovation to bring the best multi-disciplinary innovation team together of collaborators; and 5) Organizational alignment with customers and partners throughout the process.
According to Dr. Carlson, innovation is the creation and delivery of new customer value in the marketplace. And this plays out internally in how you structure the organization and where you place your focus. According to Norman Winarsky, SRI’s vice president for ventures, licensing, and strategic programs, “at any given time, SRI has around 2,000 projects in the pipeline, spread across five major divisions.” (CNET News, 2010) The divisions act as technology generators for the organization. They consist of information technology; engineering and systems; advanced materials, microsystems and nanotechnology; biotechnology; health, education, and economic policy. Within these divisions, core teams consider what the major important needs of the customers are. The focus is generated along the needs as opposed to what is most interesting to SRI researchers. This in the forefront serves as a driver for new ideas, technologies and products.
The second fundamental discipline is value creation which is defined by a viable and well-articulated value proposition. All ideas are put through this innovation process rigor in what is referred to as “NABC” or need, approach, benefit and competition. Once the need is known and an approach is identified, customer stakeholder value is addressed through assessing benefit per cost to produce. Lastly, competition analysis is conducted for marketplace assessment. SRI conducts the full business analysis in forums called watering holes where the teams in place come together regularly to collect ideas, break down organizational barriers, and provide resources.
At SRI each new project is led by an innovation champion. They operate under a motto of ‘no champion, no project, no exception.’ Every project requires someone who believes passionately in innovation, understands the process, and will do whatever it takes to make it work. The right person has the values, respect for others, and operates with great ethics. According to Dr. Carlson, “we teach all of our folks these elements and we hire people who want to be a part of this.”
Project teams at SRI are designed specifically to the challenge. The belief is if you want to be successful in today’s world, the best ideas come from the best people. They teach their people how to select people who share the vision, have unique skills, and therefore the full team shares in the rewards. For them it is not just about assembling the best team, but also the right team. New possible innovations are managed by small teams of three to five with complementary skills and those who share the vision who can work collaboratively through the issues. Once the ideas are ready for implementation, bigger teams are assembled to move the idea to something meaningful.
The fifth discipline is about organizational alignment. SRI purports to implement scalable organizational plans that liberate creativity, enhance collaborations, and sustain continuous, successful innovations. Within SRI they have methods to incubate ideas collaboratively across the enterprise tied to funding dollars that motivates and incentivizes idea generation. In addition, leadership champions the innovation process across the organization rigorously through instituting workshops and trainings and communicating its value continuously.
Emily Riley: Innovation Practitioner
Danny Hillis from Applied Minds speaks about the kinds of innovation: 1) Research, 2) Systems, and 3) Society.
Innovation occurs in research where new things are developed out of which systems can be built. For example, in government research labs (e.g. DoD) where deep knowledge of specific areas is known and cultivated. What may be lacking is knowledge of systems application or meeting the needs of customers (in the case of a government DoD lab, the warfighter). The second tier of innovation which he addresses is systems innovation. Putting building blocks together into a system and/or product technology. It is interesting to note what is key in accomplishing this: knowledge of people. I think this is where collaborative innovation or open innovation structures play a significant role. He brings up the apple story of the i-gadgets and the company’s ability to connect with many technology pieces and parts to build a system. This required not only an understanding of how people behave and the problems of the customer but how to connect with building block providers, suppliers in a way that revolutionized a market. The third level is society. He notes, “we change technology, but then technology changes us.” This kind of innovation is happening everywhere, but he comments that this happens more often outside of the US.
Emily Riley: Innovation Practitioner
Wouldn’t it be nice to read about applied innovation at the R&D level, rather than one more story about the ‘disruptive’ razor blade solution or the ‘breakthrough’ car foam turned household cleaner?
What opportunities are out there for innovation practitioners to develop and collaborate with communities of practice on applied innovation processes in R&D? In my current knowledge, I know of none.
Much of what is out there in the public domain in written form (blogs, articles, tweets, etc.) is largely ‘case study’ oriented, written from a distance by educated journalists, reporters, business or innovation analysts….but not much out there from the people who actually DO innovation within their organizations. And by that I mean literally, the doers…not the upper management with visions of grandeur.
I think it would be great to have this practice-level work exposed beyond stories about solution seekers finding unlikely found solution solvers for big companies to pump into a product portfolio for billion dollar gains. Now, I realize that this proposition can bring all kinds of anxiety up. Innovation practices are proprietary and clearly confidential, for good competitive reasons within companies. And, the consulting firms that provide these services to corporations also hold close their methods and approaches. But, wouldn’t it be nice to read more about applied innovation at the R&D level, rather than one more story about the ‘disruptive’ razor blade solution or the ‘breakthrough’ car foam turned household cleaner?
Seeking opportunities for non-academic, rather hands-on learnings, that can be shared collaboratively with peers developing and conducting innovation and open innovation processes and practices within their organizations for advancing R&D in meaningful and value-add ways that supports long term, complex research efforts.
See discussion in the IDEA Lab group on linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=3048930&trk=anet_ug_hm&goback=.anh_3048930
Emily Riley: Innovation Practitioner