“Managing the Front End of Innovation: Results from a Three-Year Study”; Peter A. Koen, Heidi M. J. Bertels, and Elko J. Kleinschmidt; Research-Technology Management, Part I March-April 2014, pp.34-43; Part II May-June 2014, pp.25-33
Five organizational attributes explain 53% of effective front-end performance, according to this study of practices in 197 large US-based companies by the Industrial Research Institute’s research-on-research committee. The attributes, described in Part I of the report, are: senior management commitment, vision, strategy, resource commitment, and culture.
Part II describes a second set of attributes that explain 24% of the variance in front-end performance: effective teams, team leadership and communities of practices supported by top management. The study also examined differences between incremental and radical innovation efforts, concluding, “The traditional, sequential process typical of incremental innovation efforts will not work for radical innovation.”
“A Broken Place;” Max Chafkin; Fast Company, May 2014, pp. 88-101.
Everyone likes to read about corporate failures other than their own. This account of the collapse of entrepreneur Shai Agassi’s ambitious attempt to replace petroleum-fueled cars with networks of moderately priced electrics should satisfy that desire. Fast Company contributing writer Max Chaftan draws several lessons from Agassi’s short-lived creation, Better Place, which he calls “the most spectacularly failed technology startup of the 21st century.”
Chaftan’s editor Robert Safian draws one lesson that applies far beyond electric cars: “When businesses are flush with capital, they can overreach, trying to do too much too soon. They can focus on too many things, rather than on the one thing that matters most. This is the peril lurking in today’s startup world, where money flows more freely than ever to clever ideas.”
“Farewell Nokia: The rise and fall of a mobile pioneer”; Roger Cheng; cnetnews.com April 25, 2014.
Nokia’s cellphone enterprise was hardly a spectacular failure, for, as Cnet News editor Roger Cheng observes, the company once dominated the wireless world. But its long slide in market share culminating in the recent sale of its handset division to Microsoft holds lessons for other innovators and their leaders. One that Cheng discusses: “its inability to adapt to new trends.”
“Big data: are we making big mistake?” Tim Harford; FT Magazine, March 28, 2014; www.ft.com
Economist/journalist Tim Harford examines and dismisses four prevailing “articles of faith” about Big Data: it produces highly accurate results, captures every data point, obsoletes old statistical sampling techniques, and makes statistical models unnecessary.
Calling Big Data “a vague term for a massive phenomenon that has rapidly become an obsession with entrepreneurs, scientists, governments, and the media,” Harford asserts that while Big Data has arrived, “big insights have not. The challenge now is to solve new problems and gain new answers — without making the same old statistical mistakes on a grander scale than ever.”
“The X Factor”; Jon Gertner; Fast Company, May 2014, pp.66-72,106,108.
Fast Companyeditor-at-large Jon Gertner reports on his day inside the secret Google X innovation lab. As the first journalist allowed such access, Gertner writes how the birthplace of Google Glass sometimes resembles “a cult of failure.” By that he means the emphasis of the “failure-loving” lab on pursuing such far-out ideas as space elevators, driverless cars and balloon=-borne Wi-Fi “by doing everything humanly and technologically possible to test their best ideas until they fall apart.”
This work is performed by an unlikely group of 250 atypical Silicon Valley types who include former park rangers, sculptors, philosophers, machinists, and a two-time Academy Award winner for special effects. The X-people we want, the leader of the rapid evaluation team told Gertner, are people who, “in a sense, know less and less about more and more.”
“Industry-funded academic inventions boost innovation;” Brian D. Wright; Nature, March 20, 2014, pp. 297-299.
Brian D. Wright (U. of California), Kyriakos Drivas (Agricultural University of Athens,Greece), Zhen Lei (Penn State U.), and Stephen A. Merrill (U.S. National Academy of Sciences) present empirical evidence that corporate-funded academic research “is surprisingly valuable for further innovation.” That’s contrary to the assumption that corporate support makes such research less accessible and useful to others, they write.
The authors analyzed 12,516 inventions and related licenses at nine University of California campuses and three associated national laboratories. Nearly 1,500 of the inventions were supported at least partly by private industry and yielded patents and licenses more frequently than federally sponsored ones, with results consistent across technical fields. Moreover, each corporate-sponsored invention generated an average of 12.8 forward citations compared with 5.6 for federally sponsored inventions.
The inventions were disclosed between 1990 and 2005, and licensing activity was analyzed through 2010.
“The Critical Few: Components of a Truly Effective Culture”; Jon Katzenbach, Rutger von Post and James Thomas; strategy+business, Spring 2014; http://www.strategy-business.com
From “cultural interactions” with a wide range of U.S. and foreign organizations, these Booz & Co. staffers conclude “that companies that eschew all-encompassing culture change initiatives and instead focus on three specific elements — critical behaviors, existing cultural traits, and critical informal leaders — have the most success.”
The authors define critical behaviors as those ways of operating that can easily spread among employees and consequently have the potential to generate a real business impact. They make identifying a few critical behaviors their top priority because they can then be harnessed to strengthen the existing culture.
Cultural traits can support the most important behaviors, while “the critical informal leaders are those few authentic individuals who motivate others by what they do and how they do it. They are recognized by their colleagues as credible, trustworthy, and effective — and they know how to influence behavior.”
“The Lean Approach”; Steve Blank; www.KauffmanFoundersSchool.org
Serial entrepreneur and educator Steve Blank gives practical advice about how to implement his lean methodology for startups in this new Kauffman Founders School video series. Blank teaches startup owners how to:
- Seek early contact with customers to discern their needs.
- Test their customer development hypotheses through a series of experiments.
- Collect and critically analyze customer development data.
- Use a "minimum viable product" to test the market, the product and the customer base before investing a lot of time and money in a prototype.
- Utilize archetypes to find and acquire customers.
“10 Breakthrough Technologies 2014”; The Editors; MIT Technology Review, May/June 2014, pp. 25-64
For this year’s review of “milestone technologies that solved long-standing problems” Technology Review’s editors selected genome editing, agile robots, ultraprivate smartphones, microscale 3-D printing, mobile collaboration, smart wind and solar power, the Oculus Rift, neuromorphic chips, agricultural drones, and brain mapping.
“The Power Broker”; David Schneider; IEEE Spectrum May 2014, pp. 52-58.
B. Jayant Baliga, North Carolina State University professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the “power broker” of this too-cute headline, which refers to Baliga’s pioneering work in the field of power semiconductors. It is for this work, which includes his 1979 invention of the insulated-gate bipolar transistor, that The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has awarded Baliga its highest honor, the 2014 Medal of Honor.
The article, by IEEE Spectrum senior editor David Schneider, traces this work and Baliga’s subsequent 25 years teaching, conducting research and starting companies at NC State. The article credits his team with helping the university win Department of Energy funding for its Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute, in February. It also highlights career moves by the India-born engineer that should inform and inspire young aspiring scientists and engineers.
Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond; National Research Council; Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2014.
Institutions lack guidance on how to establish effective convergent research programs, what challenges they are likely to encounter, and what strategies other organizations have used to address the issues that arise, according to this report from a committee of the U.S. National Research Council.
The report identifies areas where convergent approaches could accelerate innovation and help meet broad challenges, including creating new fuels and energy storage systems, meeting the world’s need for secure food supplies in a changing climate, and developing new treatments for chronic illnesses. It identifies strategies institutions have used to support convergence efforts, such as creating research institutes or programs around a common theme, problem, or scientific challenge; hiring faculty in transdisciplinary clusters; and embedding support for convergence in the promotion and tenure process.
“It is time for a systematic effort to highlight the value of convergence as an approach to R&D, and to address lingering challenges to its effective practice,” said committee chair Joseph DeSimone.