Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry; Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff; Flatiron Books, May 2015, 288pp.
From a bagel store in Ontario to the world’s fastest growing company capturing half of the smartphone market and then sliding to less than 1% is the trajectory explored by two writers for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. McNish and Silcoff explain that their initial investigation into Blackberry’s collapse, published in Sept. 2013, spurred them to document the full story of RIM’s “improbable ascent and decline in the vicious smartphone war that it spawned.”
Drawn from interviews with the company’s founders and more than 120 officers, employees and others, “this book is full of valuable lessons for those of us who run organizations or teach those who do,” wrote one Amazon.com reviewer.
When CNBC’s Fast Money program asked for some applicable lessons, McNish replied that the biggest lesson is that you can go from 0 to $20 billion in less than a decade like Research in Motion did. “It was an extraordinary time. Game of Phones was the private title I and my co-author had. There was blood everywhere, bodies everywhere. RIM managed to topple Motorola, Nokia. The cost of entry was not that high and you could get in with the right idea.
“The other lesson is that when Silicon Valley puts its sights on you, like Apple did and Google did as well with Android, it’s very difficult to keep up that rate.”
“Killing the Golden Goose? The Decline of Science in Corporate R&D”; Ashish Arora, Sharon Belenzon and Andrea Patacconi; NBER Working Paper N. 20902, Jan. 2015. “American companies are investing way less in science than they used to”; Brad Plumer on vox.com, Feb. 4, 2015. “Innovation Lies on Weak Foundation”; Eduardo Porter, The New York Times May 20, 2015, p. B1.
Arora and Belenzon (Duke University) and Patacconi (U. of East Anglia, UK) document a shift among large corporations away from scientific research and toward the commercial application and protection of existing knowledge between 1980 and 2007. “Large firms,” they write, “appear to value the golden eggs of science (as reflected by patents) but not the golden goose itself (the scientific capabilities).” They attribute this to narrower firm scope (e.g., focusing on core competencies) and to globalization and increased competition.
Scientific entrepreneurs should heed these trends, they conclude, because they could dissuade some start-ups from investing in research.
Plumer on vox.com focuses on the cutbacks in basic and applied research and questions who will pick up the slack now that U.S. government support is beginning to decline. Porter’s New York Times Economic Scene column expands the discussion, warning that betting on start-ups is risky because “this ecosystem is vulnerable, reliant on a dwindling pot of public money that underwrites most university-based research.”
Finally, the trend toward downsizing the corporate R&D function was spotted in the very first issue of CIMS IMR, then the CIMS Technology Management Report. Writing in 1991, CIMS founder Alden Bean deplored “a shift away from long-term, exploratory industrial research and toward the development and technical service end of the R&D continuum.”
Citing research by his former doctoral student Qinghui Zhao, Bean observed that corporate R&D “enhances the performance of development activities,” and moreover “the increasing emphasis on product development and technical services has been at the expense of basic industrial research.”
Hacking the Human OS: How Big Data Will Transform Medicine and Health; special report, IEEE Spectrum June 2015.
This three-part report from the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers considers the future of biodata-gathering hardware “Reading the Code”), the possibilities of digitized medicine (“Analyzing the Code”) and how these advances might lead to better health (“Changing the Code”). The 20 articles treat such topics as the quest for a robotic pancreas, the bet on biometrics, will our data drown us and should we be paid for it, privacy, and how IBM’s artificial intelligence research might transform medicine.
Changing the Culture of R&D; special report, Research-Technology Management May-June 2015.
How an organization’s culture can be changed to support change is the theme of five articles in this special issue of the Industrial Research Institute journal.
- Guest editor Tamara Carleton describes how a new tool she developed at DARPA helped drive change throughout the organization (p.12).
- Charles (Chuck) House, former corporate engineering director at HP, documents the effort his group led from 1985 through 1990 “to reignite innovation and re-characterize HP as a computer company” (p.21).
- Timken marketing manager Leslie Christensen details the steps the 115-year-old company’s R&D group took to improve the speed and quality of its decisions and its alignment with the business (p.30).
- Robert Thong and Timo Lott explain how the R&D division in Orion Corporation, a Finnish pharmaceutical company, designed and implemented an organizational transformation process that made the company more open, collaborative and resultsoriented (p.41).
- Jeffrey Davis, Elizabeth Richard and Kathryn Keeton describe a new business model for advancing NASA’s human health and performance innovations that ultimately became a model for open innovation in the U.S. government (p.52).
“How Dow reinvented itself”; interview by Rick Kirkland, McKinsey & Co., www.mckinsey.com/insights May 2015.
Andrew N. Liveris, Dow ’s president, chairman and CEO, tells how the chemical giant has evolved from “just” products and applications to “an agile, innovative organization with a major focus on the customer value chain” in this interview with McKinsey senior managing editor Kirkland.
Proud that “the new Dow is a company that has a portfolio 70 percent of which is now anchored very much In value-add markets,” Liveris explains its focus on the intersection of sciences, its steps to creating a start-up culture, the challenges of digitization, and how he has had to change his own priorities as the company has changed. Conclusion: “If you haven’t transformed, you are done.”
“Connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age”; James Manyika et al; McKinsey Global Institute, June 2015, http://www. mckinsey.com
Online talent platforms could boost global GDP $2.7 billion by 2025, predicts a new McKinsey report, A labor market that works: Connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age. The report sees online platforms like Monster.com and Linkedin as well as digital marketplaces like Uber “can generate significant benefits for economies and for individuals.”
These benefits include better, faster and newer job matches, work for currently inactive people and more hours for part-timers. “Capturing this potential,” however, “will require expanded broadband access, updated labor-market regulations, systems for delivering benefits to workers, and clearer data-ownership and privacy rules.”
“20 Lessons of Creativity For 2015”; Robert Safian; Fast Company, June 2015, pp.24-25.
Fast Company’s editor-in-chief derives 20 lessons in creativity from the magazine’s annual “100 Most Creative People in Business” profiled on pp. 44 ff. of this issue. The 2015 honorees include 53 women, 43 people of color, and business sectors from advertising to animal welfare, which shows, says Safian, that “creativity doesn’t discriminate.”
Two other lessons: creativity defies expectations, and it is improvisational.
“What Big Companies Get Wrong About Innovation Metrics”; Scott Kirsner; Harvard Business Review, May 6, 2015, www.hbr.org
The editor of Innovation Leader reports on his survey of 198 senior innovation executives about their use of metrics. The executives used two different kinds: activity metrics and impact metrics. The most widely used metric was revenue generated by new products/services during their first few years in the market. Kirsner then reports five ways “that most measurement efforts go wrong,” concluding that executives need to develop metrics that demonstrate return-on-investment.
“The Global Flourishing of National Innovation Foundations;” Stephen Ezell, Frank Spring and Katarzyna Bitka; Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, Washington D.C., April 2015, 17pp.
This report assesses the roles played by some 50 national innovation foundations and some of their successes to date (see “The Rise of National Innovation Foundations,” p.6 this issue). While these groups differ significantly in scale, most are at least 10 years old and the authors conclude that their goals are fundamentally similar: policy, SME support, research, and network development/management.
Finland’s Founding Agency for Technology and Innovation is singled out as “exemplary in the fullest sense of the word,” and “a key contributor to Finland becoming an international leader in the field of science and innovation policy over the past 15 years.”
“Doubling Down On a Good Thing: The National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Lite;” Steve Blank, May 15, 2015 on http://steveblank. com/2015/05/12/doubling-down-on-a-good-thing-the-nationalscience-foundations-i-corps-lite/
NSF I-Corps founder notes that all teams receiving government funding to start a company are now being offered an introduction to building a Lean Startup (see “I-Corps Trains NIH Grantees To Accelerate Commercialization of Bio Research,” CIMS IMR Jan/Feb.2015). Edmund Pendelton, who taught the first NIH I-Corps class, describes the new program, dubbed I-Corps Lite, on Blank’s blog. Pendelton summarizes the program, its “beat-the-odds” bootcamp, what’s next for Phase II grantees, and lessons learned to date.
One lesson: “The program is a national treasure and envied around the world, but we can (and should) improve it.”
“SBIR at the Department of Defense; Committee on Capitalizing on Science, Technology, and Innovation: An Assessment of the Small Business Innovation Research Program—Phase II”; National Research Council; National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 410pp. Order at nap.edu
This study assesses how well the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at the Department of Defense has met Congressional objectives set for it, in particular whether recent initiatives have improved program outcomes. It found that SBIR projects at DoD commercialize at “a substantial rate.” For instance:
- The percentage of Phase II projects reporting sales continues to be greater than 45%.
- Over time about 70% of Phase II projects at DoD reach the market.
- Selection of topics and individual projects for funding maintains a strong focus on developing innovative technologies.
Commercialization in the private non-defense sector was also found to be substantial. Overall, SBIR awardees considered the program to have had “a profoundly positive effect on their companies.”
Key recommendations cover encouraging commercialization; addressing under-represented groups; improving tracking, data collection and adoption of best practices; and streamlining program management and agency objectives.
Engineering and Technology History Wiki; United Engineering Foundation and other engineering organizations; http://www.ethw.org.
Thousands of articles, first-hand accounts, oral histories, and other documents on the history of technology are now available on this website developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and other leading engineering societies. The ETHW stresses that this is no “how-does-technology-work” site. Rather, it is “a collaborative online environment that taps into the collective memories, experiences, and knowledge of engineering’s worldwide membership — the men and women who provide the imagination, creativity, and know-how to sustain progress in electrical, electronic, and computer innovations.”