CIMS researcher, Andrew Hargadon (UC Davis) likens innovation to what occurred at medieval bazaars along the Great Silk Route, where people from both ends of the known world came together to “trade knowledge.” Prof. Hargadon claims that innovation is a deliberate process because it devotes its resources not to inventing but rather to the recombination of existing ideas, people and objects from across different worlds.
This tenet of innovation was never more evident than at the recent CIMS Fall 2008 Sponsors Meeting. Held not on the dusty trails of Asia Minor, but on the beautiful and dynamic Centennial campus of NC State University and the nearby Umstead Hotel and Spa, companies large and small, representing a wide array of industries came together to discuss the key innovation challenges facing their organizations — and the world. But like the bazaars of old, I was impressed by the diversity of the meeting participants. Former Deans mixed with aspiring young tenure-track professors representing a number of scholarly disciplines: management, engineering, organizational behavior, etc. And from industry we had senior executives from, probably, the widest array of industries to ever attend a CIMS meeting. This melding of diverse viewpoints and experiences comes at just right time. Next year CIMS turns 25 years old! And, like any other organization, it too must innovate or perish. Here are a few highlights from the meeting that illustrate how CIMS is changing— and expanding— its offerings to companies facing the hyper-competitive challenges of the 21st century.
Services Innovation Takes the Stage
Over the past quarter century, the focus of CIMS research — and assistance — has been aimed largely at helping firms manage “product” and “process” innovations. Its sponsors were largely goods-producing firms, intent on creating distinctive new products made possible by new technological capabilities. Early in 2007, CIMS recognized that many of these companies were attempting to further differentiate themselves in the marketplace by wrapping services around their products and moving to what we term “service-led’” business models. (See “CIMS Support: Custom Fit to Sponsors,” Spring 2007 TMR ). At the meeting, we devoted nearly a full day to understanding the common issues these companies face regarding just “how to” conceive of, develop and scale profitable new service offerings. A panel of world-class academics and practitioners — Profs. Tony O’Driscoll (Duke), Mark Davis (Bentley), James Tien (U. of Miami), James Fitzsimmons (Texas), Lynda Aiman-Smith (NC State), as well as Nancy Burchfield (IBM) and Bill Steenburgh (Xerox) — were asked to address the:
• maturity of research programs in the field and their current rate of growth;
• most productive and/or influential investigators and institutions performing the research;
• salient findings in the field and the extent of their actual, or likely, influence on innovation management practice;
• means by which the findings are being brought to bear on management practices, e.g., through internal or external educational programs, consultancies, and/or new and improved models, tools or simulations. The starting point for the discussion was a set of six topical questions identified by CIMS sponsors as critical to managing services innovation in their businesses.
Numerous, Wide, Knowledge Gaps
Through this process, attendees got a much better understanding of the various dimensions of services innovation that managers must deal with as well as, unfortunately, the numerous and wide gaps in knowledge that exist today. These gaps will serve as the basis for CIMS research projects over the next several years. Following the panel discussion, CIMS Fellow, Sam Jelinek (College of William & Mary) and Prof. Dan Berg (RPI), led the group in considering what should be CIMS’ first major set of research projects into this new and important type of innovation. (In subsequent articles I will describe these projects once they are voted on by CIMS sponsors). CIMS has also been expanding its industry focus. Leslie Alexandre, Dr.PH., Director, Corporate Relations for Health Care and Life Sciences for CIMS and the College of Management, moderated a second and equally distinguished panel of life science executives. The executives openly and candidly discussed their most pressing innovation problem: how to continue to create new, breakthrough products without carrying the heavy capital investments in infrastructure (R&D, sales, operations) that characterized their business models during the era of blockbuster drugs.
As one pharmaceutical CEO explained, “Our industry has an ‘innovation paradox.’ We are constantly driving for innovation on the one hand, while being risk-averse on the other. Pharma companies still hope for the ‘blockbuster party,’ and they’re trapped in that model. The company that breaks through this will be the winner, and others will follow.”
CIMS wants to help these companies through this very difficult transition. In anticipation of this challenge, we have added people with strong biotech, pharmaceutical, and healthcare resumes to the CIMS executive team (See “CIMS Expands Support to Life Science Firms,” Winter 2007-8 TMR). Now, armed with the specific wants and needs of these firms, CIMS has put in motion projects that can help these companies rekindle breakthrough innovation, but this time using the ideas — and resources — of organizations outside the boundary of their own organizations (e.g., university researchers, small start-up companies, key suppliers, etc.)
CIMS has been investigating what it takes to make these open, collaborative business models work for the past three years under the auspices of our single largest research project — the NSF- funded Partnership for Innovation: Managing Upstream Innovation. On the first day of the meeting, PFI principal investigators took attendees through the many deliverables generated by this very large program of research projects. CIMS now feels that it has developed the knowledge and tools to help companies learn and do open innovation.
My account of the meeting wouldn’t be complete without mentioning CIMS’ newly revamped website. Even as productive as these biannual sponsor meetings are, they can’t satisfy the year-round demands of our member companies. (See “Visit the New Website,” page 5). Besides being an on-line repository of CIMS research studies and related articles over the past 25 years, the new website contains a rich set of practical tools and assessments that CIMS representatives can put to work in their organizations.
The site also supports easy-to-use social networking applications to facilitate collaboration. On this platform we will be building additional digital services for CIMS members. But more about that in future articles…If there are any questions I can answer about this, or any other CIMS program, please don’t hesitate to email me at Paul_Mugge@ncsu.edu