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When R&D Leaders Are a Threat to Innovation

April 13, 2011 Open Innovation 15 Comments

I recently had a discussion with a senior innovation leader in a mid-size high-tech company. The guy turned out to be pretty skeptical on open innovation and although I agree that open innovation to some extent is hype, I was still somewhat ticked off by his mindset.

Personally, I do not have much reason to care about this. Business is picking up again and there is a growing demand for insights on open innovation. However, people without an open mind simply should not have senior innovation roles. An internal focused mind-set might have worked in the past, but leaders today need to be able to build a bridge between internal and external resources. This goes for all industries – from consumer goods companies to high-tech companies – and if you think this only applies to low-tech companies, you are in for a surprise.

One argument from the innovation leader was that “Yes R&D people might be more skeptical than the rest of the population, but we really need “proof of concept” before we raise our hands in naivety! That’s how you convince a scientist!”

This is fair enough and it might be OK with scientists, but it is definitely not OK with senior leaders. Leaders – in R&D and elsewhere – need to be able to detect shifts not only on technologies, but also on the processes of R&D and innovation. Not having an open mind on new ways of doing things is outright dangerous in the fast-paced business environment we all are a part of today.

Get into the new game or move out of your leadership positions – for the sake of your companies…

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Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. Anyone who says "scientists need to be convinced" is missing fundamental points of the scientific method – experimentation and research. A scientist who wants to test a hypothesis does an experiment. They research the literature and come to conclusions accordingly.

    They are also making a tacit conclusion that what has worked for them in the past will also work in the future – wrong!

    This excuse is lazy! Keep up the pressure, Stefan.

    Kevin (with a PhD in science……)

    • Dan Caccamo says:

      I agree with Kevin for "experimenting" is one of the key skills of an innovator. The steps from ideation through to product launch have many steps of experimentation along the way. The leaders that inhibit innovation are those that make the "gut" call not to proceed without gaining answers to key questions on potential and strategic alignment first.

  2. Tim Kern says:

    You're surprised? Please — demanding "proof" is one of the oldest tricks in the book. People are by nature lazy (that is, they seek the highest return for the lowest effort), so asking someone (who's already busy and committed to other things) to look at something new is likely to fail.

    Of course, when looking IS his job, he needs an excuse, so "proof," "committee," and "later" are all effective.

    When someone else has power, you're subject to it. Start your own business. It will provide all the "proof" you need.

  3. WKTaylor says:

    How to Kill Ideas

    Don't be ridiculous.
    We tried that before.
    It costs too much.
    It can't be done.
    That's beyond our responsibility.
    It's too radical a change.
    We don't have the time.
    That will make our other equipment obsolete.
    We're too small for it.
    That's not our problem.
    We've never done it before.
    Why change it? It's still working OK.
    You're two years ahead of You're time.
    We're not ready for it.
    It isn't in the budget.
    Can't teach an old dog new tricks.
    Let's form a committee.
    Too hard to sell.
    Top management would never go for it.
    We'll be the laughing stock.
    Let's shelve it for the time-being.
    We did alright without it.
    Has anyone else ever tried it?
    It won't work in our industry.

    Tri-Way Printers and Mailers [1980's]

  4. Victoria says:

    I agree…this is a nice list

  5. Sam says:

    You have to be open/creative at some stages and reductive/critical at other stages. And you have to balance the advantages of open with the control and risk aspects – which links into strategy and sustainability. There's a great video about this over at http://www.managing-creativity.com

  6. Boudewijn says:

    Yes, the well known list of 26 reasons "not to do something". (You seems to have lost a few…) Most executives seems to forget that innovation is all about finding two or three reasons to "actually do something"… :-)

  7. Boudewijn says:

    It's even 29 now… They have a nice poster about it. Cool to hang in meeting rooms. http://www.cocd.org/nl/node/822

  8. Fibol says:

    It will interesting to understand what would would be a fair proof of concept for this senior innovation Leader.

  9. Focus on the problem, and not the implied solution. Come at the problem with new eyes. Make sure that the problem is a problem and not a perception. Once clearly identified, 1) look at the rest of the environment and see how others have addressed the problem, 2) Keep the door open for other solutions from other directions, keep in mind, that the solution is easier than it was originally reported. BTW, love the 29 reasons, but I am sure there are more.

  10. Niels Rasmussen says:

    Hmmm. Interesting open mind attitude you are practicing Stefan. For those of You that want to see the discussion not taken out of the context: http://www.15inno.com/2011/04/03/iprandopeninnova
    I don't know who have a problem here! I asked a question and got the answer that I should find another job. Stefan, we met a couple of years ago and I asked you the same question, and you couldn't answer. You stated that we should forget IPR…something that really triggered me. Forget IPR!. It really worried me that a man that write books and teaches in open innovation claimed that, but if I could get some best practice examples on that, I was ready to listen. Of course there were no examples that matched what I was looking for. Do Philips, HP, Samsung, Sony, Apple forget IPR. No, of course not. You have to protect your research and development against counter feiting and copycats and to create assets. Not said that open innovation can't cope with IPR, I hope they can, but I have not found the recipe for technical minded companies with heavy research budget.. (I have to split my post, beacuse it is too long)

  11. Niels Rasmussen says:

    I was asked what kind of "proof" I need. I would like to see case stories from technical companies that have gained innovative ideas from focused open innovation. Not from partnering, that is in my opinion not real open innovation. Partnering with universities and other companies is more easy to handle, and was "invented" way before "open Innovation" became a skill. But Crowd sourcing ideas or solutions is difficult regarding IPR.
    Another thing. In many companies licensing patents are a very usefull tool to do faster developments. Millions of innovative solutions are very well documented in patents, and patent search machines are a very strong tool, to secure that you are not wasting time on reinventing the wheel. It might sound boring and old fashioned, but I have no intention to forget IPR. Maybe because I am a lazy engineer and the smartest guy:)
    The "Senior Innovation leader"

  12. Stefan Lindegaard says:

    Niels, perhaps we should just agree that we view our interactions differently :-)

  13. paul4innovating says:

    I feel within your post Stefan you provoke as you see these things as black and white, with little in-between. I don't think it is the case. You are right to provoke reactions, it can prompt different thinking and movement from sometimes intrenched positions but innovation is complex. Just simply suggesting the answer as simply moving out of leadership positions or suggesting people dont have an open mind is not the answers we should be offering. Our approach should be more a pathway of enquiry to understand why open innovation is not seen as relevant as you see it, certainly as someone who is 100% 'invested' in this.

    There is a huge amount to do in conveying the values of open innovation, in convincing others, in offering insights, when we get dismissive we lose the high ground. Let our knowledge come to bear, not our emotions.

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