In a recent post on his 15 Inno blog, Open Innovation guru Stefan Lindegaard presented the ostensibly nonsensical hypothesis: R & D leaders are often a “threat” to innovation. Stefan’s post resulted from an interaction he had with a senior R & D person at a mid-sized tech company, who apparently adhered to the outdated notion that he and his scientists and engineers know more about the company’s business than anyone else could possibly even try to know. As a result, this R & D leader believes that they cannot maximize (or even create) value for their organization by looking outside the confines of their existing R & D infrastructure to solve the company’s pressing business problems.
Reading this, R & D professionals might likely think: “What’s this guy smoking? How can R & D be a threat to innovation?! We’re the reason this company has any innovation at all. We’re scientists! Inventors! Innovators!” But, unless their companies are consistently experiencing year over year growth coming solely from sales of innovative new products and technology or cost reductions resulting from process innovations, such protestations prove Stefan’s point: many R & D leaders kill their organization’s ability to innovate due to their self-absorbed mindset. And, when, as often is the case, R & D leaders are the gatekeepers of innovation pathways at their organizations, we should assume that the likelihood is slim to none that a company will come up with a game changing product or technology. Indeed, if this R & D leader and his team were as innovative as they think they are, the company would not be on an as-yet unrequited quest for that elusive game changing innovation.
There are a number of reasons for the misalignment of innovation self-assessment and reality when it comes to R & D. But, I think the overarching reason centers on a fundamental disconnect between the meaning of invention and innovation in today’s business world. Unquestionably, scientists and engineers are inventive. They quite often come up with wholly new ideas. Historically, the novelty and unobviousness of such ideas have been validated by the U.S. (or other ) governments in the form of patents. But, at the end of the day, the government stamp of approval in the form of a patent means only that the subject invention met the legal requirements for patentability, not that the invention has any relevance whatsoever about what a customer wishes to purchase in volumes that drive the type of profits needed to demonstrate business success. Continue reading