[IWAR] INNOVATION rules of thumb

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Mon Feb 09 1998 - 14:57:40 PST

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    >From Upside [http://www.upside.com/]
    The Face of Innovation
    February 09, 1998
    By Robert Buderi 
    Ever wish you'd gotten a peek inside Xerox's famed PARC lab
    in the early '70s, or been a fly on the wall at Bell Labs while it
    was pioneering the transistor, the laser or cell phones? It would
    have been like peering into the future. 
    This column, based on tours of corporate labs in Japan,
    Europe and the United States, will profile innovation at top
    research organizations around the world. Some ideas
    showcased will soon hit the market, while others are the stuff of
    far-off dreams. But from micromachines to novel input devices,
    all will fire the imagination. 
    Before viewing these labs, though, let's consider how some
    organizations foster creativity while others seem to stifle it. 
    Standout innovations need standout researchers, but that's only
    a first step. Far more difficult is turning exciting ideas into things
    that matter. I've borne witness to many strategies, from
    touchy-feely teamwork training to hard-wired
    number-crunching. These can work or fail, depending on lab
    style, culture and implementation. However, the best
    companies seem to share a few simple measures that help forge
    a framework for successful innovation. No one I've met sums
    these up better than Lee Davenport. 
    At age 82, Lee is restoring vintage cars and caravanning in
    road rallies. But as a physicist and industrial research director,
    he has enjoyed a ringside seat on the electronics age--from
    tubes to chips, analog to digital. He's seen ideas come, go and
    come again. So Lee offers a rare commodity these days:
    During World War II, at the top-secret M.I.T. Radiation
    Laboratory, Lee helped create a revolutionary fire-control
    radar, instrumental in shooting down buzz bombs over England.
    After the war, he spent 15 years as research director for
    General Telephone and Electronics, now GTE Corp.--then and
    now a major local phone service provider (it also owned
    Sylvania). Under Lee, the lab patented the bright red phosphor
    now ubiquitous in TV displays. In the pre-optical fiber days of
    1963, as a publicity stunt to demonstrate light's capacity to
    carry signals, he appeared on "I've Got A Secret" with GTE's
    scheme for transmitting TV pictures via lasers. When panelists
    failed to guess his "secret," Lee revealed the laser. Smoke
    blown across the stage allowed viewers to see its red light. Lee
    then interrupted the broadcast's video portion by placing his
    hand across the beam. 
    I recently visited Lee at his home in Greenwich, Conn. Around
    a lunch of baked chicken and fried Northern Spy apples, Lee
    dug through notes from his days lecturing at the University of
    Virginia's Darden School of Business and culled seven
    common-sense rules of corporate research. These gems
    represent basic steps proven to set the stage for innovation. 
    1.Success is based on schedules and results, not effort or
     job difficulty. "You must expect your R&D people to
     produce results and reward them accordingly." 
    2.Since most projects last several years, break them into
     segments, with measurable goals for each phase. 
    3.Never allow general goals. Avoid such words as
     advance, investigate, study, explore. All are false,
     immeasurable goals. 
    4.Look for and encourage idea people. Only a few
     individuals have unique, even hare-brained, ideas. Don't
     knock them. 
    5.Find product champions--internal entrepreneurs who
     understand technology, explain it clearly and can push
     ideas through corporate barriers. These traits typically
     elude top researchers. 
    6.Keep a little something on the side. A bootleg budget is
     sometimes the only way to pursue ideas that break the
    7.Hire young blood. A research staff's average age should
     not increase even one year annually. A nice average is
     under 35.
    Innovation alone can't save a company. But when done right, it
    provides a critical leg up, either through myriad small-scale
    improvements or a legendary breakthrough. The best
    organizations cultivate innovation by creating a climate that
    connects staffers to the real world, but also encourages
    out-of-the-box thinking. This column aims to provide a unique
    glimpse into that ongoing struggle. As Lee says, "Research is
    never just a gamble. You can definitely shape the odds in your
    Robert Buderi is former technology editor of Business
    Week and author of The Invention That Changed the World
    (Simon & Schuster, 1996).

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