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Fast, iterative “virtual research centers,” where hypotheses are tested and improved before they are scaled into new products, are edging out traditional R&D approaches.
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Bringing high-tech inventions built on patented technologies to market can be complicated and risky. The threat of added costs from patent infringement lawsuits has led technology companies to pool their talents — and patents — in technology consortia. Joining a tech consortium requires managers to weigh intellectual property value against the value of future collaborations and assess the consortium’s pros and cons for innovation, competition, and market creation.
The Spring 2016 issue of MIT Sloan Management features a Special Report on new product development. Articles include “Why Great New Products Fail,” “Finding the Right Role for Social Media in Innovation,” “Developing New Products in Emerging Markets,” “Why Learning is Central to Sustained Innovation,” and a look at the opportunities presented by the Internet of Things, in “Now That Your Products Can Talk, What Will They Tell You?”
Social media provides a game-changing opportunity to support new product development. But taking advantage of the opportunity requires more than just a Facebook presence with a loyal base of “friends.” To use social media for innovation, organizations need clear strategies and objectives. They also should look beyond social media used by the general public to lesser-recognized platforms, such as special user forums or expert blogs, for especially valuable user-generated feedback.
How can multinational companies turn ideas from their emerging-market subsidiaries into global products? A successful innovation developed by Cisco’s R&D unit in India offers practical insights into how to make that process work effectively. Key enablers in the Cisco case included well-developed R&D capabilities at a company center in Bangalore, a large market opportunity, and the support of executive champions. The process also demanded clarity about what product to develop, and how — including working on a shoestring budget.
Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products. So-called “lean” organizations invest heavily and continuously in the skills of product developers, and rather than developing single products, they think in terms of streams of products. By making people the backbone of the product development system, companies can achieve a triple win: increased innovation, faster time to market, and lower costs.
Could science-based industries benefit from a financing model similar to one used to make Hollywood movies? “We propose that a form of governance centered on the project rather than the company may be a more efficient way to organize innovation in science-based industries,” write the authors. Their proposal addresses the fact that traditional venture capital “wasn’t designed to deal with the costs, risks, and slow payout of science-based industries.”
Beijing-based smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc. has actively involved enthusiastic customers — known as “Mi Fans” — in both software and hardware development processes. Tech-savvy users test interfaces and products as volunteers, doing much of their communication on the Internet. Customer involvement in the product development life cycle has not only helped Xiaomi reduce R&D costs but also enabled the company to cultivate a sense of participation and pride among lead users.
Most people recognize their data as an asset — yet few regard it as a liquid asset. But a chance meeting opened up an opportunity for using data assets in a different way to support R&D — and uncovered a whole new path for financing of science and tech research. SVB Analytics head Steve Allan explains how using analytics “allows us to ask if we need to look at the data a different way.”
The only way to move forward on society’s biggest challenges may be through consortiums. But it’s not easy to assemble such groups or to keep them together. The experiences of The Biomarkers Consortium, a nine-year-old public-private partnership in the health industry, presents five lessons in managing these kinds of complex collaborations. These lessons are useful for anyone trying to build consensus to address broad societal challenges among multiple stakeholders with both common and divergent interests.
Before introducing a new product to an emerging industry, companies should track the evolution of category labels in that industry. “Once you understand the nature of category labels and how they evolve, you can fairly easily track them,” write Fernando F. Suarez and Stine Grodal, both of Boston University School of Management. “But few companies do.”
Unconventional approaches to innovation are speeding up new product development, making R&D faster and cheaper. In China, companies are embracing an industrialized approach to research that allows them to complete projects as much as two to five times faster than they did before. “These developments have potentially huge implications for how companies should think about global competition and whether they need to rethink and reengineer their established innovation and product development processes,” the authors write.
“The notion that we were going to crowdsource certain functions really was unheard of,” says Donna Cuomo of the nonprofit MITRE, a $1.4 billion nonprofit R&D organization. A social business tool it developed called Handshake is helping make that kind of virtual collaboration happen. In a Q&A, Dr. Cuomo and MITRE colleagues Laurie Damianos and Stan Drozdetski explain how Handshake has influenced business at MITRE and what challenges they’ve faced in its implementation.
China is becoming the best place to learn how to make ideas commercially viable, even as many multinational companies are growing increasingly wary of doing business there because of concerns about unfair competition and theft of intellectual property. Chinese companies excel at cost reduction, accelerated product development and networked production — and know how to assess what they can do and quickly find partners to fill the gaps.
The editors of MIT Sloan Management Review announce the winners of the 2013 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development published from fall 2011 to summer 2012. The Winners: Eoin Whelan, Salvatore Parise, Jasper de Valk and Rick Aalbers, authors of “Creating Employee Networks That Deliver Open Innovation.”
What happens when an academic institution rethinks how research gets done? In an experiment in open innovation applied to scientific research, Harvard Catalyst, a pan-Harvard agency, modified the traditional grant proposal process to bring greater openness into every stage of research. In the end, 150 new hypotheses were proposed. The Harvard Catalyst experience suggests that open-innovation principles can be applied to a well-established research organization.
University-business collaborations are an increasingly important source of research and development for many companies. Yet despite their importance, many companies take much less care managing these relationships than they do those with their vendors or customers. As a result, business-academic collaborations often fail to achieve as much as they might. By taking a more structured approach, companies can improve the performance of their academic research partnerships.
It’s not easy to develop a breakthrough innovation in an established company and bring it to market successfully — and even more challenging to do so more than once. In their new book, Serial Innovators: How Individuals Create and Deliver Breakthrough Innovations in Mature Firms, authors Abbie Griffin, Raymond L. Price and Bruce A. Vojak describe several years of research they have conducted about a type of employee who can do just that.
Traditionally used for computer aided design and manufacturing applications, in recent years digital design has migrated to the front end of the development process, facilitating ideation, conceptual design and globally distributed innovation. Through empirical and case-based research — including a longitudinal study of 145 organizations that are heavy users of digital design — this article explores the challenges and opportunities of employing digital design during these early stages.
The current balkanized approach to measuring patent quality is not serving the users of the world’s patent systems. Like those advocating for the metric standard two centuries ago, we have an incompatibility problem today in the international patent system. But how the global patent system is organized and managed has far-reaching implications for innovation, consumer choice and corporate profits.
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