50 Years of Change in Industrial Research and Technology Management

By Larson, Charles F. | Research-Technology Management, January/February 2007 | Go to article overview

50 Years of Change in Industrial Research and Technology Management


Larson, Charles F., Research-Technology Management


The firm you work for now will likely have a different name and a new business model within 5 to 10 years.

OVERVIEW:

Industrial R&D has undergone major changes since 1958, when IRI's journal, Research-Technology Management (RTM) was first published. These changes include industry's growing investment in R&D, the composition of its human resources, and techniques for effective management, organization, and leadership of the R&D enterprise. The current trend toward globalization of markets, manufacturing and R&D is leading to rapid growth in collaborative efforts to conduct R&D with other firms, universities and government labs. Future changes, enabled by new information technologies, will be even more dramatic-and rapid.

KEY CONCEPTS: creativity, research-on-research, innovation, R&D investment, human resources, R&D management, leadership.

Leaving Purdue in the spring of 1958, I had no idea that an organization called the Industrial Research Institute (IRI) had just launched the first issue of a new journal called Research Management (RM). The chair of the Editorial Advisory Board explained that this new publication was initiated because "we need one place to turn for the latest ideas regarding research management." RM was, of course, sent to all Representatives of IRI, but it was also intended for use by research leaders in university and government labs, with an annual subscription price of $7.50. At that time, industrial R&D investment was $3.6 billion, total R&D investment in the United States was $10 billion, and the average salary of an R&D professional was $9,000.

Creativity in an Era of Linear Innovation

Coming in the era of Second-Generation R&D, in which innovation was nearly always perceived as a linear process, the first paper published in RM focused on "Creativity Techniques in Action," written by three chemists from National Cash Register, one of whom, Bob Chollar, became chairman of IRI in 1961. They described the challenging development of carbonless paper at NCR in the 1950s (see "The Management of Research When Research-Technology Management was Born," p. 21.)

The strong interest in creativity was reflected by several papers and IRI meetings on the topic in the late 1950s, following up on a detailed study of creativity sponsored by IRI at the University of Chicago in the 1940s. Other topics covered in the early issues included free inquiry in industrial research, human resources, salary administration, R&D finances, patent policies, dual ladder, and job descriptions. The focus was largely on internal rather than external operations.

Stuart Schott's paper in the Autumn 1959 issue asked, "Are Research Administrators Getting Lazy?" He was not implying that they were failing to put in the necessary time and thought to the solution of routine problems, but suggesting they were "proceeding in an arbitrary manner with the task of handling wisely the extremely complex gambling nature of the research process," again touching on the need for free inquiry that was later addressed by Andrew Odlyzko's article, "We Still Need Unfettered Research," in the January 1996 issue of RTM. Indeed, the founder of IRI, Maurice Holland, wrote in the Winter 1959 issue that "the biggest gamble in business is to do no research at all."

Early Learning Programs

Learning programs were created by IRI in 1959, also with an initial focus on creativity. This activity was taken so seriously for nurturing first-line managers that proceedings of each session were summarized in RM. One IRI Representative even took a leave of absence from his company to monitor sessions and prepare the summaries.

At that time, all participants were men. In fact, all of the IRI representatives were male. The women in industrial research at Kodak, 3M, Procter & Gamble, and other member firms began to participate in IRI during the 1960s.

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