Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

21st-Century R&D: New Rules and Roles for the R&D "Lab" of the Future: The R&D Lab of the Future Is Far Less Likely to Be "A Lab" Than an Intricate, Dynamic Innovation Ecosystem

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

21st-Century R&D: New Rules and Roles for the R&D "Lab" of the Future: The R&D Lab of the Future Is Far Less Likely to Be "A Lab" Than an Intricate, Dynamic Innovation Ecosystem

Article excerpt

In May 2007, at IRI's Annual Meeting, Richard Antcliff challenged IRI members with a presentation asserting that "three tsunamis" were about to break upon R&D managers, demanding urgent response (Antcliff 2007). Technological developments, especially rapidly expanding information and communication technologies (ICTs); global demographic shifts, most notably growth in China and India; and climate change all posed challenges that promised to transform R&D. And R&D managers, responding to those forces, were already making the decisions that would determine the shape of R&D in coming decades.

Antcliff's challenge was the impetus for a research-on-research group focused on mapping the emerging shape of twenty-first-century R&D. How are R&D managers responding to the perfect storm created by the tsunamis Antcliff identified? What implications will those responses have for R&D in the future? The group set out to query R&D scientists, managers, and executives from nearly 60 IRI companies about the factors influencing their decisions today and how those decisions will shape the R&D lab of tomorrow.

The group's findings reflect major changes emerging in the managerial world, carrying broad implications for R&D managers. Across a range of companies and industries, a surprisingly consistent picture emerges of a more collaborative, networked, and complex R&D enterprise, with all of the management challenges such intricate structures pose. Open innovation is a fact on the ground for R&D managers--although it's practiced very differently by different companies, yielding different architectures for innovation (and different managerial challenges). Yet all are more open than before. Because many corporations have R&D operations in different geographic locations, internal sources of innovation and technology are often widely dispersed. At the same time, products, processes, services, and markets have become so complex that even the largest firms are compelled to collaborate with an array of partners, often both at home and abroad. Advanced ICTs enable this diverse, distributed structure and facilitate collaboration across geographic, disciplinary, corporate, and country boundaries, even as those same technologies accelerate the creation, dissemination, and commercialization of new knowledge and generate new sources and uses for that knowledge (and new hazards for innovators). Thus, managing the emerging R&D lab of the future is far less about a lab (especially a single, central corporate lab) than about tending to an intricate, dynamic innovation ecosystem.

The Study

Antcliff's challenge attracted some 200 enthusiastic IRI members to a workshop on the R&D Lab of the Future at the Fall 2007 Members' Summit. Participants brainstormed about the characteristics of the lab of the future, the drivers that would facilitate its development, and the constraints that might impede it. These discussions, together with prior research (see "Context for the Lab of the Future Study: Prior IRI Futures Studies"), formed the basis for an online survey and in-depth interviews with R&D managers and executives aimed at discovering what "top-of-mind" issues were framing their decisions. We were particularly interested in IRI companies--generally large, well-established, and focused on manufacturing --but we also sought participants from industries where IRI is less well represented, such as pharmaceuticals, high technology, and small biotech, to capture a more diverse range of perspectives.

We determined that a multimethod, qualitative study was appropriate for a number of reasons. First, teasing out the factors affecting decision-makers' thinking involves a high degree of uncertainty; multiple data collection and analysis methods can limit biases inherent in any one method. Second, the nature of our inquiry into a literally unknowable future mandates a nonstatistical approach. …

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