|The Challenge of Fifth Generation R&D
by Debra M. Amidon*
Technology leaders will need to develop innovation systems that optimize knowledge flows through collaborative, networked groups in virtual organizations.
OVERVIEW: Economic, behavioral and technological forces are leading us into an era of knowledge - as opposed to technological - innovation. Under these conditions, management systems must be viewed holistically in order to optimize the creation and movement of ideas into the marketplace expeditiously and profitably. There will be a fundamental shift toward virtual, networked organizations that transcend conventional boundaries. These new collaborative learning systems will enable the flow of knowledge - not information - throughout the organization, now redefined to include customers, suppliers, distributors, and other stakeholders. The resulting challenge to top management: Who will be the chief innovation officer of your enterprise?
“To remain a premier institution requires that any enterprise be thoroughly engaged in international activities in science and technology; it must be a full participant in the world trade of ideas.”
In 1983, a group of corporate managers was seeking a marketing term to capture in few words the capability of augmenting an internal research strategy with external scientific centers based in academia and government laboratories. After several iterations, we agreed that we had created a “worldwide virtual R&D environment.” In retrospect, we were embryonic in our thinking of what such a concept might mean to the economic survival of an enterprise dependent upon new ideas for its viability. Over the last decade, we have come to understand the depth and dimensions of such a perspective on innovation
Webster’s New World Dictionary (Second Edition) defines “virtual” as “being such practically or in effect, although not in actual fact; effective because of some inherent powers.” Its root - “virtu” - means “the quality of being artistic, beautiful, rare, or otherwise such as to interest a collector.” If we select the word “virtue,” we discover such valuable qualities as “effective power or force; quality, strength, courage; excellence in general; right action and thinking; efficacy (i.e., the power to produce effects or intend results).” The inherent characteristics of something virtual, either technologically or organizationally, would thus be a commendable goal.
Little did we realize what would be required to target a virtual R&D mission: (1) an entire reorientation of the process of innovation; (2) a new respect for the source of ideas - which is not always within the research laboratories; (3) unprecedented realignments in the way research was previously conducted; (4) increasing reliance upon computer and communication technology; (5) a rededication to the value of learning, in which ideas are assimilated and leveraged “real-time” throughout the organization. In fact, little remains the same except the deep commitment to technical rigor and the passion for seeking answers. In short, the rules have changed. The stage is set for a more integral role for research in sustaining profitable growth for a corporation, large or small, and the economic well being of a nation or society.
Five Forces To Be Understood
Five major forces influencing the worldwide marketplace must be understood in order to capitalize upon the business opportunities afforded by the global economy:
To keep pace with these kaleidoscopic changes, enterprises are having to establish organizational assumptions in addition to the typical technology/market priorities which are traditionally part of the strategic business plan. How we utilize our human resources is integral to the success of the business. Modern assumptions might include:
In a 1989 Sloan Management Review article, Ray Stata, president of Analog Devices, stated, “The rate at which organizations learn may become the only sustainable competitive advantage.”
Indeed, we must think differently about how ideas are created and moved in the marketplace in ways that exemplify horizontal as well as vertical integration (e.g., simultaneous development, concurrent engineering, agile manufacturing, collaborative sales, etc.). Functions, business units and entire industries are seeking more collaborative means of operating an innovation system that includes partners, suppliers, distributors, competitors, customers, and sometimes the customer’s customers.
Emerging ‘Communities of Practice’
Different disciplines and schools of thought have begun to converge on the importance of three interrelated domains: economic, behavioral and technological. Each, in its own way, is broadening its own scope of theory and integrating core principles from the other domains into its own practice. For instance:
Many of these professionals appear to have one agenda in common: to understand and optimize the learning capacity of an enterprise in order to enable a more optimal creation and application of new knowledge (i.e., the process of innovation).
Computation, communication and cognitive scientists are joining agendas with engineers, economic analysts and spatial planners to design work environments more conducive to “knowledge management.” As illustrated in Groups: Interaction and Performance, there is a systems view of the biological, social and psychological properties of the environment. (3) This systems view was further defined by The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization, in which Peter Senge outlines how organizations are continually expanding capacity to create their future and how people must think and interact in very different ways to build shared vision. (4) Senge built upon Jay Forrester’s theories of “systems dynamics and Chris Argyris’ theories of action research and organizational defenses. (5,6)
Accelerating this cross-disciplinary inquiry is the role of technology itself and the rapid evolution of the “information superhighway” in almost every developed and emerging nation. In 1994, President Clinton and Vice President Gore took this for a primary agenda to support the science and technological community. Citing Vannevar Bush’s report, Science: The Endless Frontier,(7) they reaffirmed government’s “responsibilities for promoting the flow of new scientific knowledge.” In Science and the National Interest, they described the post-Cold War realities that have transformed international relationships with emerging competitive regions. (8) They defined a technology-based society that demands better mechanisms to evaluate investment strategies as a way to perform in a global marketplace.
As we explore more effective ways of connecting science and society, expertise will be required that transcends any existing profession and, in so doing, creates new communities of practice that know how best to capitalize upon one another’s relative competencies. Perhaps rather than creating the Global Information Infrastructure, we should be investing in the Global Information Infrastructure; we should be investing in the Global Innovation Infrastructure to facilitate the movement of ideas worldwide.
21st Century Partnering
In a 1994 study, Tom Moebus, director of MIT’s Office of Corporate Relations, initiated a major IQ Transformation Process that integrates innovation and quality for simultaneous long-term strategy formulation and short-term operations. The purpose of the project was to increase the Institutes ability to collaborate with industry. With a “voice of the customer” study, MIT analyzed the evolution of industry-academic interaction, which includes new ways to interface with customers, clients, partners, and/or other stakeholders.
Three models of interaction emerged. Although each has its merits, both partners (i.e., MIT and the corporate sponsor) benefit from the more integral interaction with a knowledge-based focus. The Membership Model is the most common among university liaison programs. It is based upon a fee structure for corporations to sponsor faculty research activities. The Relationship Model, largely a result of the quality movement, provides a new focus upon market needs in which the interaction is satisfaction. The new Partnership Model is rapidly becoming the investment standard for the future. It focuses upon innovation as the mode of interaction through symbiotic, networked learning. Table 1 contrasts the key elements of all three.
The Partnership Model clearly requires more flexible, fluid organizations that focus upon the flow of knowledge or new ideas throughout the entire innovation system, including what is considered the R&D enterprise.
Evolution of R&D Management
The 1991 book, Third Generation R&D: Managing the Link to Corporate Strategy, provided a threshold from which current R&D leaders could develop new management strategies for the 1990s and beyond. (9) Although it is difficult to generalize the management practice of a particular era, for the purpose of perspective, I will attempt to characterize the following generations of R&D described therein (see Table 2).
William Miller, vice president for research and business development at Steelcase North America, has charted the foundation for the fourth phase of evolution, which becomes evident “when your customers think of their research as yours. ” (10) Miller’s “Fourth Generation R&D” envisions a process of concurrent learning with customers as the only way to deal with the accelerated customers as the only way to deal with the accelerated pace and global scope of change. Enterprises, now experimenting with information technology as competitive weapon, are forced to address the “productivity paradox,” by which capital investments in technology do not yield commensurate improvements in service productivity. (11) Risk must be balanced with the business opportunity factor, which decreases over time. In building capabilities - individual group - to meet market needs, new ideas must be first validated in demonstrated practice with a closed-loop feedback process. Eventually, people value the new capability that leads to new products and services, and ultimately to new businesses. In recognizing the need for cross-functional, cross-disciplinary insight, emerging “communities of practice” are integral to understanding future business opportunities. Customer is the asset to be managed. In both Third and Fourth Generation, customer satisfaction is the focus.
Systems - technological and organizational - are changing at such a blistering pace that we are demanding a radical departure from current strategies. While management practices used to prevail for decades, fundamental concepts shift so dramatically today that they are being continually redefined. In this regard, several of Miller’s concepts may actually be more representative of an emerging fifth phase in which knowledge is the asset to be managed. He references “knowledge channels” of distribution, the Knowledge (not information) Age that follows the industrial era, and the need to raise the productivity of the “knowledge worker.” These principles, and the learning implications thereof, are best described by Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline, Charles Savage in Fifth Generation Management and James Brian Quinn in The Intelligent Enterprise. (4, 12, 13)
In the anticipated 5th Generation R&D, the management practices that will bring enterprises effectively into the next millennium must be knowledge-based. Management systems must be collaborative, not competitive or even cooperative, and focus on the total innovation system designed with suppliers, partners, distributors, and other stakeholders, including customers - all as integral participants in defining new frontiers. Such strategic business systems must operate amidst kaleidoscopic change, the dynamics of which are interdependent and will continue to accelerate rapidly.
Business performance will not only be assessed according to financial capital, but will be measured in terms of intellectual assets and the ability to create and apply new ideas in the marketplace. Symbiotic learning networks - electronic and human - will be essential to day-to-day operations as well as to strategy formulation. All participants in the innovation system will be self-motivating, responsible for creating new knowledge as a way of adding value to the corporation and the customers. In so doing, managers will monitor “knowledge flow” with the same rigor as they previously managed the monetary flow of capital and the flow of parts and materials into products and services. Information technology, with sophisticated computer communications systems, will embody knowledge processing capabilities that learn and feed forward intelligence to all participants in the R&D enterprise.
Knowledge is the asset to be managed and a new focus on customer success provides a progressive view of how to create a future together.
From Transfer to Transformation
Since the passage of the National Cooperative Research Act of 1984, there has been a new emphasis on the process of technology transfer. Corporations have established dedicated offices and staff, Congress has passed legislation to enable more rapid movement of scientific information into the private sector, state governments have initiated local economic development initiatives, and a National Center for Technology Transfer has been established.
Just as there have been unprecedented changes in the R&D environment, the technology transfer profession has experienced a parallel reorientation to a focus on knowledge, the entire process of innovation and systems thinking. What once was considered a discrete activity between functions (or nations) has become an integral activity in interconnecting the research organization with business units within the firm, alliances and joint ventures external to the firm, and the leading-edge customer base itself.
There are five evolutionary stages we might identify to depict some of these differences: (14) Once again, sweeping generalizations can be incomplete so they must be taken in the illustrative spirit with which they were defined. Also, they are better viewed as a Maslow hierarchy (i.e., Stage II building upon Stage I and so forth), since the characteristics of each may be important at certain stages of the product development/commercialization cycle.
Stage I. Technology Transfer (moving from one place to another; the “passer/receiver” language applied to labs, within consortia or country to country).
Stage II. Technology Exchange (technology transfers through people; the “contact sport” analogy; dual communications links; dialogue among parties; ideas from either side).
Stage III. Knowledge Exchange (Shift to viewing that which is transferred from “widgets” to ideas and insights as a function of human interaction; realization of something beyond “information”; timely access provides the competitive advantage).
Stage IV. Technology/Knowledge Management (recognition that the “process” cannot be left to serendipity; organizations must pay “sweat dues” in addition to the enrollment fee; emergence of a new discipline: the management of technology; builds staff and mechanisms to manage the process).
Stage V. Knowledge Innovation Systems (realization of the dynamic nature of the total process of innovation; emergence of the “virtual” research enterprise without functional, industry, sector, or geographic borders; takes systemic view of “knowledge flow”; shifts focus from monitoring discrete deliverables to creation of a learning system designed to enable profitable growth).
Five Management Domains
There are also five primary interdependent management domains, which when in balance provide for optimal effectiveness and efficiency: Performance, Structure, People, Process, and Technology. A matrix can be created to assess the characteristics within each stage (Table 3).
The resulting analysis is similar to the description of Fifth Generation R&D. There is an investment strategy focused upon customer success, not satisfaction. The organization structure includes distributed networks with multiple symbiotic nodes. The people are empowered and function within a self-managing system. Processes need to be dedicated to global learning in “real time,” and the information technology operates with intelligent knowledge processors.
In 1992, a research compilation titled The Learning Organization: A Review of Literature and Practice traced the history of these learning concepts back to the 1920s and showed the link between learning and company performance. (15) The authors refer to a heuristic device to describe five phases of development: foundation, formulation, continuation, transformation, and transfiguration. In some respects, their model corresponds to the one above, with the fifth stage being “an elevated vision of what it, and the individuals within it, are capable of becoming.”
The agenda, then, is one of transformation - integrating with corporate business strategy in systematic ways that balance the economic, behavioral and technological factors of the enterprise. Creating such dynamic innovation systems requires experimental modes of modern management. No longer will traditional value-chain methodologies suffice. In fact, the new value-system paradigm is one that transcends conventional organizational boundaries and uses the technology to support the formulation and implementation of real-time strategies to meet the business opportunities of the global marketplace.
There has been a compounding effect from the rapid advances and acceptance of virtual reality and the phenomenon of virtual networks. Advances in one area appear to affect the other and visa versa. In other words, communications technology - visible within the past decade as research experiments and “skunk works” - is now embodied in a plethora of products and services ranging from the most complex simulations to child video games. Such innovation enables organizations to operate with more fluid, flexible management practices and on a global scale. This symbiosis makes possible the virtual organizational structures, as defined by Steven L. Goldman and others as “an opportunistic alliance of core competencies distributed among a number of distinct operating entities within a single large company or group of companies.” (16)
Enterprises, attempting to accommodate the need for rapid integration of new ideas in an interdependent global marketplace, have turned to formalizing “teamnets” - teams that are defined in The Age of the Network by speed, agility and a web of interconnected relationships. (17) These entities - often “virtual” in nature - exhibit greater flexibility, greater scope and sharper intelligence, rediscovery of the “ancient human knowledge about the power of small groups.” They also must balance the need for a variety of organization forms, forms hierarchies to networks, rather than one to the exclusion of the other.
Age of the Network defines the Five TeamNet Principles as a “pocket tool” of integrated elements: Unifying Purpose, Independent Members, Voluntary Links, Multiple Leaders, and Integrated Levels. It describes a variety of examples through holonomy, a human systems theory originally developed by Arthur Koestler in 1967. (18) With this core concept (i.e., systems within systems), multiple layers of simultaneous “nested” activities are envisioned on five levels: the small group, large organization, enterprise, alliance, and economic Megagroup. The book illustrates several real-world examples at each level: self-directed teams at Eastman Kodak, high-performance teams at AT&T, cross-functional teams at Hewlett-Packard, socio-technological systems at Arthur Andersen LLD, internal markets at ABB, service webs at Hyatt Hotels, joint ventures at Intel, strategic alliances of IBM, flexible business nets at EBV, and eco-development of USNet.
Only when managers are able to define explicitly both the formal and informal mechanisms in operation at any given level - or combination of levels - are they able to provide an optimal infrastructure to capitalize upon the flow of ideas and to provide resources which enhance, rather than inhibit, the learning process itself. No longer is training accomplished primarily in the traditional classroom setting. The complexity of the work-related tasks and rapidity with which relevant information changes demand that learning (i.e., the absorption and utilization of new knowledge) take place real-time and throughout the enterprise. Every interaction is a source of learning, and capturing the organizational memory becomes vital to the sustained evolution of the business enterprise.
A recent Harvard Business Review article supports the observation that learning must be constant by documenting that knowledge is doubling about every seven years. (19) “In technical fields in particular, half of what students learn in their first year of college is obsolete by the time they graduate.”
No wonder that a given curriculum tends to be outdated as soon as it is published in a catalogue! Strategic business plans - with visions that are not visionary - are obsolete as soon as they are written. Organizations are subject to severe downsizing measures at the same time as they witness demands for critical kills to meet marketplace requirements.
In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret J. Wheatley integrates revolutionary discoveries from quantum physics, chaos theory and evolutionary biology. (20) She speaks of simplifying the complexities, capitalizing upon “dynamic interconnectedness” and reconciling the paradoxes of self-organizing systems (e.g., chaos and order, change and stability).
In defining this new scientific management, Wheatley observes the “springing forth of parallel concepts in science and business.” Similarly, the notions of virtual technology, which could include the properties of virtual reality as well as the supporting electronic communications infrastructure, are affecting, and being affected by, the explosion of networked activity across all enterprises. For example, the rapid advances in communications technology, together with more flexible organization forms for doing business, have spawned an entire electronic commerce industry.
National ‘Innovation’ Infrastructure
The platform for the National Information Infrastructure (NII) was defined as the “facilities and services that enable the efficient creation and diffusion of useful information. (21) What is now described as the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) is international in scope. It is, in actuality, an innovation (not information) initiative. In other words, the intent is not to establish an infrastructure (e.g., network) to provide for the optimal flow of useful or meaningful information (i.e., knowledge). This flow of knowledge from creation to application is actually the process of innovation.
We need demonstration projects to create prototypes for new ways of thinking about how research scientists and bench engineers - across disciplinary, industry and national boundaries - can collaborate on problems of mutual interest. The resulting outcome if the accelerated creation, movement and application of new ideas into products and services that benefit society. This is the definition of Knowledge Innovation® (22)
Such international multi-year projects should not focus on the flow of information per se, but upon the interdependent creation and utilization of three types of knowledge: core knowledge (data, information and expertise); new knowledge (ideas and inventions) and applied knowledge (products, services and know-how). Most important, experiments should use the latest computing capabilities to interrelate the concept of digital libraries with other campus innovation organizations. Evaluation of such systems will provide insight into the interdependence of the economic, behavioral and technological factors referenced earlier. It will provide some understanding of the managerial principles inherent in virtual networked learning - the challenge of 5th Generation R&D.
Other ‘Virtual’ Initiatives
The concept of virtual management may be in the process of becoming a discipline in-and-of-itself. Certainly, the modus operandi of networked communication has fueled its research engine in ways we never would have envisioned even a couple of years ago. Some examples include:
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*This article was originally published as Debra M. Amidon Rogers in Research-Technology Management, the Journal of the Industrial Research Institute (July-August 1996).
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