We’ve been discussing the myth that simply increasing R&D funding will propel an organization from innovation collapse to innovation crescendo. I call it the “Let’s throw money at R&D” solution.
However, as discussed in my previous post, studies reveal such an approach seldom works1. In that post I explored the types of R&D spending that make sense, focusing primarily on investing in R&D “organizational infrastructure” before investing in innovation spending and R&D project execution. We looked at investing to improve efficiency and create capacity through maintaining and developing the R&D culture, the alignment of the company’s innovation strategy with the corporate strategy, the structure of the R&D organization, the NPD governance system and the R&D processes.
Here I focus on the role of investing in talent as you move from innovation collapse to innovation crescendo.
In my experience within the industry, I rarely came across a situation where a really good idea wasn’t funded or where vitally needed equipment wasn’t funded because of lack of budget. What was more of a problem was not being able to add headcount or reorganizing R&D optimally to reduce the size of some groups and increase the size of others in response to new project requirements and changes in the portfolio. It was always easier to get more operational budget money than to get additional headcount. While it appears that merely increasing R&D project spending is rarely a successful solution for growth, focusing on R&D talent and improving the talent base in R&D on the other hand is often overlooked, but is a critical, key component for innovation crescendo and hence growth.
Getting the “right” people in R&D is extremely difficult. While organizational infrastructure can foster an environment for innovation I believe there are “innovative” qualities that individuals bring to R&D that contribute to an innovation crescendo. The difficulty is identifying those qualities beyond the old stand-by of “I’ll know it when I see it.”
I believe in hiring a mix of people ranging from “creative innovators” to “adaptive innovators” as described by Susan Robertson2 … think of “Leonardo da Vinci” types of people as “creative innovators” and “Thomas Edison” types as “adaptive innovators”. Leonardo da Vinci generated a vast number of ideas in many different fields, some centuries ahead of his time, but few of them were executed in his time. Edison, on the other hand, did not conceptualize the ideas in many of his patents, but refined and modified them until he produced practical products that consumers wanted. Both types of innovators are essential for a good innovation culture.
Steve Jobs famously wanted to hire only “A” people in his organization and would rate employees as either “great” or “bozos”. He also said that “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have”. The implication of Steve Job’s comments is that getting the right people, empowering them and having the right organization to execute projects is more important than the level of R&D spending alone.
How you test for “innovative” qualities in your hiring process is also difficult. In some industries you will be able to go to open innovation sites and check out ideas, work etc. In science you will be able to check patent authorship, publications and conference presentations, etc. In the technology area, an enthusiastic programmer may bring examples of their work that they can show. And sometimes it’s a simple “gut check” response, based on the projected passion of the applicant. I would be interested to hear your suggestions and experience in this area.
- See my previous post, “Investing for Innovation Crescendo Part 1: Improving Organizational Infrastructure”
Images obtained from Google
© Dennis Nelson 2013