A Cambrian Moment
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A Cambrian Moment

Jim Euchner

James Euchner is editor-in-chief of Research-Technology Management and vice president of global innovation at Goodyear. He previously held senior management positions in the leadership of innovation at Pitney Bowes and Bell Atlantic. He holds BS and MS degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Cornell and Princeton Universities, respectively, and an MBA from Southern Methodist University. euchner@iriweb.org

“The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

William Gibson


As this issue of RTM arrives in your mailbox, IRI—our publisher—enters its 75th year. It does so at what John Seely Brown would call a Cambrian moment for innovation, an era of explosive change with the potential to forge profound changes in the way we work, learn, and collaborate. It is a time of both promise and threat. Bob Johansen, a futurist at the Institute for the Future, refers to his most recent forecast as “the most frightening of my career . . . and the most hopeful.” IRI’s Jubilee year is therefore a time to celebrate—and a time for anxiety. The future may offer unimaginable opportunity, but the managerial practices and competencies of the past may be inadequate to meet its challenges.

At the same time, the pace of change is accelerating. As Rob Spencer points out in the debut of his column, Reality Check, it may have accelerated to the point that the time required to achieve expertise is longer than the cycle of change. The world is moving faster than we can adapt. This is true in innovation management, too. Major changes in innovation practice have traditionally taken decades to be assimilated. Globalization of R&D has been emerging for twenty years, for example, and continues to evolve. Open innovation exploded over the first decade of the 2000s and has delivered much value, but it still has a way to go. Corporate venturing has been through waves of experimentation, and the jury is still out on its role in the innovation portfolio. We may be approaching a point where the time required for a change in management practice to take hold is less than the time necessary to adapt to it. What happens then?

This issue explores these questions with a trio of articles about the future and three more about the practical application of new practices. We begin with the results of IRI’s annual R&D trends survey, which asks participants to project their R&D spending decisions for the coming year. This report from the future may be most remarkable for its sense of continuity. The data show a general stability in outlook, with most firms seeing slight increases in spending and shifts of funding toward new-business innovation.

By contrast, this issue’s Conversations piece explores the thinking of Bob Johansen, who sees a much more uncertain future. Bob has recently written about the new capabilities leaders will need in what he calls “the VUCA world”—a world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. New management competencies will be required, including the jiu-jitsu capabilities of dilemma flipping and creating clarity in the face of uncertainty. Two megatrends that will drive the need for these skills are the emergence of digital natives—a generation whose brains have been hard-wired by their immersion in an always-on digital universe—and a revolution in collective action spawned by global hyperconnectivity.

IRI is seeking to stay ahead of this curve with a foresight initiative designed to engage its membership in envisioning the future of R&D management. That initiative, called IRI2038, will be chronicled in RTM in Vision 2038, a new column authored by Ted Farrington, Christian Crews, and Jennifer Blenkle, who are facilitating the effort. Each column will discuss the methods and results used at different stages of the foresight process and summarize what has been learned at that stage. This issue’s column discusses the discovery phase and the trends and weak signals likely to buffet IRI members and shape their work over the next 25 years. As part of that effort, the project team is soliciting members’ input about what they think the future of R&D will look like; see the column or visit www.iriweb.org/2038 for details.

RTM has always been a place where practitioners share what they learn as they explore one area or another of Gibson’s unevenly distributed future, and we hope that will still be true in 2038. It certainly continues to be true today, as illustrated by the variety of articles in this issue. Along with our usual departments, we offer an assessment of the current state of corporate venturing that includes a survey of approaches successful corporate venturers have used, a demonstration of an approach to identifying and addressing the risks in the product-development process, and a description of a successful nanotech innovation cluster.

Taken together, these articles offer some interesting, perhaps even startling, glimpses of the future. We may be hyperconnected and always on, but collocation and physical proximity remain powerful drivers of creativity and innovation. Corporate venturing was a new idea in the 1970s, and it may drive companies’ breakthrough efforts well into the future.

What does your future look like? The future is happening right now somewhere in your firm. We hope this issue provokes you to share your experiences—with us and with your colleagues.

The 2012 Maurice Holland Award

Named after IRI's founder, Maurice Holland, the Holland Award is presented each year to the authors of the paper published in the previous year's volume of Research-Technology Management that best exemplifies the journal's values of significance to the field of R&D and innovation management, originality of new management concepts, and excellence in presentation.

Presented to Bilal Kaafarani and Jane Stevenson for “Breaking Away: An Innovation Model for Sustainable Growth.”

Martha Collins, IRI Chair-Elect, left, and Jim Euchner, Research-Technology Management editor-in-chief, right, present the 2012 Holland Award to Jane Stevenson, Vice Chairman, Board & CEO Services, Korn/Ferry International. Co-author Bilal Kaafarani was unable to attend the ceremony.

The Industrial Research Institute (IRI) announced the winners of its prestigious Holland Award during a reception and dinner at its Member Summit in Indianapolis on October 17. The award, given to authors whose work exemplifies originality of new management concepts in articles published in RTM, went to Bilal Kaafarani, Chief Innovation Officer at Yildiz Holding, and Jane Stevenson, vice chairman at Korn/Ferry International. Kaafarani and Stevenson are also co-authors of Breaking Away: How Great Leaders Create Innovation That Drives Sustainable Growth—And Why Others Fail.

The winning article, “Creating Value in Turbulent Times,” was published in the May/June 2011 edition of RTM. According to Edward Bernstein, president of IRI, “Bilal and Jane's article takes an intriguing look at innovation as a multilevel construct and presents a new model that other practitioners can apply to their own organizations.”

The Maurice Holland Award recognizes the best papers published in RTM and honors IRI's founder, Maurice Holland. The award is traditionally given at the IRI Member Summit for papers published during the previous year.