In 280 BC, a Greek general added fighting elephants to his ranks and won two battles against the Romans. But in doing so, he suffered terrible losses. Plutarch quotes him as saying, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined” (Plutarch 1920 Plutarch. 1920. Plutarch’s Lives. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann.
[Google Scholar], p. 9). That general was Pyrrhus and we now call these situations—apparent victories that cost so much they’re not sustainable—Pyrrhic victories.
R&D is rife with Pyrrhic victories; leaders can spend years fighting to keep a project alive and solving technical challenge after technical challenge, only to produce innovations that are never commercialized. In large part, this is because the hurdles to growth through innovation are not just technical, and time and attention must be given to developing other areas around the research itself, if the effort is to be truly successful. Using foresight tools to guide R&D activities can reduce the risk of winning the battle but losing the war by helping a company’s leaders understand the strategic context of the innovation and anticipate the wider implications of technical success.
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Volume 60, Issue 3, May-June 2017