Research - Radical Innovation

1999 - 2000




Objective: Understand the process required to make "quantum-leap" product improvements as opposed to incremental changes

A study of the factors involved in achieving major discontinuities, or breakthroughs, in R&D was initiated in 1995 in cooperation with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the Sloan Foundation. Case studies of 27 successful and unsuccessful breakthrough projects in several IRI member companies were developed by the investigators at RPI and reviewed with the ROR Committee. Initial findings were reported at ROR's 1997 Innovation Leadership Conference and the 1997 IRI Fall Meeting, which had the theme, "Breakthrough Innovation!" Seven keys to managing radical innovation were identified, including idea generation and opportunity recognition. It was emphasized that breakthroughs depend on establishing virtually unreachable goals, clearly articulating the strategic intent of a project, targeting the rich domains, and rotating personnel between R&D, business units, and the marketplace. An important conclusion was that traditional management practices could stifle the generation of breakthroughs in R&D. Results were summarized in a paper published in RTM during 1998 and details were presented in the book, Radical Innovation-How Mature Companies Can Outsmart Upstarts, published in 2000.  IRI has also conducted a number of Tutorials and CTO Forums on this topic led by the project staff of RPI. A Special Interest Session on "Managing the Transition of a Radical Innovation from R&D to Commercial Operations" was conducted at the 2001 IRI Annual Meeting.