PILOT - Tackling complex challenges

In 2021, IRI’s flagship research program, Research on Research (ROR), turns 50.  To commemorate 50 years of outstanding research in the field of innovation management, we will be featuring groundbreaking content from ROR each week in our member updates. 


Watch the pitch videos from our current projects:




When IRI members have complex challenges, PILOT swoops in!

The PILOT Team will help you:

  • Connect with other members facing the same challenge.
  • Select and deploy the right tools to dive into that challenge.
  • Create deliverables to share with your team.

How it works:

  1. IRI connects you with other members in the same boat, forming a working group.
  2. IRI guides you through the research process, organizing and advising, while members of the working group provide intellectual input.
  3. The working group creates a deliverable to share with their teams and the rest of the IRI membership.

To learn more, check out this infographic, go in depth with these explainer slides, or check out this short podcast.  Contact Lee Green to get started.

Current Projects

Ideation to H2 Opportunity Portfolio Sign up to learn more
The Stories We Tell:  Understanding How Innovators Solicit, Share, Collect, and Circulate Innovation Stories Sign up to learn more
R&D in the New Normal Sign up to learn more
Organizing Slack Time for Innovation Sign up to learn more
Encouraging Autonomy and Empowering R&D Teams Sign up to learn more
Driving Efficiency/Speed to Market Sign up to receive updates 
Corporate Entrepreneurship Sign up to learn more
Effectiveness University Engagements Sign up to learn more

In the pipeline:

Benchmarking surveys Suggest a topic.
IRI archives deep dives Suggest a theme.
Roundtable discussions Suggest a topic.


Recent work:

Challenge: How can we learn from failure?
How we addressed it:

Literature review, thought leader interviews, roundtable discussions, case studies

Deliverables: RTM article, video report out
Top Takeaways:
  • Accept failure, as 95% of research is failure
  • Strive for better failure
  • Employ rigorous StageGate processes
  • Ask Why to identify pivot points
  • Overcome the stigma of failure
  • Culture is key: Leaders must create a safe environment


Challenge: How can we better recruit and retain early career technical talent?
How we addressed it:

Literature scan, survey of early career professionals, case studies


video report out, RTM article, PDF brochure of findings

Top Takeaways:

Early and later career professionals mostly want similar things; the biggest differences with early career technical talent are a desire for:

  • Quicker rotation through projects and roles
  • Continuous feedback


Challenge: How can we improve how our virtual teams function?
How we addressed it: Review of 2014 study, roundtable discussions to update findings

Best Practices for Virtual R&D Teams

Top Takeaways:
  • In a virtual environment, more effort needs to be put into ensuring that team members know:
  • Engagement is key - Have frequent communication and check-ins, but keep interactions short.
    • What they are contributing, why, and how;
    • How their work contributes to the project and its goals; and
    • How their work aligns with the goals of the organization (or equivalent).
  • Bring in more viewpoints - Include staff from different locations and different levels in virtual brainstorming sessions.


Pilot Steering Committee

This committee supports all PILOT activities, including working groups, from inception through dissemination.  Committee members work collaboratively to experiment in processes and methods to identify best practices; provide means for idea generation to keep the pipeline full and relevant; and actively investigate mechanisms for timely, accessible and actionable deliverables.

  • Kent Young, Senior Director of Technology, Sherwin-Williams (chair)
  • Marina Despotopoulou, R&D Director, Arkema
  • Sam Immordino, Director, Building Science, USG
  • Keith Keller, R&D Manager, Milliken
  • Stewart Mehlman, Director, SKM Direction, IRI Emeritus
  • Joel Schall, Director, Technology and Innovation, Henkel
  • Jim Wilkinson, Managing Director, Platform Engineering, Applied Materials
  • Marcie Zaharee, Project Leader MITRE Innnovation Program, MITRE


A Research-on-Research (ROR) Subcommittee was appointed by the IRI Board of Directors in 1968, following an unsuccessful effort to convince the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish centers for research-on-research at universities in the United States. The subcommittee concluded that research-on-research was important enough to the interests of the Institute that the idea should be initiated without the support of NSF. Thus, a regular standing committee of IRI was created in 1971 to carry out research on the process of research in industry.

ROR was rolled into PILOT in January 2018 in tandem with the association’s rebranding to Innovation Research Interchange.