The Secret to Developing Technological Innovation Managers

By Ed Bernstein, IRI President

Do technology innovation managers have access to equal professional development as other managers? I was confronted with this question at a conference of innovation professionals at the University of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business this past March. The speakers at the Economist’s 2013 Innovation Forum seemed to lament that technological innovation management does not possess the same avenues for cultivation as other areas of business. As president of an association which offers such avenues to such professionals, I was somewhat nonplussed.

The idea that innovation managers lack channels of development comes from the belief that practices in innovation management fall more neatly into other managerial disciplines (e.g. the management of research, IP, marketing, supply chains, HR, technology, and/or quality control, among others) and that innovation management is therefore too vague to have any clear method for developing it. So one may join a trade association or take an executive course for human resources, IP law, Six Sigma or lean manufacturing, but to find similar opportunities for growth in the field of technological innovation management, well, you’re on your own. This is simply not true, though.

The work we perform at the Industrial Research Institute (IRI), a now-75 year old organization which has its roots in the study of effective management of R&D labs by R&D professionals, is precisely meant to offer such development for innovation professionals. Prior to its establishment, Maurice Holland, IRI’s founder and first president, wrote in 1933 that “There was a time in the history of mankind when new products or processes were discovered by accident rather than deliberately invented… [but today] scientific research has made of invention a systematic, highly efficient process” that is being guided by other professional researchers who understand the field (Holland, 1933, Research in Hard Times, p. 12).

Holland essentially identified the field of R&D management, and how to develop it, prior to WWII. Holland’s point was to show how metric-based, scientific study into research management can lead to more effective management of R&D organizations and that this is best done by networking those who work in R&D. He also argued that this process of developing researchers into R&D managers was best overseen by a professional association—which he founded in 1938—that focused intently on developing innovation managers; those he called “research managers.” This was the founding idea of IRI and what continues to be its official agenda.

The professionals attending the Economist’s Innovation Forum were right that innovation management covers broad areas of business in need of synthesis and that it is indeed a challenge to offer a full-service development course for this field. We define innovation in many ways, thereby risking the exclusion of segments which may or may not belong. But asking R&D professionals what innovation means will yield very similar answers: it is the process whereby they search, select, capture, and integrate new ideas into their business. This definition helps us to identify what type of work goes into this discipline; work we have been doing for 75 years.

We have learned that innovation management is a blanket term covering several academic silos which need integration to work properly. Therefore, our members work hard, year after year, to better define ways their organizations can more effectively manage these cross-disciplinary systems and departments. This includes the management of research and highly independent researchers, the instigation of collaborative agreements, the best use of technology scouting, and the design of new products, but it is also market testing and product advertising, sales, IP enforcement, global supply chain management, and even tech support, among many, many others.

How are we to discuss ways these disciplines can be bound together into one professional unit except by bringing people together who perform such work? By having these professionals share their own best practices and providing a venue for them to research other best practices alongside managers across industries, we develop the field of technological innovation management in a way no one else can. This is the opportunity IRI offers.

To say that R&D managers lack proper avenues for the development of their profession, to me, simply means they have not yet participated in IRI events or taken part in IRI’s various working groups. The work we do is unique; it is cross industry, multi-disciplinary, global in reach and outlook, and we are the only organization offering this kind of development opportunity to technological innovation managers. If you have been looking for a way to elevate your innovation managers’ understanding of their role, contact us today and learn how we can help.

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