This issue begins RTM’s 60th continuous year of publication. Originally called Research Management, it was founded as a journal by and for practitioners of research and development in order to share lessons learned and build best practices. The journal, renamed Research-Technology Management in the 1980s, has now served several generations of R&D and innovation leaders, and it will help executives and practitioners manage through many changes in the future.
When RTM was founded, corporate R&D labs were centralized think tanks, often remote from the offices of the parent company, charged with a mandate to develop science for the future. Since then, the R&D function has become more focused, more actively managed, increasingly multidisciplinary, more open to the outside world, much more tightly tied to the business, and more global. The central R&D labs of the past have given way to global networks of R&D centers, with increased focus on shorter-term deliverables and stronger connections to universities for foundational work. The boundaries of the labs have opened up, so that ideas can move through the business and across corporate boundaries to support business objectives. The stakeholders in R&D have expanded to include marketing and strategy, in addition to product development. And R&D engineers are spending more time with customers, learning from them in new ways.
These changes in the nature of industrial R&D have come in response to changes in the world around us, changes that have been coming at an accelerating pace: Digitization. Open IP. Global markets and global talent. User innovators and Makers. Rapid advances in materials, computer science, networking, and manufacturing technologies. Ubiquitous, always-on connectivity. The pace of change in technology, and its implications for business and society, has become a cliché; what is less remarked on are the transformations those changes have wrought in what it means to do R&D and innovation.
Throughout these waves of change, RTM has helped its readers manage the transitions by mapping the evolving state of the art and providing a forum for identifying and testing best practices. We published early expositions of Stage-Gate as well as its later adaptations; early discussions of open innovation and reports on methodologies for exploiting it more effectively; early entries in the ongoing conversation about the evolving nature of intellectual property; descriptions of new organizational models for technology, innovation, and research management; and new thinking about the management of innovation talent. The journal has been at the leading edge of the practice of innovation management through what is now the field’s fourth, fifth, or sixth generation, depending on which vector of change you consider.
In this issue, we celebrate and continue this vital heritage with a set of invited commentaries from some of the seminal contributors to the evolution of innovation management in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. All have appeared in these pages before. Each speaks to an important aspect of the way new ideas and technologies will be brought to market in the future. Some address the front end of innovation, including how companies can use foresight tools to get a glimpse of the coming future; how user innovation is changing corporate innovation practices; and how design thinking is shaping not only innovation but business strategy. Others discuss the implementation of innovative concepts, notably how open innovation will expand and how staged and gated product development processes will evolve to meet increasing demands for speed, flexibility, and customer intimacy. And one commentator, a pioneer in the field of engineering education, looks at how the education of innovators is likely to evolve in the next two decades.
We begin with what may seem an unexpected Conversations interview, with science fiction author Vernor Vinge. Science fiction has been a beacon to the future for many, anticipating not only new technologies and gadgets but also new social norms and organizational forms. It has, in the words of Alvin Toffler, “immense value as a mind-stretching force for the creation of the habit of anticipation.” Vinge, who is also a mathematician and computer scientist, sees well into the future; perhaps not coincidentally, he is also enormously satisfying to read. In the interview, he discusses some of the major themes in his books—many of which anticipate the world we now live in—and talks about how innovation leaders might use science fiction to think differently about their businesses and their roles.
We publish a more near-term insight into the future in the 2017 edition of IRI’s annual R&D Trends Survey, which RTM has published every year since 1982. This year’s survey shows continued optimism about R&D investment growth, with new business projects a key driver of investment. Respondents also expect continued growth in hiring for R&D professionals, with the exception of the aerospace and government/nonprofit sectors, which are significantly less optimistic about hiring and other investments in R&D. Given the startling pace of advances in technology and the continued disruption of industry after industry, R&D investment patterns are surprisingly stable.
The changes in innovation management discussed in these pages are exciting. We are pleased to bring together so many distinguished authors to commemorate our 60th year. And we look forward to continuing our mission of bringing leading-edge practices to our readers, in whatever corner of the world they may be found.
In the January-February 2017 special issue:
Science Fiction as Foresight
Vernor Vinge and Jim Euchner
2017 R&D Trends Forecast
Industrial Research Institute
Design, Business Models, and Human-Technology Teamwork
Refocusing: How Design Can Help Industry Address New Challenges
The Future of Open Innovation
Free Innovation by Consumers – How Producers Can Benefit
Eric von Hippel
Foresight and the Future of R&D
Christian Crews and Ted Farrington
Idea-to-Launch Gating Systems: Better, Faster, and More Agile
Robert G. Cooper
Building on Math and Science: The New Essential Skills for the 21st Century Engineer
Richard K. Miller