A New IRI for the Future of Innovation

by Edward Bernstein, IRI president; published in RTM, Vol 60, 6

Five years ago, IRI celebrated its 75th anniversary by looking back over the accomplishments of the Institute and its members and envisioning what the next 75 years will bring. While much has changed in the field of innovation management over IRI’s lifespan, these shifts are modest compared to those that are coming. IRI is no stranger to change; in fact, we champion it by facilitating the incredible innovation endeavors of our members and by making smart pivots as an organization.

Through the decades, our organization has kept a steadfast focus on creating value that keeps pace with the continuously evolving needs of our members. The IRI of the 20th century focused on the leader of the central R&D laboratory; while the company was the unit of membership, our programs and services were geared toward providing value to the Chief Technology Officer. This value centered on the relationships developed at semiannual meetings held at top-tier venues. As R&D has become more distributed, IRI has evolved along with it, creating new ways to serve the new value creation units emerging in member companies. These new avenues included our networks, more open online content, and an increase in the number of complimentary registrations included with organizational memberships, to encourage broader participation in our network and ROR programs.

Now, our brand and the experience we offer need to catch up with that evolution, to communicate a cohesive vision that is relevant to the times and strategically mapped to how companies will realize growth into the 21st century. As we prepare to lead into the future, we know that the functions we support are more often referred to as innovation than as R&D—a permanent change that is more than semantic. Furthermore, the term industrial research, the core of our name, is anachronistic, belying our forward-thinking approach and creating a barrier to the organization’s adoption by “new economy” industries. For these reasons, the Industrial Research Institute is repositioning itself in the market with a new name: the Innovation Research Interchange. This change reflects our new value proposition, better defines the unique collaborative experiences we foster, and aligns with how our members achieve growth.

Innovation arises from a deep understanding of customer needs, value, and market conditions. To be successful in innovation, you must be able to identify and quantify market needs and their associated value and articulate all of the conditions required for success. IRI has always been able to identify and communicate best practices across industries in terms of the business processes, tools, and management approaches required to nurture innovation. Now we must build on this legacy—to both continue in our role as a member-based association that brings global leaders in innovation together to learn and pioneer new ways to move the field forward, and demonstrate and advocate for the value of continual innovation. IRI will continue to fill that role, via our Annual Conference, this journal, and customizable access to all the content and resources of IRI. But we will build on that legacy to become more relevant and better positioned to help organizations flourish in the ever-changing conditions and economic landscapes of the future.

These changes are based on a fundamental review of our value proposition by our Board of Directors—starting with who our customers are. That review identified our primary customer as the person predominantly responsible for growth through resource allocation decisions in an environment of high uncertainty; in dynamic environments, that person won’t always be the CTO or even the Director of R&D. Such a person has three domains of responsibility: organizational (“How can my team get better?”), operational (“How do I get better?”), and strategic (“How can I better understand the environment?”). The new IRI value proposition addresses all three areas and helps leaders to achieve their ultimate goal of accelerating innovation management to better advance new growth opportunities.

For instance, our response to “How can my team get better?”, unveiled at the 2017 Annual Meeting in Boston, is TRACK (Training Resources to Advance Competencies and Knowledge), a program designed to help innovation teams develop their full potential by developing their team members. The centerpiece—a self-directed learning engine (SDLE)—allows individuals to analyze their skills and competencies, determine gaps, and access resources to help them move from one level to the next. Other components of TRACK include workshops and e-learning programs that address needs identified through the SDLE, as well as our existing Networks and Regional Exchanges.

To address the question “How can I get better?”, IRI will focus on two areas of research: what’s best and what’s next. We will retool and rebrand our popular ROR working groups as PILOT (Practices in Leadership, Organization, and Talent) to focus on best practices, and we are creating a research foundation to focus on the large strategic questions that will advance the field and identify the next practices in innovation leadership. This initiative will be supported by an expanded program of CTO Exchanges, where R&D leaders will gather to address leading-edge strategic issues.

Another substantial initiative, SPRING (Sourcing PRedictive Intelligence for New Growth), will address the question “How can I better understand the environment?” by undertaking an ongoing review and analysis of trends and how they affect innovation leadership. SPRING will be a continuous effort, producing annual reports, slide decks, and customized products for members, such as special workshops and private consulting services focused on particular trends or specific market needs.

For most in the IRI community, the first opportunity to experience the new IRI will be at our Annual Conference in Atlanta, June 4–7, 2018. This meeting, which will be co-located with NSF’s SBIR-II annual meeting, will provide an exceptional opportunity to expand networks and learn about emerging technologies while experiencing the transformed Innovation Research Interchange. The meeting will have a new format and some truly exceptional speakers—some of whom you might not expect at an IRI meeting. I promise you will be thrilled by their presentations.

It’s an exciting time for IRI. This new organization emerges from many months of work by volunteer leaders, staff, and partners. Please visit www.iriweb.org often in coming months, as we roll out a gradual rebranding of all IRI products in services. You’ll also find on the site more information about how you can take advantage of all of IRI’s premier offerings. In 2018, the old IRI will turn 80. It’s the perfect time to reinvent and refocus ourselves on the value our members need today. R&D has changed; innovation is here to stay. The new IRI will be designed to meet your needs in this new era. I’m excited by this journey, and I’m sure you will be excited by the new value we offer.

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