Wednesday, March 22

Innovation/Discovery Teams 

Also known as "innovation teams," Invention/Discovery Teams are small groups of carefully selected, cross-functional professionals, often assisted by a creativity specialist. They work intensely for a relatively brief time on promising initiatives commissioned by senior management. If sponsored properly, they are well supported in their efforts and given priority treatment. As the name implies, the major goal of I/DTs is the invention and/or discovery of potential new products, services, programs, and technologies.

The I/DT is positioned as a fast track vehicle for innovation, and as such, it can be an important element in a corporation’s "portfolio" of innovation strategies. These portfolios may include:

Research & Development Laboratories: These are viewed as the standard pillars of creativity and innovation. R&D labs, however, have many roles in today’s business environment. These include new research, developing concepts suggested by other functions (e.g., marketing), and "fixing" existing products or product ideas. Some research indicates that only about 19% of viable new product ideas have their source in R&D.

Advanced Concepts Teams: These may be special teams within R&D or they may be separate entities. The challenge for these teams is to explore the frontiers of their domains in order to discover and develop cutting edge concepts and technologies.

Expeditionary Teams: Often composed of top executives or of individuals who report directly to the top, these teams could also be called "discovery and acquisition" groups. Their chief function is to scan the horizon for newly developed product ideas and/or small companies with great potential, either of which their larger company might acquire.

Skunk Works: Based on archetypal teams at Apple and Lockheed Martin, these research groups may be large versions of the Advanced Concept Team with the added dimension that they often work in almost complete secrecy. While advanced concept work may focus on "pure" science, skunk works often have very concrete business objectives that would provide their companies with a competitive edge in dynamic markets.

Consumer Science: These days, this initiative can go far beyond focus groups and surveys. Using ethnographic research or "empathic design," these teams are often the prompters, if not the sources, of new concepts.2 Their function is to conduct in-depth investigations into the needs of consumers; as such, they represent the tips of the organization’s antennae. Combined with a good information infrastructure and an aggressive intellectual property department, consumer science offers an important complement to the other initiatives.

Empowered Personal Research: Pioneered by innovative giants such as 3M, this approach allows and encourages individuals to use some portion of their work time (5-15%) for personal investigations that could lead to new concepts. Individuals are usually given autonomy in their efforts, although there may be overarching mandates for productivity and/or benefits programs that provide incentives for prompt idea development.

Grass Roots Innovation Networks (GRINs): Self-organized by individuals interested in investigating and developing their creativity, GRINs are usually unauthorized, although they may receive some managerial encouragement. These "study groups" connect by e-mail, intranets and brown bag lunch meetings. Some receive a small amount of money or support for speakers or workshops. Examples of such groups include DuPont’s "Oz Network," 3M’s "Grass Roots Innovation Team," and Rohm & Haas’s "All Thinks Considered."

Which of these does YOUR organization have in place?

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