Recently it was brought to our attention that a veteran in the work force – a technical professional – had five of his patent applications approved by the US patent department in the past eighteen months! To make it more interesting, these patents covered four different areas of focus for the employer. All these patents have been issued after this employee chose to retire, couple of years ago.. What was interesting was that the company did not make any effort to retain the services of the employee to gain commercial benefits from these patents. It is not clear if everyone in the company hierarchy were even aware of all these patents being processed through the work of this single employee. It is obvious that there was no well-established link between the output of this highly talented employee and the perceived value of the outputs!
How is the above scenario possible in a day and age, where everyone at every level are clamoring for innovation? Aren’t patents a well-established metric for the level of innovation? Companies have programs to measure, monitor and promote the number of invention disclosures filed within a company. They in turn lead to patents. Invention disclosure is a reflection of the creativity of the work force. Typically every ten invention disclosures lead to one patent. On this basis alone the five patents are worth fifty invention disclosures! Perhaps it is time for the R&D departments and the company management to start reshaping their metrics for measures of innovation?
In our recent book we refer to the concept of “End to End innovation”. Here are a few passages from our book:
Innovation starts with an “idea” to address a need. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” as the saying goes. The seed for generating such an idea is “creativity.” Once an idea is generated, it will require validation. Then it will require demonstration of its “use” to address the need. Even after the use is demonstrated, the utility has to be of some consequence (to those with the need). Thus, innovation may be thought of as a three-layered process consisting of “idea,” “use,” and “impact.” Now we come upon a very critical question: Can we innovate in any one of these three layers or do we need to innovate across all three? Much to our surprise, readers may find that most technical professionals rarely address this simple question directly. As an example, an R&D team may feel that coming up with ideas and documenting them as “invention disclosures” might be “adequate.” “Think tanks” or “consulting” projects do exactly that: document and catalog a set of new ideas. Most R&D teams will also carry the idea through experimentation, simulation, and validation, and then demonstrate its effectiveness. Where possible the idea may be pushed as far as patents and/or to the development stage. Later, they are released to the development section for a new-product launch. Finally, marketing and sales departments may also develop new ideas to gain the most revenue, impact, or value out of the new products launched. Among all these layers, the role of the technical professional may be defined in a limited context and his/her role in innovation will be perceived in that limited context. Rare indeed are the cases of technical professionals who stay with the idea through all its stages of innovation: discovery, development, validation, commercial development, as well as contribution to technical marketing efforts. Engagement in all these stages is needed to ensure that the new product is not only production-viable but also a commercial success. Thus, we can define End-to-End Innovation as follows: E-to-E Innovation = Idea X Use X Impact
- Expanding the role of innovation from discovery to development to launch to use with identifiable impact.
Our book is written for technical professionals to take charge of their jobs, career and professional success. But success in innovation is not a one sided street. It also requires employers to take full advantage of the creative skills of their work force and foster a climate necessary for end-to-end innovation. To this end, we offer a scale of 1 to 125 for end to end innovation as opposed to a scale of 1 to 5 , for segmented innovation in each of the three phases. At a time, when there is preponderant emphasis on Digital Technology enabled capabilities, there are serious impediments for end to end innovation in physical technology enabled products and services, even though ultimately the later are the true sources of revenue. The positive note on this matter is a letter offering congratulations received by the employee after each patent was issued! But the letter was not from the employer. Instead it was a letter from a company offering to sell plaque and other items to recognize the patent!! With little research one could see that their automated CRM tool is linked to the US patent department data base. Within a day after the patent is issued the automated congratulatory letter with a sales offer is mailed out. There is a need for the employer and the employee to move with such speed in their end to end innovation efforts. Few can operate at that speed, but those few will survive and succeed in the current Binary Economy.
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