Articles & Case Studies by Topic

Remaking R&D

Topic Overview: Remaking R&D

Established research and development organizations are under growing pressure — and not only to reduce costs or increase productivity.

They’re expected to become more “permeable” to the outside world — whether that’s scientists or inventors outside the company participating in a crowdsourcing challenge, or startups working in adjacent areas. They’re expected to monitor and understand potentially disruptive technologies on a daily (not quarterly) basis. They need to attract talent and explore working together, and with colleagues around the organization, in new ways.

Our coverage of how large companies are remaking R&D explores these and other issues, with a focus on delivering meaningful results while also remaining the “resident visionaries” responsible for mapping out the future.

Editor's Picks: Recommended articles on remaking R&D
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All Innovation Leader articles & case studies on R&D:

From Idea Factory to Solutions Factory: Kellogg’s Nigel Hughes on How R&D is Changing

Nigel Hughes, head of R&D at the cereal giant Kellogg Co., talks about distinguishing between fads and “seismic shifts,” and how the R&D organization is changing. “In the past, R&D tended to be populated with people who prided themselves on invention,” he says, “and now we have a group of people who pride themselves on finding solutions.” More from our exclusive interview inside…

Slides: How One Company Thinks About Innovation Structures, Investment Levels, Timeframes

Two slides lay out the way David Crean of Anthem’s Innovation Studio views the different innovation options, or “flavors of innovation,” that a company might pursue. Each one has different levels of risk, different funding requirements, and different potential outcomes.

How Mehmood Khan is Remaking R&D at PepsiCo, with an Emphasis on Sustainability

We talk with PepsiCo vice chairman Mehmood Khan about the links between sustainability and innovation; why diversity isn’t only about hiring people who look different; bringing in new skill sets into R&D, like computer modeling; the challenge of measuring progress; and how he’s trying to change thinking in the company’s 30 R&D locations.

‘More Speed, More Local, More Custom’: How Reebok is Thinking Outside the Mold

When it came to designing and manufacturing athletic shoes, Bill McInnis, VP at Reebok Future, says the shoe company wanted to get “ a lot more speed, a lot more local, and a lot more custom.” This was the inspiration for initiatives like the “Liquid Factory” and “Cotton + Corn,” two new processes the team has come up with for manufacturing shoes. More from McInnis inside about these initiatives and Reebok Future…

Inside J&J’s New Initiative to ‘Intercept’ Diseases

The pharmaceutical industry typically develops new drugs to help manage diseases.  But a new project inside Johnson & Johnson posits a different model: what if you could identify people at risk of developing a disease, and create products to stave it off? Ben Wiegand, head of the Disease Interception Accelerator, explains what they’re up to.

Goodyear’s Chris Varley on How Tech Scouting Work Should Tie in to the Business

Part of Varley’s job is “supporting and encouraging managers tasked with developing ‘something new’ on a five- or ten-year roadmap to think differently, and consider that it may actually be faster and less risky for them to take a chance on working with a startup on the outside than trying to build everything from scratch in the lab.” Here’s his advice on bringing new ideas into a $15 billion company…

Seeking startup partnerships and sustainable technologies at Saint-Gobain

Saint-Gobain, the Paris-based building materials company has thrived for more than 350 years. “There’s an element within our DNA and within our R&D organization where we recognize that to be successful for another 350 years, which is our intent, we have to identify those things that are going to disrupt our current businesses,” says Minas Apelian, R&D and external venturing at Saint-Gobain. More insights inside on how the company works with startups and accelerators to innovate effectively.

Northrop Grumman exec on how innovation, R&D, and business units can ‘increase awesome’

On a recent conference call, Kevin Parsons, the Director of Innovation and Transformation at $23 billion defense and aerospace giant Northrop Grumman joined us to explain how his innovation group is influencing the culture and bringing business units into its process — without antagonizing the R&D folks. Includes 30 minutes of audio….

Moonshots, roof shots, and failing forward: Google and XPRIZE execs on enabling big breakthroughs

“We distinguish between ‘roof shots’ and moonshots,” says Google X executive Hans Peter Brøndmo. “You could say, ‘If I wanted to get up on the roof of this building, I could come up with a really innovative solution. I might actually technically, be closer to the moon, but I didn’t do anything to get to the moon.’ More insights from Brøndmo and XPRIZE CEO Marcus Shingles inside, from a session held at the inaugural Harvest Summit…

Role reversal: MIT professor Eric von Hippel looks at the rise of consumers as innovators

Eric von Hippel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an economist who has studied open innovation since the 1980s, explores the phenomenon of consumers as innovators in his new book, “Free Innovation.” In a recent conversation in his office overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, von Hippel pointed out that there are far more consumers innovating today than there are R&D engineers working for companies.

Webcast replay: What top corporate innovators are doing in 2016

Innovation Leader editor and co-founder Scott Kirsner shares seven examples of how companies like Toyota, Disney, GE, and Amazon are working to innovate better, faster, cheaper — and more collaboratively. The webcast also explores some of the factors that lead to premature death for innovation initiatives.

How industrial giant ThyssenKrupp is remaking R&D for the era of the smart city

“The customer is one of the biggest innovation opportunities there is,” says Patrick Bass, CEO of the North American business for ThyssenKrupp. Bass’ vision of the future of R&D includes not just customers, but academic collaborations, gathering data from Internet-connected products, and innovating differently in different parts of the world.

Treating projects like startups and keeping senior leaders in the loop at Johnson Controls

New projects at the company pass through three stage-gates: pursuit, realization, and commercialization. Johnson Controls’ Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President for Global Innovation explain how projects are funded, and how they work with senior leadership to make decisions about their fate.

How science and trends drive innovation at pet foods giant Nestlé Purina

“We really take a long and wide view when we look at innovation,” says Nina Leigh Krueger, President and CMO. “That includes everything from products to processes to package design.” Krueger and VP of Research and Development Dan Smith offered Innovation Leader a look at how the pet food giant created a hit new product, and how human eating and shopping trends impact its business.

Open innovation at $25 billion AstraZeneca: What we’ve learned so far

Scott Wilkins, Enterprise Innovation Director at the British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and his colleague Rob Albert discuss the roots of the open innovation program at AstraZeneca; how they use recognition and financial rewards for people who help them with challenges; how they got legal and compliance leaders on their side; and how they’re shifting the culture at AstraZeneca from feeling like every great breakthrough needs to come from an employee. In Wilkins’ words, the company now stresses that “the patient doesn’t care who solves the problem.” Includes 30 minutes of downloadable audio…

New York Times disbands R&D Lab, pulls innovation closer to newsroom and advertisers

The lab was founded a decade ago with a mandate to look “beyond the next product cycle, identifying trends and technologies that will emerge in the next three to five years.” Michael Zimbalist, who had overseen the lab, had already departed the Times in March to join Simulmedia, an advertising tech startup.

At Shell’s fast-growing TechWorks lab, it’s ‘all about deploying’

We talk to the director of Shell TechWorks about the lab’s projects, its funding, and its mission — finding cheaper, faster, and safer ways to drill for oil and gas, and to take advantage of future energy sources.

Trek exec on trends, social media, and why a skunkworks didn’t work

Of a skunkworks R&D group set up separate from headquarters, Trek exec Chad Manuell says, “There was a gap in buy-in between when they developed a technology, and when one of the business units [said], “Hey, that technology is cool. Let’s put it on our product.” Listen to our half-hour conversation with Manuell or read the highlights…

Why Toyota set up new $1 billion research group as a ‘skunkworks’

The new institute has four initial mandates, including helping the carmaker explore possible products opportunities in “indoor mobility” and robotic assistants for the elderly. CEO Gill Pratt explains the structure…

Powering innovation within Rolls-Royce’s engineering-centric culture

The $20 billion British company employs more than 18,000 engineers, and thinks about new technologies along a twenty-year timespan. Head of Innovation Hardev Ubhi discusses how Rolls-Royce is working to bring new tools and new thinking into an organization that is understandably obsessed with safety, precision, and quality. Includes slides…

Steve Blank on how to put lean startup in action inside big companies

On our latest Innovation Leader Live call, lean startup guru Steve Blank talked about the challenges of bringing the lean startup approach into a large company; and the decisions that should be made before setting up an “innovation outpost.” Article includes 30 minutes of audio. (Not a subscriber? Here’s an excerpt.)

Six innovation agenda items for 2016

How are you going to make change and deliver results in 2016? Whether you work in an innovation group, new product development, strategy, or R&D, we believe that these issues deserve a place on your agenda for the year ahead.

General Mills VP on getting to the first dollar fast, failure, key metrics

Few companies have as strong a track record when it comes to open innovation and pilot testing as General Mills. In a recent Innovation Leader Live call, Jim Kirkwood, Chief Science and Technology Development Officer, explained how the company “gets to the first dollar fast” with pilot tests. Includes 30 minutes of audio. (Not a subscriber? Get an excerpt here »)

Q&A: Elements of lean innovation

We’re about to embark on a “lean innovation” journey at our company, and I was wondering if you’d seen any studies or best practices that large corporations should consider?

How Elon Musk builds organizations that can achieve anything

We talk to Ashlee Vance, author of a new book about Musk, about how the founder of SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity hires people, battles bureaucracy, and dispatches problems fast.

Google exec: Foster 10X thinking, or you’re doomed to incrementalism

Leaders need to understand that fostering only incremental changes and improvements will doom a company to fall behind. Every company, says Google sales exec Todd Rowe, needs to set at least a few 10X goals — creating something ten times better than what exists today — and give employees the time and freedom to pursue them. Includes audio…

General Mills innovation EVP on becoming ‘best big small company’

Peter Erickson, executive vice president of Innovation, Technology, and Quality for General Mills, is focused on a very clear goal: to help the company, with 43,000 emloyees and brands like Cheerios, Nature Valley, and Betty Crocker, become “the best big small food company in the world.” Here’s our exclusive interview on how he’s doing it…

How MTD Products shepherded an impossible product to market

When he took over a new role as Vice President of Business Development in 2012, Roy Keating understood that he was being handed a big mission at Ohio-based MTD Products: to help the privately-held manufacturer accelerate its growth coming out of the recession. “We wanted to do more breakthrough technology, and launch things that were unique to the market — not keep playing a zero-sum, dog-eat-dog game with the competition,” Keating says.

What happened to ‘Team Tomorrow’ at WD-40

Our latest Innovation Leader Live call featured Graham Milner of WD-40 talking about how the publicly-traded San Diego company with the iconic blue-and-yellow cans has grown beyond a single product. In particular, Milner discussed the life and death of “Team Tomorrow,” which was formed by the CEO in 2002 to explore new opportunities.

Why don’t more companies run open challenges to solve problems?

Amazon.com is only the latest company to expose a problem it is grappling with and ask for outside help. Its Picking Challenge, wrapping up this month, invites participants to design robots and accompanying control software that can grab products from a shelf and place them into a box. Companies like Netflix, Philips, and GE have run similar challenges in recent years. But why aren’t we seeing many other Fortune 500 companies follow suit?

Sustaining, disruptive, blue sky: How Microsoft invests in research

On our recent Field Study visit to Microsoft Research, Peter Lee showed one of those slides that had everyone in the group suddenly reaching for their phones to snap a picture.

Why Ford is growing its Silicon Valley research center

Ford exec Jim Buczkowski discusses the strategy behind the expansion of the company’s Research & Innovation Center in Palo Alto, and shares several projects they’re working on.

Owens Corning shares slides on metrics, market intelligence

Owens Corning Director of Innovation Anne Bethereau shares several slides on how the company measures return-on-innovation, rewards high-performing teams, and brainstorms about new market opportunities using a new online tool.

How GM’s Silicon Valley office hunts for relevant innovations and connects to HQ

Managing director Frankie James talks about how her Silicon Valley-based team identifies high-potential startups and new technologies and interacts with teams at GM headquarters back in Detroit. Includes a slide detailing their four-stage process, from scouting to transferring.

Xerox CTO on connecting research to customer pain points

Corporate research groups can get obsessed with “solving a problem in a perfect way,” says Xerox exec Sophie Vandebroek. She’s trying to get the company better-connected to emerging customer needs, and focused on solving the problems customers want solved, fast. Includes 30 minutes of audio.

Why Delphi planted a new innovation lab in Silicon Valley

Delphi Labs director John Absmeier explains how the automotive components giant is partnering, investing, and plugging into the Silicon Valley ecosystem — and hoping some of the “experiment-and-fail-fast” culture rubs gets absorbed by HQ.

10 innovation insights from Textron’s Scorpion jet program

Textron set an audacious goal: Get a new military plane from concept to the runway in less than two years, to fill what the company saw as a major market gap. Execs Bill Anderson and Dale Tutt, who led the Scorpion project, shared what they learned on the journey from blueprint to the blue yonder.

General Mills shares learnings, pitfalls on open innovation

Mike Helser, head of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network, shares what the $17.8 billion consumer packaged goods company has learned from its open innovation experiences. We’ve got slides, steps for porting his model, and details on his “X-Squad.”

Inside Xerox’s ‘Dreaming Sessions’ with customers

The document and services giant felt that R&D needed to be better-connected to customer needs. The result was the “Dreaming Session,” which brings researchers together with Xerox’s customers to think about high-potential applications for new technologies. Includes slides and audio from Sophie Vandebroek, president of the Xerox Innovation Group.

How Trek Bicycle Corp. built its innovation scorecard

Trek exec Chad Manuell says the bike company’s leadership wasn’t happy with any of the innovation metrics or scorecards they’d seen. “Most placed too much focus on past performance, were too complex to maintain, or painted too fuzzy of a picture,” he says. So Trek created its own. Manuell explains how it works.

GM on the skills you need to manage disruptive innovation

General Motors R&D executive Clay Phillips talks about how the automaker is retooling research and development in the wake of bankruptcy; why some of its attempts to create internal innovation groups failed; and the skills necessary to cultivate disruptive innovations. Includes slides.

Dominic Venturo: Making innovation pay at U.S. Bank

Being a bank is no longer just about branches and vaults full of cash, says Dominic Venturo, chief innovation officer of the $4.75 billion payment services business at U.S. Bank. Venturo explains how his 13-person innovation team interacts with the lines of business to make sure the organization stays ahead of trends like mobile payments, telepresence, and biometric security.