Sharing my recent read list

I was asked by one of the regular readers by this blog to share more what I am reading. So here goes a short list of articles that I have read and found interesting for my work in the last week.

For Poor Countries, Well-Worn Path to Development Turns Rocky on  the WSJ

Why institutions matter for economic growth on the WEF website

All Aboard the Sensor Revolution: How the Internet of Things is Driving Innovation by Robert F Brands on the excellent Innovation Excellence site

Innovating in the global economy: a Q & A with the Munk School’s Dan Breznitz

Why Silicon Valley Shouldn’t Be the Model for Innovation also by Dan Breznitz


I was also asked to share my Christmas booklist, but that will have to wait for a few more days.


Happy reading!

Four functions of innovation and technology management

I want to continue the “Instigating Innovation” series (see opening post here, where to start and the post about culture here). The idea behind this series is that I explain innovation management concepts that can be used by both enterprises and technology transfer and industry support institutions.

Just to recap. I believe that many industries are struggling to modernize because their supporting institutions use completely different frameworks to manage innovation (or perhaps the supporting institutions make their choices as randomly as enterprises do). One of the first technologies that a tech transfer institute or industry support organizations should transfer to enterprises is “how to manage innovation and technology”. Just because there is an engineer or an MBA/PhD in a company does not guarantee effective or creative management of innovation and technology.

Today I want to focus on the four broad functions that must be managed strategically in every enterprise and supporting institution. Even if someone in the organization has the job title of Innovation Manager or Technology Manager these functions should still be visible throughout the organization. In other words, this is not somebodies job, but it helps if somebody coordinates these activities.

The four functions agreed by most scholars and innovation experts can be summarized roughly as:

  1. Searching and scanning for new ideas and technologies, both within and beyond the organization. This includes looking at technologies that could affect the clients of the organization, and technologies that could disrupt markets and industries.
  2. Comparing, selecting and imagining how different technologies could impact the organization, its markets and its own innovation agenda.
  3. Next comes integrating or deploying the technology or innovation into the organization. This includes adjusting processes and systems, scaling up implementation, and project managing the whole change process.
  4. The last step is often overlooked, but new technology and innovation often makes new ideas, innovations and improvements possible. I call this last step exploiting the benefits of a new technology or idea. This could involve leveraging some of the additional benefits or features of a technology, perhaps by creating a new business unit focused on an adjacent market or particular offering.

When I visit institutions, organizations and companies, I always ask “who is thinking about change taking place beyond your industry or key technology?”. I cannot tell you how often I hear that “the CEO” or “production manager” are on top of new developments and will be attending a tech fair next year. How can this huge responsibility fall on the shoulders of one or two people, who are at the same time biased towards the current strategy and that favors justifying past (sunk) investments? Or ask “How did you choose between two technologies?” and you will be surprised how little time was spent considering new business opportunities, or how few companies asked for onsite demonstrations or samples from their preferred technology providers.

I will refrain from being too critical of technology transfer institutions and industry supporting organizations, except to say that these organizations should be a prime example to industry of how to scan, evaluate, compare and integrate new ideas and technologies. We don’t just want to see the shiny machines and neat facilities, we want to understand how you arrived at your decisions, and how you made the best of your investments after implementing the change. Furthermore, industry wants to know what is next, or what is outside of their vision and how it may affect their industry.

To bring it all together, technological upgrading of industries are plagued by many different market failures. These failures include the tendency NOT to invest due to high search costs, due to fears about making the wrong choices, or because so many decisions and changes must be made at the same time. This while the business continues, markets fluctuates, and technologies change faster and faster. Companies (and institutions) cannot afford to only kick start innovation management just before making a change (or when forced by external forces to make a decision), these functions must be managed strategically on a continues basis, both at the level of top management and within the different functions of the organization. Both companies and their supporting institutions need to manage innovation and technology, not only from an operational perspective (striving for continuous improvement, etc) but also from a strategic strategic perspective.

TCI 2015 conference – part 2

Wednesday the 4th was jam packed with great speakers, parallell streams, and great conversations in the corridors. It is not possible nor fair to try and summarize everything here, but I wanted to share just a few thoughts. Please excuse the formatting of this post, I have written this on the fly on my iPad.

In the opening plenary session, Prof Christian Ketels made an excellent presentation that laid a foundation for the event. He emphasized that clusters emerge and are not created. Of the many things he said this stood out for me, as my own experience is that a lot of people are trying to create clusters out of groups of homogenous firms – what I would call a collection and not a cluster.

During the afternoon I could listen to many excellent presentations about entrepreneurial ecology, measuring and evaluating cluster performance, etc. Melissa Pogue (Martin Prosperity Institute) made a great point that it is important to find ways to harness the creativity of people in domestic companies that was not focused on global competition (the so-called traded clusters). This involves findings ways  to unleash the potential of people employed in “average” or local companies, increasing their ability to make decisions and to exercise their judgement. She used a great dataset from the US to show how important this is, as focusing only on the “creative” companies lead to increasing inequality created by rapidly increasing prices of housing, services, etc. in more creative or innovative regions. I thought this was a very valueble point because my practice is also focused on trying to get the more traditional sectors to become innovative, however, much of the cluster discussion is focused on the leading or more creative companies. 

In the closing session of the day I heard that Singapore coordinates R & D and innovation interaction with the private sector from the Prime Ministers office. While my opinion that this should be done from the bottom up is well known, the problem we often face is that top down support is often poorly coordinated or maybe even inconsistent.

A second point was raised by one of the wise men of cluster practice, Ifor Ffowcs-Williams. He made several important points, but one in particular is worth pondering. He stressed that clustering should be more about relations and dialogue. While everyone would agree with this statement, many clusters are completely dependent on a hierarchical arrangement with a cluster manager keeping the whole thing together. Resilient clusters emerge from a dense interaction between members, covering a wide range of topics and issues. However, many cluster managers biggest concern is not about building trust nor is it finding ways to stimulate collaboration between members. Rather, it is about raising funds (often public) or justifying continued support to industry.

Tech transfer in South Korea

Four of the partners in Mesopartner are at the TCI Conference in Daegu, South Korea. On the 3rd of November we all went in different directions on excursions to various clustering initiatives in the region.

I signed up for the mechatronics tour. I want to share a few observations about the technology transfer institutions that we visited.

Firstly, technology transfer into the region is focused on stretching existing enterprises. You would think this is obvious. In South Korea, the different levels of government contribute large amounts of funding to buy the latest and most modern equipment that are placed in public institutions. This technology is often identified by leading firms like Samsung. Important criteria for technology selection includes its “platform” ability, meaning that it can be used in several industries. The Koreans refer to this as “convergence”. A second criteria is that it must enable competitive products to be developed with a strong focus on exports.

Secondly, cost recovery is a low priority. At the institutions that we visited they often charge as little as 20% for the use of the latest equipment, basically recovering costs of consumables. The facilities cannot handle production orders, but are used mainly to demonstrate applications or for making prototypes. The facilities consist of open spaces, open labs and cutting edge testing facilities.

Thirdly, the institutions support smaller companies in R & D and product development, often on-site. It struck me that the institutions realized they have to “take” the technology to industry. While most of the effort is focused on new products and new enterprises, there is still on objective of helping incumbent more traditional companies to innovate.

Lastly, we visited a Creative Economy cluster initiative. It was not focused on arty projects, but on hardcore technology like making micro-robots, smartphone attachments, etc. Companies could bid for space (literally a 15m2 space in a modern office environment). There is a strong emphasis on smaller down-scaled technology applications. Entrepreneurs that are selected to join the incubator have 6 months free rent, lots of technical and market development support, and networking and exchange with other incubatees are compulsory. Large companies like Samsung, LG, etc have technicians and coaches on site (24/7) to support any enterprise on almost any topic. Thus the resources of large companies that are partnered with these centres are made available to help smaller startups.

Today the conference starts. Already I feel like I have learned enough to justify the trip from Pretoria to Deagu.

%d bloggers like this: