Make Space for R&D Idea Champions
Those of us who have worked in corporate new product development know how this works. Marketing leads the charge to devise new products. R&D (and other partners) support Marketing's plans. This dynamic often leads to instances where would-be R&D idea champions lack an receptive outlet for their creative inputs.
I frequently collaborate with R&D managers whose responsiblity it is to search for and develop new technologies to support new product development efforts. During the course of this work, it is not uncommon for them to identify new consumer insights and performance technologies that while strategically relevant, are not precisely in line with what Marketing is currently seeking.
For instance, say that a scientist working for a skin care products company is seeking technologies to address stretch marks. While doing so, he uncovers a proprietary, clinically proven and superior chemistry that while merely adequate for the desired purpose, is terrific at treating acne scars. The scientist is enthusiastic about this find and is eager to present it to Marketing for consideration as a possible new skin care product. Marketing applauds the creativity, but rejects the concept. The scientist is frustrated by the lack of support for his idea. Is this reasonable?
While every situation is different, the scenario I've described above is fairly common. Based only on the information I've shared, I would judge that Marketing's decision was probably reasonable in this particular instance. As Marketing is driving to introduce a superior stretch mark product the identification of a new technology to support this effort should be the scientist's highest priority. A new acne care product, while a potentially exciting new business contributor, is not a high priority even if it could arguably be considered strategically relevant.
In this instance, the would-be idea champion wasn't sufficiently sensitive to his internal customer's need so as to find a receptive audience for his idea. However, even if he had been, I'm not sure that the outcome would have been different. Many prospective new opportunities surfaced by R&D meet a similar fate. It isn't that they aren't worthwhile ideas, it's that there isn't time or bandwidth for Marketing to dedicate adequate attention to evaluate or work on them while also seeking to focus on current priorities.
This points to the need for companies to provide outlets for creative and potentially attractive opportunities that fall outside of current business, without disrupting "lights on" operations. I'm not aware of many companies (outside of Silicon Valley) that encourage incubation of new business opportunities and have internal mechanisms to fairly, objectively and seriously assess and action them. (We all want to avoid another lame "Suggestion Box" program). Call this intrapreneuring, skunkworks or whatever, but I suspect that it is currently a highly underserved need, especially for eager and enthusiastic would-be R&D idea champions.
What do you think?