I attended a meeting for the Innovation special interest group of the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP) up at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. As you might guess, the session focused on ways that alliances and partnerships can improve innovation. The session had a very nice mix of folks from the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare, and technology, as well as, consultants, and leaders from academia.
One of the key premises of the event is the idea that the days of the vertically integrated organization that characterized the industrial age are over, along with the company test labs that drove their innovation. AT&T’s Bell Labs, IBM’s Watson Research Center, and XEROX’s PARC all are iconic labs that represent some of the era’s leading innovators. As those vertical mass production corporations have evolved, so has today’s innovation laboratory, which is no longer contained within a single organization.
I was lucky, having grown up in the Princeton area to become involved with the David Sarnoff Labs at a pretty young age, and got to know some of the people that helped develop some really pivotal consumer electronics technology, such as the VCR and lots of hi-fi audio technology. Much later on, I wound up working for two different parts of the Bell Labs legacy, Telcordia and Lucent.
I always enjoyed watching the presentations from the advanced research teams, because first, and foremost, most of them have really good senses of humor and put on killer presentations. The second point was that it always felt like looking into a crystal ball and seeing the future. The painful reality was that most of the really, really cool research stuff was pretty far away from the pedestrian commercial world of selling stuff and making this year’s numbers that I live in.
I think that the focus on strategic alliances to drive innovation is right on the money, although probably closer to the more tactical “while I still have a job” couple of year range, as opposed to the more realistic 20 years that it takes for most really revolutionary designs to find a commercial marketplace.