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Getting Innovation to Work: What do the better performers do?

Posted on February 8th, 2016 by in New Materials & Applications

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It’s rare for a head of R&D or product development to not be pondering or worrying about how to optimize new product development output and approaches — and how to do it as fast as possible. With demand for short-term rewards from innovation investments, and pressure to keep up with technology changes, regulation and competition, it often seems like there are more conflicting constraints than opportunities to consider.

No matter how challenging it is, innovation has become an imperative. In this ICIS Chemical Business special report, Pierre Barthelemy, Executive Director for Research and Innovation at Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, notes:

“I am fully convinced innovation is a key driver in advanced economies. Companies and economies that don’t innovate cannot keep up with the market and economic progress.”

Getting innovation to work in a fast-changing and difficult market is a lot like whitewater rafting: The river runs furiously fast and to win (or survive), a team must figure out how to get different members to paddle individually and together in the right momentum and with enough speed. Are there secrets to making innovation work harder for a business? How do leading companies manage risks? How do they empower their staff?

To help answer these questions, an independent research firm Tech-Clarity surveyed heads of R&D and manufacturing, scientists and engineers from over 300 companies around the world. Survey respondents included people from small, midsize and large organizations, and represented a variety of industries including automotive, chemicals, electronics, industrial equipment, and aerospace and defense.

Tech-Clarity’s analysis of the results offered numerous insights, including a few that stood out to me:

  1. Top performers are those that perceive their organizations as better at innovation than competitors and also report better business results in the last 2-3 years: Respondents who ranked their organizations better than their competitors at generating innovative concepts, selecting concepts from the R&D pipeline, identifying manufacturing processes and equipment, and identifying appropriate feed stock or materials to manufacture at scale also saw higher revenue growth and profit margin expansion in a 24-month period.
  2. These top performers understand the opportunity in new materials: Top performers believe that innovation around new materials and applications provides them with a competitive advantage, ranking new materials as extremely important to meeting their innovation goals
  3. They are also far more likely to tap into the academic community: When asked about the resources and processes they use to accelerate discovery and commercialization, the biggest difference between the top performers and their lesser performing counterparts is that top performers are 66% more likely to take advantage of the latest academic research
  4. For top performers, meeting short-term rewards doesn’t mean ignoring big innovations: When asked to assess the general breakdown of their product portfolio across the 4 categories of break-through, major, incremental and ‘me-too’ innovations, top performers revealed that they put far more emphasis on greater levels of innovation, with 55% of their portfolio dedicated to break-through innovation and major improvements

Some of the insights from the Tech Clarity report could prove thought-provoking for those trying to crack the innovation challenge. The full whitepaper with analysis of the survey results can be downloaded here.

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