There's been some discussion lately about U.S. innovation, whether it lags behind other countries, and if so, what can be done about it. Innovation was a central topic in Jon Knight's keynote presentation at DesignMED last week (Knight is the vice president of R&D at Boston Scientific).
So what are the barriers to innovation? Knight argued that companies have no one to blame but themselves. Okay, maybe he didn't use those words, but he did say that many companies invest product development resources into maintaining the status quo. In other words, the ideas and products from these companies
Part of the reason is that new product ideas are built on what's already known about current products and markets.
"It's safer to play the incremental game...companies have a tendency to stay in their comfort zone," he said.
Indeed, these comfort zones have been developed over years, sometimes decades. Some companies are accustomed to new product delivery at a specific time, cost, or season, e.g., Boston Scientific may use the annual TCT show to unveil stent or catheter products. Other practices are also often deeply ingrained in company culture. For example, there may be secrecy around a new idea until the proof of concept stage. Or maybe there are only a few senior employees (not the average worker bees) who are allowed to think creatively. Then are are obstacles such as customer involvement, which may be abandoned due to IP issues, liabilities, and other legal concerns.
Some established companies take the easy way out by turning to start-ups. But Knight said that there's "nothing unique about start-ups other than that they have a singular focus." Is that singular focus the key? Maybe, maybe not. But Knight did discuss some ways that this innovation model can change (see "The Intersection between Design Engineering and Innovation (Pt. 2)"). —Lawrence Lloyd