Mourning A Great R&D Leader: Steve Jobs Dies At 56

I’m sad to learn of Steve Jobs passing, but I’m inspired by his example, and I think the rest of the world will be too, that perhaps is his greatest legacy, to see what can be done when good business and R&D strategy is implemented well.“Mr. Jobs said: “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer, that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

He could control how it works because Apple “makes the whole widget,” as Mr. Jobs repeatedly said — software and hardware.”

This quote is from the Washington Post story on the passing of Steve Jobs is poignant, the quote illustrates that technology design was at the heart of Steve Jobs success, he focused on what worked best for the customer, and made sure he had the best technology.

Steve Jobs’ legacies were the personal computer, the iPad, iPhone, iPad, and Pixar.

Those legacies were achieved in part, because in Steve Jobs’ view that as companies get increasingly more complex, it’s important to pair down what you produce and can manage, so that you focus on the innovations that will enable your company to compete in the marketplace.

Steve Jobs’ advice to Nike CEO Mark Parker is a good example of how to think about business and R&D strategy. From the Daily Tech blog.

“according to Nike CEO Mark Parker, it isn’t so much what Jobs did for the company that turned it into a success, but rather, it’s what he didn’t do. Parker recalls having a conversation with Jobs when he first returned to Apple as CEO, asking for advice regarding Parker’s Nike products.

“Do you have any advice?” Parker asked Jobs.

“Well, just one thing,” replied Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”

Steve Jobs was a genius at R&D leadership and management. He solved problems before they happened by not partnering or letting loose the reins to outside partners, though even Steve Jobs was not above partnering where needed, for the iPhone, first AT&T, then Verizon, and now Sprint. As R&D has become increasingly complex, there’s been more outsourcing, and partnering. Part of Steve Jobs’ legacy for the R&D community is that you have to think carefully what you can control as an R&D leader, outsourcing is okay, but set yourself up to manage all importantly relationships carefully.

To me it’s not just that Steve Jobs was a pioneer and helped create many new industries, it was his approach to business, innovation and R&D that’s inspiring. He created what he did because he thought critically about what projects mattered, leveraged one technology to another to dominate whole platforms of technologies, and focused on the prize of designing products that worked for the customer.

I’m sad to learn of Steve Jobs passing, but I’m inspired by his example, and I think the rest of the world will be too, that perhaps is his greatest legacy, to see what can be done when good business and R&D strategy is implemented well.

Gilles Holst’s Business Growth Strategy – Philips’ First Empowered R&D Leader

Gilles Holst’s Business Growth Strategy - Philips’ First Empowered R&D LeaderToday’s R&D leaders can look back to the early 20th century for inspiration for R&D empowerment. In writing my post, “Philips Physics Laboratory Portfolio Management,” I found references to Gilles Holst, the first R&D Director at Philips in the early 20th century. Holst thought about technology platforms and how those platforms would propel Philips’ business growth strategy. Professor Marc de Vries, from the Delft, University of Technology 80 Years of Research at Philips, published by Amsterdam University Press described Gilles Holst’s role at Philips in the early 20th century. To me Holst appeared to be very much the empowered R&D director:

Marc de Vries explained that, “Gilles Holst had direct contact with the Philips brothers and discussed with them how the product portfolio could best be extended in order to spread the risk from light bulbs only to a broader portfolio. Holst usually suggested taking physics/technical know-how as a leading motive. For instance, he suggested that bulbs were ‘just’ glass and vacuum and the lab’s knowledge about that would no doubt enable them to work on other types of tubes (X-ray, radio, etc.) because those two were ‘just’ glass and vacuum. And once you had expertise in radio tubes, you might ‘just as well’ produce the whole radio set, which would bring you also in the domain of acoustics, so, why not move into concert halls acoustics.”

Once Philips succeeded in one technology platform, “they moved into all sorts of new areas, and this was always a matter of direct relations between Holst and the Philips brothers.”

De Vries explained Gilles Holst was very hands on.  He “had direct contacts with factories. He just walked into factories, talked to managers and thus tried to get a good image of what sort of production problems might emerge when a lab design would be brought into production.”

Lastly Holst gained customer insights, as de Vries explained, “He had direct contacts with customers. He, for instance, went to hospitals and talked to doctors himself when the lab worked on X-ray tubes for medical applications.”

This all around connection with different stakeholders, “was all very different from later directors, who operated much more from an isolated position in the company. It is also certainly not the intuitive image that most people have of how an industrial research lab operates (that popular image must more comes from the later periods, after WWII).”

De Vries went onto compare Holst’s time with today, “Holst was very modern. In fact, the main difference between him and research management today at Philips is that now the initiatives are more in the Product Divisions and less in the corporate lab, as was the case in Holst time. But in Holst’s time, the company was of course much smaller and the lab was the only place in the company where new knowledge was developed. The PD structure came only after WWII.”

What’s interesting about Holst’s story is that it illustrates before the rise of pure research departments in the mid-20th century empowered R&D leaders were thinking about overall portfolio management, looking across their projects, and overall technology platforms to understand how research efforts will support their company’s business growth strategy. In contrast to the early history of R&D because of the nature of organizations today; business unit silos, people driven issues, and the need to give present data for portfolio management, means business strategy consulting is sometimes needed to empower the R&D leader.

Selling R&D Strategy For Innovation Mastery – #innochat Notes

Selling R&D Strategy For Innovation Mastery - #innochat NotesThis week’s #innochat had one question from the organizer that really inspired me to think about what skills R&D leaders need to master to be able to sell their R&D strategy. Here’s the question:

@Renee_Hopkins Q3: What would be the best ways to become a master at innovation?

My response resonated with a lot of the participants, here’s my answer: @johncass Innovation mastery is also in the ability to sell your ideas successfully #innochat.

And here are a few of the responses from the #innochat crowd:

@adhansen: @johncass Selling yr ideas – yes. Conviction borne of rlly thinking it thru & having a solid POV. Solid POV is so important. #innochat

@Renee_Hopkins: Agreed! RT @johncass: Innovation mastery is also in the ability to sell your ideas successfully #innochat
While @berkshire_ideas asked Is it? I think the success of the innovation is the litmus test. #INNOCHAT

I’d answer: Innovation mastery partly comes from the ability to communicate why a particular project, or technology should or should not be invested in because of the return on the project, and how that project impacts your project portfolio management process.

There’s no point in being good at research (innovation) if the development of a project doesn’t make sense to the overall business strategy. Having good sales skills to explain why one project should be preferred over another is a great skill to master, and one of the tenets of good R&D leadership. Now if you are innovating in an area that does align with business strategy then you want as much success as possible with your innovation process.

Ellen Greaves an attorney from Raleigh, NC, wrote, “@ECGreaves:: Does certifiction or mastery suggest innovation is measurable? #innochat.”

I’d say yes innovation is measurable, if not why attempt the process. You have to know what projects and technologies are going to provide the most return for a company’s efforts. Without measurement innovation you cannot know if your R&D strategy is going to be successful, was successful, and will be successful in the future.