Corning’s Silicon Valley technology chief shares how to stay creative over the long haul, drawing on 40 years of experience.
It’s an extraordinary time for innovation. Technological change and industry disruption seem to be accelerating. And digital information networks are linking individuals, organizations, and nations as never before.
Even as opportunities grow to exchange ideas and cross-fertilize innovative impulses across organizational boundaries, we’re also seeing a renaissance of something decidedly traditional: the corporate R&D department. Concentrations of scientific talent at institutions such as Bell Labs and PARC (a Xerox company) once ruled the innovation roost, but many company R&D units lost their luster as cost pressures made them less tenable and the digital revolution enabled smaller organizations to make outsized innovation contributions. Recently, though, a new generation of corporate R&D powerhouses has been emerging at technology leaders such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. The advance of artificial intelligence, for example, is creating a new set of innovation opportunities for these leaders.
All this has gotten me thinking about the lessons I’ve learned during a 40-year career in science and technology at HP Labs, Agilent Technologies, Avago Technologies (now Broadcom), and, currently, Corning Research & Development Corporation, where I serve as a division vice president and chief technologist. I believe that the forces behind the resurgence of corporate R&D departments have implications for most every company’s innovation efforts. We all need mechanisms and a culture that encourage the embrace of new technologies, kindle the passion for knowledge, and ease barriers to creativity and serendipitous advances. In this article, I’ll offer a number of ideas from my career for creating such a culture. I’ve focused on lessons that seem less intuitive, since some of the obvious ones—invest; attract talent; focus on linkages between idea development, product creation, and consumer adoption—have been covered extensively elsewhere.
Get Dr. Waguih Ishak's tips for creating an innovation culture in his feature in McKinsey Quarterly.
This article was originally published in McKinsey Quarterly, www.mckinsey.com/quarterly. Copyright (c) 2017 McKinsey & Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.