Corning’s innovators celebrate the stops (and restarts) necessary to success


Our annual “Day of the Dead” event highlights lessons learned from shelved projects.

An idea can never be unthought. A discovery can’t be undiscovered. A project may be shelved, but its learnings live on as accrued knowledge. And at Corning, that’s something to celebrate. 

Each fall, the ghosts of dead projects get their proper recognition at Corning’s Sullivan Park Research and Development facility near Corning Headquarters.  

Corning’s Emerging Innovations Group hosts a “Day of the Dead” event to honor the teams who pioneered, tested, and ended projects we cannot currently pursue. Scientists share key findings and documentation, setting up future innovators for success.  

Robert Craig displays an element from a shelved project.

“When we do kill something, or pause it, we want to be able to pick it back up as easily as possible and make sure we’re not starting from the beginning,” says Robert Craig, market assessment manager.

A Corning technology shelved today may come back to life years – even decades – later. Re-animated for a new customer, adapted for a different application, or combined with other elements to create a viable, high-value proposition for burgeoning markets. 

Some of Corning’s most notable inventions traveled this winding path — the optical fiber powering today’s high-speed internet, the Gorilla Glass protecting our smartphones, and the Vycor used in spacecraft windows.

Some of Corning’s most life-changing innovations – such as Gorilla Glass and optical fiber – were shelved before their product applications set new standards in their respective industries.

Sullivan Park’s annual rite of innovation passage stems from the Dia de los Muertos traditions of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, which feature remembrances celebrating departed loved ones and the wisdom they imparted, rather than dwelling on loss.  

The Emerging Innovations Group embraces that resilient, knowledge-sharing spirit.

Anis Fadul, director of Exploratory Markets and Technologies, says Corning’s investment in and commitment to research generates a robust pipeline of ideas. But not all can or should move forward. Corning’s high standards enforce discipline around prioritizing how we use our time, talent, and resources.

“You may start with 100 projects but only a small percentage will make it through to see daylight,” Anis says. 

Impetus for a potential new project comes through a variety of channels. 

“We identify megatrends in the market and new opportunities. And we bring in new opportunities from customer requests,” says Anis. “They also can come internally from our research." 

Great innovation is just as much about knowing when to hit the brakes and stop as it is knowing when to hit the gas and go.
Patrick McCarthy
Director of Exploratory Markets & Technology

The group has a formal process for managing all the different ideas that come in before a selected project becomes an innovation program. When a program is evaluated, established, funded, and staffed, research and development begin. Programs can grow into the next innovative new product or launch an entire new business, such as automotive glass or vaccine vials. 

Or the project can be killed.

Inspired science and technology isn’t always enough. Projects may be shelved for a variety of reasons. Insurmountable costs. A customer changes their investment strategy. The product may be ahead of its time, awaiting its moment.

“Great innovation is just as much about knowing when to hit the brakes and stop as it is knowing when to hit the gas and go,” says Patrick McCarthy, director of Exploratory Markets and Technologies. “Generally, ‘stopping’ is recognized as failure, but the Day of the Dead event helps document and celebrate good judgment and decision-making.”

Joy Roseler displays a piece of glass tubing from a killed project. Learnings from this research and development could be resurrected at any time, thanks to extensive project documentation.

For the scientists and business leaders behind the killed projects, Day of the Dead provides closure on the “almosts” and “not quite yets” that consumed them for weeks or months. Some take comfort in knowing their research may be brought back to life in some vital way.

“There's a lot of excitement and energy during the evaluation phase and the technology sharing. When you realize that a project may not be a good fit for Corning right now, there's a sort of a letdown,” says Joy Roseler, a product line manager in Innovative Glass Solutions. 

“This event is a way to celebrate the research and development; a reminder that we must do a good job documenting how we ended. It’s as critical to properly close a project as it is to execute during the project; to capture all those learnings and recommendations for what we could do next.”


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