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This must-read guide offers a practical and engaging introduction to the ins and outs of R&D leadership. Innovation is a two-trillion-dollar industry, and, on top of the baseline complexity faced by any manager, the R&D or Innovation leader confronts an additional set of challenges.

Armed with years of experience in roles ranging from scientist to Vice President of R&D to founder of his own company to innovation career coach, Dr. Clifford L. Spiro shares his insights on a carefully curated selection of topics. This indispensable playbook covers everything from building, managing, and motivating a team to setting schedules and goals, assessing and rewarding project success, working with other departments, and legal and intellectual property considerations. Dr. Spiro’s distinctive blend of big-picture strategic thinking and day-to-day, nitty-gritty tips (e.g., Five Great Questions For R&D Managers to Ask Every Time) is essential reading for current and aspiring R&D leaders through seasoned managers as well as anyone at an organization that has an R&D, innovation, or technology transfer component.

The book begins with an unexpectedly provocative chapter on the definition of “innovation,” setting the stage for the out-of-the-box thinking that defines Dr. Spiro’s effective approach. Further chapters delve into tactical issues, including putting together project portfolios, keeping them on track, killing off lagging projects when necessary, achieving results, and liaising with boards of directors and fellow members of the leadership team. In addition, the book extensively addresses strategic concerns, such as the cross-functional nature of innovation and the need for cross-business alignment to achieve success. Providing a prescriptive, in-the-trenches assessment of how to lead innovation more effectively, this book ably equips the reader to anticipate potential problems and to succeed both within the R&D department and across his or her company.



1. What Do I Mean by “Innovation?”

Just so we are all on the same page, let’s make sure that my definition or description of innovation fits with yours. I can tell you that this isn’t that simple of an exercise, especially when you are being measured on innovation and there is conflict over what gets rewarded. I’ll give some examples in a moment, but let me start with my most generic definition.
Clifford L. Spiro

2. Can Anyone, and Should Anyone, Lead Innovation?

Since the title of the book is “Leading Innovation,” you can probably guess where I stand on this question of whether you can, and should, lead innovation: Yes you can, and yes you should! Now let me try to convince you.
Clifford L. Spiro

3. Do You Have What It Takes to Lead Innovation?

I will start with the premise that innovation is a business process, requiring cross-functional participation. It is not something that should be delegated to R&D/Engineering. Innovation works so much better when Sales, Marketing, Finance, Operations, Legal, and R&D all work together in lockstep to bring a product to the market. Wouldn’t it be great if Marketing had the vision to look around corners, anticipate customer needs, and direct R&D to pursue specific avenues? Wouldn’t it be great if Sales had such great and trusting relationships with beta-site customers anxious to test and debug the latest and greatest new stuff? Wouldn’t it be great if Operations was quick to interrupt their production schedule to make prototypes, implement new designs and process controls, source new raw materials and parts, identify necessary quality standards and develop advanced tests as needed? Wouldn’t it be great if Legal had a strategy and resources for intellectual property protection, and if Finance was quick to invest capital and expense for future growth?
Clifford L. Spiro

4. Putting a Good Innovation Team Together

A good product development team consists of strong innovators each with different and important roles to play. In this chapter, let’s focus on finding and hiring the right people for your team, as well as moving others on or out as needed.
Clifford L. Spiro

5. Getting the Right Portfolio Mix of Projects

Given the team you’ve got in place and understanding that it will always be a work in progress, they will likely be innovating in the form of projects or subprojects that are part of a bigger project. Perhaps the project is to find a new molecule for a pharmacological application such as an improved cancer or heart-disease treatment. Perhaps the project is to make one aspect of an extraterrestrial landing module. Maybe the project is to reduce the weight of a car door or an airplane seat.
Clifford L. Spiro

6. Innovation Project Execution

In the last couple of chapters, we have got our team in place, pulled together a portfolio of projects including Firefighting, Productivity, Derivatives, Platforms, Breakthroughs, and New Knowledge. Well aligned with your cross-functional business plan, we have established a distribution of projects, priorities, and a budget. Your people have been allocated. Now, let us do it! But how? How do you make sure that your people are working on the right things in the right way, and that progress is being made? And perhaps more critically, what do you do if things slip?
Clifford L. Spiro

7. Creating a Culture of Creativity

According to two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, “If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas. Most of them will be wrong, and what you have to learn is which ones to throw away [1].” In this chapter, we will look at the things innovation leaders can do to nurture and grow—or inhibit and squelch—a culture of innovation, and all those ideas that come along with it.
Clifford L. Spiro

8. Creating a Learning Organization

One of the key differentiators between successful and unsuccessful innovation teams is how effectively knowledge gets transferred across the organization. It is a terrible waste of time if the team is forever “reinventing the wheel” so to speak. As organizations grow in scope, size, and complexity, it is extremely challenging to transfer knowledge effectively. In this chapter, we’ll delve into strategies that work well, as well as flagging a few that tend to be less effective.
Clifford L. Spiro

9. Human Resources Issues for Innovation Organizations

Now that we have our organization in place, filled with our zoo of physicists, chemists, zebras, and technicians, we should consider in detail the key human resource issues of performance management, compensation, rewards and recognition, dual ladders, education, and growth.
Clifford L. Spiro

10. Globalization of Innovation and Leading Remote Teams

In all likelihood, if you are leading innovation, you are leading it in multiple sites across the globe. It is pretty hard to ignore both the vast technical talent and the potential markets in Europe, India, China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, and others. Certainly access to talent, markets, and speed are the main reasons to globalize R&D. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to save money in doing so. Compensation for good technical talent remains high everywhere in the world, and any labor savings you might achieve are lost in added capital costs, travel, and communications. Still, you have to go global.
Clifford L. Spiro

11. Measuring Innovation Effectiveness

One of the biggest challenges that innovation leaders and their financial counterparts have is measuring innovation effectiveness. Unlike Sales or Operations which have fairly immediate and measurable outputs such as dollars, new customers, pounds, scrap, energy consumption, and so on, it is a challenge to know just how large a contribution Innovation is making to the organization. Moreover, there is almost always a significant lag before R&D projects reach fruition. Sometimes, the technology is so bold that it may be several years before its true value is achieved.
Clifford L. Spiro

12. Earning Followership

One of the oft-dismissed aspects of leadership is that it has a direct and immutable symbiosis with followership. If you haven’t got followers, you aren’t a leader. Simply granting someone a fancy title and a corner office does little to create true followers. In innovation, like so many other areas, it’s all too often the little things that matter the most. You may have great ideas and great hiring skills, but one misstep or Achilles’ heel can ruin the best laid plans. Innovation Leadership is no different from any other functional leadership in this regard, though faux pas in Innovation Leadership may be uniquely manifest.
Clifford L. Spiro

13. Patents and Intellectual Property

Patents and intellectual property (IP) are really the province of your Legal department, though often R&D is either given outright ownership, or at least shares in driving the bus. This chapter is not meant to be a comprehensive treatment of patents and IP. Rather, here are a few things that you need to know about patents and IP in order to function as an R&D leader.
Clifford L. Spiro

14. Acquiring and Integrating Technology

The traditional model of developing, in-house, all your own technology is no longer applicable in the flat, global world. More and more firms are looking outside to minimize their risks and costs. Granted you are likely to pay a premium for a seminal piece of technology that has already been reduced to practice, for example, a promising new pharmaceutical, but you will have avoided all of the developmental costs and risks.
Clifford L. Spiro

15. The C-Suite, Boardroom, and Beyond

If you follow most of the practices described in the previous 14 chapters, there is a pretty good chance you will end up in the C-suite, boardroom, and beyond. After all, good innovation leadership talent is hard to find. Your road to the C-suite probably included a director job, leading a broad technology swath with managers reporting to you, and a 7–9-figure annual budget. In larger companies, there might be a divisional VP role before you reach the key company officer jobs such as VP of R&D or chief technology officer (CTO).
Clifford L. Spiro

16. Closing Thoughts

By now, you have observed that leadership in any form is challenging, and that innovation leadership has some special challenges. Let’s review and summarize what we’ve learned.
Clifford L. Spiro

Erratum to: Can Anyone, and Should Anyone, Lead Innovation?

Clifford L. Spiro


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