I had the pleasure of speaking with Paul Citron who is the retired Vice President of Technology Policy and Academic Relations at Medtronic last week. I found some of Paul's comments about how to think about innovation and the innovation pipeline to be particularly insightful and relevant to our times. Though he made his comments with respect to innovation in medical devices, he made some terrific points that any innovator (and manager of innovators!) will do well to keep in mind.
Paul pointed out the importance of recognizing the mix of incremental vs. break-through innovations in a portfolio, and being mindful of how R&D dollars are effectively invested. He stressed the importance of recognizing that a larger R&D contribution does not necessarily mean that more dollars are going towards research, and that executives would do well to be aware of the actual contribution. A lot of the money is spent satisfying regulatory requirements and jumping through hoops instead of on research iteself.
He also pointed out how the lay person who is allowed to decide the fate of innovation (by being allowed to preempt FDA approvals and decisions per recently proposed bills in the congress) is often not best equipped to make the judgment. He felt strongly that the power to make such decisions must be removed from state courts and vested with the federal courts, where the people involved tend to be more sophisticated about these issues that affect science. He pointed to patent law as an example, and mentioned that there's a reason why patents can't be attacked/defended in state courts and must go only through the federal system.
Another excellent point Paul made: the scientists and researchers working on the breakthrough innovations we depend on for progress as a society are not fools - when company management/society consistently refuses to back their science in the name of minimizing risk and regulating them, they become progressively risk averse. This effectively stifles best-in-class, breakthrough innovation that we have come to rely on for progress.
In all, much food for thought for innovators, and manager of innovators.