Work done at the Industrial Research Institute around 2012 found that three roads to innovation are likely to continue to evolve. They are:

  1. A Community of Minds. Many organizations will choose to directly connect their brains together in a community in which the network runs project management.
  2. Innovation Tribes. Another path is to intentionally form insular communities to work in secrecy and prevent outsiders from obtaining their intellectual property.
  3. Hollywood R&D. Many corporations will travel a third path to maximize creativity and minimize risk by adopting a model similar to Hollywood movie studios, where a small production team manages a large pool of freelance talent.

The three pathways will be driven primarily by: (1) the advent of the virtual workforce and laboratories. Researchers and managers for particular projects may be spread across the globe, meeting online in virtual laboratory and meeting spaces. (2) Also driving these three scenarios is freelance R&D. Many of the best project researchers will be freelancers, working contractually with many different companies. (3) Finally from a content standpoint, biotech, nanotech, and the Internet of Things will begin to dramatically impact the business sector, becoming major engines of innovative products for consumers.

The three pathways for the future of R&D will first be segmented by system dynamics differences. In these systems, individuals will be networked with intentionality. Projects would start organizing by themselves with help of artificial intelligence and the member will replace the individual. Another part of the system’s dynamics will be the use of augmented humans. The deciding factors of which pathway a company would use is whether they favor open versus closed networks, and whether the organization and researchers view themselves as (a) a leader, (b) a collaborative partner, (c) or a node in a network. 

After system dynamics differences, the three pathways for the future of R&D will be segmented according to their values. The two primary segmentation axes in this regard are those of identity and trust. This is because each of the pathways is an expression of different approaches to trust and identity. In the Hollywood model, trust is gained through contracts and personal connections. Identity is tied to industry success. In a community of minds, trust is developed by the nature of the network everyone connects to, and identity is subsumed to the network. Innovation tribes gain trust by intentionally choosing a small group of people who rely on each other for success in work and life. They identify first to their tribe, then as individuals.

These approaches to trust and value influence leadership and decision-making. In the Hollywood model, power is decentralized to independent project manager “producers” so that that the overall company can defray risk by running multiple projects that are not encumbered by the slow speed of decision-making from company executives. In a community of minds, network intentionality trumps individual will, as people become nodes in a larger consciousness. For innovation tribes, decisions are often democratic and power is derived from elder status and the ability to persuade. Successful innovation can be found in all three pathways, but the pathway scenarios pose questions for R&D professionals on how they will react to challenges of trust and identity in the future.

The implications derived from these three possible future roads to innovation fall into four areas: Project management, portfolio management, talent management, and the value proposition. Overall managers will need to have a facility for managing software and people. Simulation and artificial intelligence/expert systems will free up managers from day-to-day project oversight, but the time saved will be taken up by the requirement of cultivating a network of external talent that can be assembled for projects as they are commissioned.

Project Management. Stage gates and agile/lean do not disappear but become automated and their numbers reduced by using simulations to better map projects’ progress. Managers concentrate on being more collaborative and integrated with the rest of the organization’s community rather than the day-to-day project management that is handled by intelligent software. Assembling and managing team capabilities is also critical.

Portfolio Management. The need to articulate what the company is looking for is critical in managing the company’s portfolio. Requirements management is needed to create architectures that are more responsive across a portfolio. Managers will be handling many very different types of projects, from highly open crowdsource models to tightly controlled internal programs with trade secrets. Managing the flow of information differently for each project to maximize creativity and protect trade secrets will be a key source of innovation advantage.

Talent Management. Managers will need to spend a lot of time influencing and cultivating the community of talent available so that teams can be assembled from the freelance workforce quickly. Researchers will need to be lifelong learners, continually engaging in a competency-based credentialing to be desirable for new projects. The speed and accuracy of assembling the right team will also mean using simulation. As software moves into talent and project management, researchers will need to develop an ability to manage or be managed by artificial intelligence / expert systems. This will include the need to maximize human creativity in a world of automation.

The Value Proposition. R&D will deliver value to companies by identifying future customer needs and picking the best research model to solve for those needs. Companies will value speed to market and strong evidence of demand, so the use of prototypes and fast feedback warming projects will get taken all the way to market before being handed over to marketing and sales. Stage-gate will give way to agile/lean methodologies for most industries.