A Christmas Story of Innovation
Jim turned from staring through his microscope, rubbing his eyes, and looked out the window. It was dark and the snow was really coming down. The lamppost had turned that funny yellow color as more and more snow was falling in the car park and building those little domes of snow on top of everything . It was the Friday before Christmas, the last day in the office for three days.
Jim was looking forward to getting home tonight, so he could share some time with the family after having been on a frantic trip to four different cities, on three continents, in seven days, to meet with his different team members. This was quickly put together to coordinate the project they were all working upon, comparing notes, setting some goals for the coming weeks.
He was tired but also troubled, apart from all those delays at airports, different hotels and long days and growing jet lag this was not the main reason for his headache. He had been working on finding a solution for a molecule that would make a significant contribution to his company’s product pipeline and they certainly needed this ‘breakthrough’ as 2012 will be a ‘watershed’ year in his industry.
Jim, like many others in research and across his company were worried, really worried. According to what he reads billions of dollars and many of the larger blockbuster were falling over the “patent cliff” as it has been dubbed and he was wonders what they means for him. He has heard rumors, swirling around, a little like the snow outside, that yet another re-organization is in the works. More uncertainly to face and it will do his case no good if he can’t crack this particular problem, the reason he went ‘racing’ around the world to visit the other research centers in Rio, Brazil, Shanghai in China, Jurong in Singapore and Bern in Switzerland.
Stars in the Universe Always Twinkle
Jin loves his work, he tells many of his friends willing to listen to his same old story: “molecules are so small that there are more molecules in your body than there are stars in the universe!” His kids love that one as he then grabs them and tickles them so they ‘squeal’ with delight. Also he never tires to tell anyone who cares to listen or ask what he does. Those that knows Jim always expect him to make this comment or a similar one when the extended family gathers around the Christmas table to keep everyone aware of his contribution on this world. He often gets ‘ribbed’ on the number of molecules he seems to be adding himself and Jim just shakes his head dismissing them all as “ignorant peasants” or something more specific, and then laughs out loud along with everyone else.
What’s so special in Jim’s mind about molecules is always their unique shape that allows it to interact with other molecules. The interactions between molecules made up of black carbon atoms, white hydrogen, red oxygen and nitrogen atoms are always buzzing around in his head when he peers into that microscope. Jim enjoys his work, even he would happily stand up and state he is proud of his contribution but at this moment of time he certainly needs to find this solution to his current vexing problem, as the deadline set to solve this has been ‘laid down’ from on high and that always has some darker sides to any ‘edict’ like that. Hence this was partly why he went on this last minute dash around the team, to find a solution to their problem.
The Darker Side of Acceleration Taps on His Shoulder
The bigger problem is, it is simply getting tougher, is the constant message he is getting down from the top within his company, not only to come up with new drugs, as he well knows, but also to convince insurers and the government to pay for them – unless they make meaningful improvements in health, at a reasonable cost. Everyone has to lift up their game, accelerate the work and offset some of those worrying times ahead if possible, well at least try to make a contribution that is acknowledged and hopefully appreciated by others.
Santa Comes Early
Suddenly he hears that familiar sound of an incoming email turns around to take a look as it gives him a chance for some distraction. Normally he would not be feeling this about any last minute emails before he heads off home for the Christmas break.
The email was from Lo Ping, in the research center in Shanghai. Quickly reading it he suddenly brightens up. Lo has found a possible breakthrough to the problem. It seems after Jim’s visit and explanation, Lo Ping decided to reach out to their collaborators around the Asian region and pose the question to them. One of the research institutes in Thailand they work with, thinks they might have an answer, something they were working on for another company but in another unrelated industry, so they can find a way to explore this in some form of open innovation collaboration. Jim knew Lo Ping would not bother him unless she was fairly sure this would likely be the answer he and his team have been working hard to solve. Open innovation has been a great help for him to bring other ‘like minded’ people into the discovery process.
A World That Never Sleeps, Even at Christmas
Lo Ping with her usual humor writes “here’s the deal Jim, knowing you will be sitting with your feet up over the next few days while some of the rest of us work, I will fly to Thailand, investigate, work on the testing to see if this does make the breakthroughs and then do some more work in my labs before you get back in three days- how about that?” Jim smiled, knowing Lo Ping and her team they will deliver as promised. The Shanghai lab is a twenty four times seven one, meaning it is working 24 hours a day, every day. Comparing that with the one here that Jim works in, in the US it only works, at a pinch, 9 to 10 hours, five days a week and that often causes at head office many comments on productivity, cost efficiencies etc, etc. These constant global comparisons just add more pressure.
He quickly emails back to Lo Ping- “sure, go for it and thanks, I owe you one”. Within seconds a further email comes back from Lo Ping suggesting: “well just remember Chinese New Year is on January 23rd & 24th this year and if you could shift that review meeting to a little later as a return favor, it will allow me to release some of my team to have time with their families – agreed?”
Jim laughs, he knows Lo Ping and her way of conveying the needs of her team, also means her. He emails back “sure, providing you have those results on my desk in three days”. Only a ‘smiley’ is the reply.
Let the Collaborative Process Work – “Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow”
Wow, that is a great relief thinks Jim, if we can find the breakthrough, make a collaborative deal with the Thai lab to share in the benefits we might quickly get back on track. Some quick emails off to the team, then to legal in Singapore to be on the alert to join in the negotiations, a copy to the central open innovation legal person in New York so that it will get the legal wheels grinding along as well. He thinks he needs to pull in that favour following his buying of the meal in Singapore last week for the team, including the lawyer. Sometimes those face to face, social meetings pay incredible dividends and he knows Satvinder Sirajay is very dependable and wants to help especially after they found out over dinner they had daughters playing football for their schools. Knowing each other in this connected world does help.
Reminders and Recognition
He recalls listening to Don Tapscott a few weeks ago, talking of the Age of Network Intelligence where the five principles now apply. These are ‘collaboration, transparency, sharing, interdependency and integrity’ and Jim just felt he had ‘touched’ each of these within this set of events. So these guru’s do know what they are talking about after all, he thinks.
That suddenly prompts him to remember to pick up those two books he had ordered from Amazon to read over this Christmas break. One he needed to read to prepare for his innovation session to his research colleagues straight after Christmas – Best Practices Are Stupid – 40 ways to out-innovate the competition by Steve Shapiro and the other to help him find ways around one or two rather stubborn middle managers that seem to be blocking his initiatives from ‘seeing the light of day’ at the senior level. Yes he even liked the title on that one Relentless Innovation – what works, what doesn’t by Jeffrey Phillips.
He certainly was thinking to himself where he works, it is “relentless innovation” with the worldwide research centers working 365 days of the year. As he closed up on his working day he came up with his title for his next (fantasy) book “restless innovators.”
Back to earth and chores for the evening
Suddenly the blackberry beeped, a SMS from his wife gently reminding him to “not forget to pass by the local butcher for the turkey and pick up the Christmas tree next door, the one she had already ‘marked out’ and paid for and don’t forget you promised to decorate it with the kids.” His smile suddenly changes though as he hits that cold blast of air, quickly pulling up his coat collar to stop the snow from trickling down his neck but it didn’t matter he was happy. Happy to share Christmas with his family, happy his problem seemingly was about to be solved somewhere else in the world while he took some time off and happy about that decision to go around the different research centers to lay out the problems. He felt it gave them all personal identification and shared understanding of what was needed from them as a global research team, working on innovating the next breakthrough for their company.
A Little Cold Shudder But That Was for Another Day
The only shudder he felt was the need to face up to the merger issues that were announced. Still that was for after Christmas when he arrives back to hopefully find the team working away in Asia has found the solution and that positive message he could then gives the ‘powers that be’ the good news. Hopefully it will remind them of the many reasons why they were such a powerful collaborative team, essential to the future of sustaining their position in the market.
Crazy, Connected But Collaborative
“Yep”, thought Jim- this is certainly a crazy, connected world but today it was simply a great collaborative feeling one gets on working on solving a problem. One that in his mind would lead to a potential innovating product that will save lives. Not bad as a great feeling as Jim heads home to the family and celebrating Christmas and all of what it means in our lives.
Enjoy your Christmas and happy innovating in 2012! Stay optimistic.
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.
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