Lecture 3: Innovation and Management http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2005/lecture3.shtml
When Ralph Waldo Emerson reputedly and memorably said that the world would beat a path to the door of a person who made a better mousetrap, he was perhaps being unduly optimistic, but at least he realised that the mousetrap had to be made and that it would not be sufficient merely to have an idea, or even a patent, for a better mouse trap. Ideas have to be proven to be useful, and the world told about them, before any paths are beaten. Profound changes have taken place in the development of ideas and their translation in to the market place and in my third Reith lecture I argue that this innovation revolution demands a new approach to research and product development.
To illustrate this story I go back to the beginning of my research career. I was drawn to Britain from the sunshine of Australia in 1959 because Britain led the world in making the best domestic electronics, especially the high fidelity sound systems that had fascinated me since I was a boy. I had formed a little company in Melbourne – today we would call it a start-up – that made hi fi systems for rich farmers, and all the equipment that we used was British, including the electronic components, so my ambition was to come to England and work on their further development.
But by the time I had finished my PhD in 1965 the excitement in electronics had moved to transistors and the newly emerging integrated circuits, and my PhD research had taken me strongly in this direction. Some of the important concepts for integrated circuits had emerged in Britain, in particular at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern, but the most exciting research was being pursued in the laboratories of the large American technology companies. There was a great demand for PhD graduates in electronics and related fields and the ‘brain drain’ from the UK to the USA was at full flow.
There was no doubt in anybody’s mind at that time that the ideal model for technology development was the large, well funded, industrial research laboratory staffed with talented PhD graduates from the world’s leading universities. Fundamental research could go on in universities but it was only in the large industrial or government funded research laboratories that the really important practical advances were made. If I wanted to work on the creation of new technologies – on the evolution of the better mousetrap – then I would have to go to such a laboratory. This was not only the case in computers and communication but in the transport, chemical and pharmaceutical industries also.