In the disrupted context of the health crisis and the changes it has brought about, it is important for those involved in industrial innovation to collectively stay the course and not forget their raison d’être. This very general point is confirmed by the reactions to the sudden emergence of the hybrid organization (certainly prepared by technological and organizational trends that are not recent). Within our ecosystem of industrial innovation, this topic, among others, contributes to nourish the reflections on the R&I of the future, especially regarding the balance between physical and virtual spaces. Faced with the difficulty of these issues, which affect all the major players in industrial R&I, the search for collective synergies is imperative. These synergies can in particular concern the following three axes:
- The raison d’être and the values that guide R&I;
- The acceleration of innovation in large industrial groups;
- The new articulation between physical and virtual spaces.
1. Is there an existential crisis in R&I?
Many R&I players share the observation that our companies and organizations, despite their size, can be fragile in the face of crises of a new kind (today the pandemic, tomorrow the climate, etc.). Fragility concerns both the economic and human dimensions.
At the same time, frustrations are taking shape: questions about the meaning of a company’s activity and individual work, but also about working methods. The fact that R&I budgets are among the first to be frozen is not indifferent to this awareness, which leads to a desire for greater resilience. But also greater agility.
The health crisis has seen many industrial companies put solutions and innovations on the market to deal with COVID. The innovation may be product/service (new product or product diverted from its primary use), organizational/process, or related to the use of industrial capacities in an unusual way. There are many examples: MakAir collaborative respirator (CEA Grenoble + Groupe SEB), hydro-alcoholic gel (LVMH), respirator (Valeo + Air Liquide), Decathlon (hacked diving masks), etc.
Beyond this salutary leap, the question arises of better translating the values of the company (and/or R&D) into projects and organizations. In the hybrid organization, the role of the offices is bound to evolve. What will the new configuration be? How can we reconcile individual and collective performance in teleworking in a new balance between the physical and the virtual?
2. How to accelerate innovation in large industrial groups?
Major groups continue to question the ingredients of rapid innovation. How can we bring the right decision-makers around the table, to function as a “commando team” and favor “short circuits”? How can we ensure that all of the company’s resources and functions are mobilized? How can we encourage initiatives and innovations that make sense and are in line with the company’s core raison d’être?
In spite of popular belief, rapid innovation is not reserved for start-ups: the powering up of large groups during the health crisis has enabled “moving mountains” and moving fast, by shaking up and transforming existing organizations and processes.
In all of this, it is important to remember that the raison d’être of innovation goes beyond the generation of new products and new services. The R&I function can also be what injects resilience into the company, forcing it to reinvent itself continuously and quickly. This requires a “corporate hacker” attitude.
But the ability to accelerate innovation is above all a question of performance, which implies concrete choices in the architecture and in the physical and virtual organization of the R&I activity. What is the minimum size for it to work? What is the maximum size? What about environmental performance as a factor of attractiveness and acceptability for the future?
3. The new hybrid organization
New digital tools open up the prospect of significant performance gains in R&I. But this is a field that is not yet well marked out. It is no longer just a question of using face-to-face collaboration substitutes, but of optimizing practices, taking advantage of the benefits, and minimizing the weaknesses of virtual channels.
It is now possible to successfully conduct virtual workshops. Multifunctional co-creation, often perceived as complicated or even impossible, is in fact made possible by digital tools. Virtual instruments even tend to be perceived today as superior to classical post-its. Even in face-to-face workshops. Digital instruments indeed massively boost participation, by promoting the liberation of speech.
However, these new digital instruments raise serious issues of cybersecurity and sovereignty. Moreover, their advantages do not exempt us from thinking about the best way to use them and to combine them with face-to-face methods. How can we promote both exchanges and “concentrated” work? Which populations should work together and why? These questions also include topics such as office organization. What is the optimal office space in a hybrid R&I organization?
The upheavals of the health crisis have highlighted the need for adaptability of organizations. But they have also aroused a strong desire to anticipate future changes, by projecting themselves into the long term (20 years)!
Conclusion: join the movement!
In all industrial sectors, the R&I function is confronted with the pressures but also the expectations and hopes of a world that is being shaken up at all levels. The cross-functional perspective, by bringing together thinking from a variety of sectors, can help to identify the real issues and the best paths and best practices for managing them. Thanks to the convictions shared by industrial R&I players, it can also enable the construction and collective defense of new techno-industrial narratives, which would be very welcome in the current context.
Among the topics, we have quickly touched on in the above, which one seems to you to be the most relevant and useful subject of synergy? Quickly let us know your opinion here!