Immune system engineering

Oct 12, 2007

World-known author Dr. William Miller brings his lessons on the fourth generation of innovation management to campus during a lecture co-hosted by Kettering, Baker College, Mott Community College and the University of Michigan-Flint.

In 1984, the talented innovators at AT&T invented the cell phone. They carefully screened their invention through their various management teams, trying to decide if they had invented the next great American product or an expensive toy. They even brought in market research experts, who told them to shelf it because AT&T wouldn't sell enough units to make it worth their while.

By 2005, there were 800 million cell phones in use around the world and AT&T had been gutted, dismantled and sold off for parts.

Woe is the tale for American business that just can't quite get its hands around innovation these days, said Dr. William "Bill" Miller during a lecture Oct. 12 at Kettering University. "Great ideas are often called 'dumb' ideas," Miller told a crowd of about 40 in McKinnon Theater. "Remember that the mini-van was proposed at the height of the station wagon's popularity - and it didn't go anywhere at first."

Miller said the country has moved from an agricultural society to industrial to manufacturing to the information age and now into the need for more innovation. "The key to success is 'What are you trying to manage?'" he asked. "The key is managing innovation like you manage engineering."

That hasn't stopped American business from wrangling with "innovation" as a complex, unquantifiable issue. "There are stages in innovation," he explained. "Problem identification and solution; development and commercialization. There are types of innovation, too - incremental, radical ... but look around the U.S. There is barely a curriculum on innovation."

It doesn't help, he noted, that "teamwork" is the country's favorite slogan but "innovation" is often best when "people think you're a little crazy." Teams can screen out tomorrow's best ideas.

Miller said the first generation of innovation was from 1900-1950, characterized by the establishment of R&D labs, marketing operations and a national push for technology. The second generation, from 1940 to 1985, advanced new product development and team processes, and established enduring partnerships between universities and industry. Brand management was introduced in this era and multi-media advertising became commonplace. The third generation, from 1975-2005, introduced strategy integration (product and technology roadmaps) based on platforms, lean manufacturing and start-up efforts.

Now is the age of the fourth generation (4G) of innovation, Miller said -- a time for radical innovation. Early successes with 4G in field tests have shown drug companies how to reduce specific phases of drug development from 18 months to six. The best successes are being enjoyed abroad though, he warned - in places like China and Korea. "Michigan is the early warning," he said.

Can the United States become a knowledge economy?

Miller said yes, if American business adopts Immune System Engineering (ImSE). ImSE has the capacity to design, build and service systems that are self-diagnosing and self-healing. "We need to fill in the gaps in engineering. 4G is a best practice for managing radical innovation, which is mandatory for sustained economic growth and competitiveness," he added. "Communist governments now understand capitalism better than the Democratic countries. It is how they are beating us."

Written by Pat Mroczek
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