Useful Analogies


The management of front end research is particularly complicated as there are so many things to take into account. I know it's not for everyone but I personally find analogies a really useful technique for describing complex systems. In this section I will discuss some of my favorites:

Analogy Description
Are you playing chess or playing poker A great analogy from the godfather of open innovation Henry Chesbrough. Standard business management can be though of as a game of Chess. You know the pieces, how they move and try to position these pieces to gain an advantage. When it comes to managing innovation this analogy breaks down. Chesbrough suggest that innovation management is much more like poker where you only see part of the picture and it all about balance of probabilities.
Ballistic Missiles It is very hard to appreciate the benefits of early stage research. I like to use this analogy when asked this question as it tries to demonstrate the value of knowledge at the start of product development to inform the decisions about which direction should be set. In the world of ballistic missiles a tiny adjustment to the trajectory or launch power can result in the difference between hitting Washington DC or Toronto.
Fortified R&D Castles In his book on Open Innovation, Henry Chesbrough compared old "closed innovation" models used by organisations to fortified castles. The work was carried out inside the four walls and no knowledge came in or out. This is discussed at length in the his book (see resource library) but there is a free article which discusses this analogy in the context of drug development.
Horse Racing, back the right horse This analogy compares creating new technical products with producing prize winning race horses. You may have the best stables, the best trainers but if you can't get the right horses in you don't stand a chance. Are you better off nurturing a number of foals in the hope one will do well, buying more established horses at a higher cost or even buying in a camel and dressing it up as a horse . . .
Organisations as intelligent particles Organisations within a market will act as a collection of interacting intelligent particles. Particles are positioned through space and interact via different forces such as electrical, magnetic or gravitational. They will settle into positions depending on the vectoral total of all their interactions. The notion of intelligence implies these particles have a limited amount of control over their position and attempt to actively manipulate the interactional forces at play by adjusting their internal attributes.
Surfing the right waves This analogy works quite well when thinking about trying to choose which early stage technologies an organisation should jump on board with. The basic premise is that it is like being sitting on a surfboard just off the coast waiting for the perfect wave to come so you can ride it to shore. It is very hard to see which waves are going to become the best ones ("narly" I think) to ride but with practice it is a skill that can be learnt. I can't remember where I first read this so I can't quote the original source but here is an article which summarises it quite well.
The Music Industry This is one particular close to my heart as I back in the day I tried to make a go off it as a musician. I have always thought there is an interesting parallel between the role of the music industry in creating new music and the role of companies in creating new technical products.
Willy Wonka and the R&D organisation It struck me the other day when I was thinking about the analogy put forward by Chesborough that the R&D organisations of old operated under an innovation model much like fortified castles, isolated from the world and expecting to produce ground breaking innovations. This model of innovation sounds very similar to a certain exentric chocolcate factory owner who's story I absolutely loved as a child. Willy Wonka managed to make the closed innovation model work and perhaps their are companies out there that haven't realised it yet but have built there entire business models on a childrens book from the 70's. What would this book look like now under the open innovation paradigm. Mr Wonka would surely outsource his non-core competencies, develop a distributed supply chain delivering the components he required for final assembly and shifted the manufacturing out to South East Asia. The Oompa Loompas would have to retrain as project managers and Charlie would have been employed as an IP lawyer.