As much as new product development relies on an underlying creative – and thus unpredictable – process, it also relies on planning, forethought and analysis. Blending these organizational “left brain/right brain” activities is what produces the successful innovation. Such was the subject of a Business 2.0 article that featured German optics maker Carl Zeiss (“Priming the R&D Machine,” September 2006, p. 60). By virtue of its longevity alone, Carl Zeiss can make a claim on the ability to continually drive to market products that fit customer needs; not many companies get to be 160 years old.
But the company can also make a claim that its longevity is no accident. The company today earns about two-thirds of its revenue from products that are less than five years old. And one of the biggest reasons why is that company is ‘fanatical’ about research and development. “Innovation is about more than invention,” the company’s CEO, Dieter Kurz said in the article. “It is about creating something useful that gives the company an advantage.”
The process that Carl Weiss goes through to ensure a stream of innovative products is as intense as the resources that go into it. Some 1,600 R&D employees bring hundreds of new ideas to its annual innovation conference; about 25-30 of those will be selected for a six-month review process. Those that make it this far then go to prototyping and further vetting. It’s a process that ensures the place of ongoing creativity within the company.