Co-founder MIT Innovation Lab
Dr. Dave Richards has an impressive resume: co-founder of the MIT Innovation Lab, formal Global General Manager at Nortel Networks, formal Global Director of Partnerships at Oracle, the list goes on and on. After he graduated as a psychologist from the University of Toronto, Canada, he wanted to be an academic, a professor at a university. Instead of teaching students, he is now an authority on strategic innovation, a valued writer and a frequently asked speaker at conferences and workshops.
“We learned from each other’s mistakes and this way, we saw new ways to improve innovations and their success rates”
“The founding of the Innovation Lab happened during lunch actually,” Dave tells me. At that time he worked as Global General Manager of Nortel Networks and was asked to review the budget spend on universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During a lunch with Eric von Hippel, a professor at MIT, they came up with the idea of a lab, where people would be able to conduct research. “When we started the lab, it functioned more as a forum for bragging, telling each other how great our innovations were and how smart we are. But after a while something changed. Instead of sharing how great we were, we shared our greatest fears and failures instead of our successes,” Dave adds. This led them to some powerful insights. “We learned from each other’s mistakes and this way, we saw new ways to improve innovations and their success rates,” he explains to me. Thanks to these insights, they were able to make the MIT Innovation Lab a multimillion dollar organisation.
Valorisation and cross-functional innovation
According to Dave, valorisation is a critical aspect of research and innovation. “You have to apply insights in order to keep improving. It’s basically what we were doing in the Innovation Lab. As for valorisation: I do think we are underperforming relative to our potential. Human nature is so much greater than we experience! There are massive opportunities for improvement,” he claims.
“We are underperforming relative to our potential.”
“That’s why cross-functional innovation is vital: the best innovations happen when you have diverse groups and when they engage effectively. But then again, it’s not just about cross-functional innovation but also about open innovation: collaborating outside your own organisation and across different industries and sectors. Then you have the most potential for value creation.”
In his book ‘The Seven Sins of Innovation’ Dave provides a practical approach to improve innovation. “I’ve always wanted to share some key insights from the MIT innovation Lab, but the challenge was finding the time to do it,” he says on the subject. His book provides a new definition of innovation. “In my opinion,” Dave explains, “innovation means creating more value than you have to invest to create it.”
“Researchers struggle in communicating and relationships with others”
With his many years of experience in research projects and innovation, Dave knows better than anyone what researchers and innovators struggle with. He shares his insight on these key struggles with me: “The answer to that question is one word really: relationships. There are several specific problems that occur in different types of relationships, whether you look at leadership or how information is shared, or communication between departments. They all boil down to relationships, and I see these problems, which have to do with human nature and the human mind, continue to undermine a lot of innovation efforts and continue to limit the effectiveness,” Dave explains. “That’s why I’m excited about what you do at Syneratio, you’re creating links and relationships and opportunities to collaborate. That’s fertile ground for innovation and delivering tangible value, for example decreasing the time to market.” When I ask Dave why he considers himself a serial innovator, he replies: “I’m constantly looking for new ways to create value, to improve and to collaborate. I just can’t stop innovating.”