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Transformative Innovation

In the research presented here, I refocus the recent policy discourse on so-called ‘transformative research’ on a more holistic concept of ‘transformative innovation’. The products are three independent but closely interrelated papers.

Avery Sen

on 21 September 2014

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Transcript of Transformative Innovation

‘totally radical’



mean for

noaa research

transformative innovation:

Totally Radical:
From Transformative Research to Transformative Innovation
Organization for Innovation for Transformation
NOAA Research:
Is it Organized for Transformative Innovation?
model agencies:

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DoD)

Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (DoE)

Advanced Technology Program (NIST)

comparison agency:

'NOAA Research'
Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA)
the problem of choice

‘From the beginning, the central problem in science policy was recognized by workers in the field as the problem of
(Bozeman & Sarewitz 2011, p. 2)

‘The challenge for the science of science policy (SoSP) community is to provide policymakers with more tools, and the right ones, to affect the government’s numerous resource allocation
(Koizumi 2011, p. 289)
‘Transformative research is defined as research driven by ideas that have the potential to radically change
Rising Above the Gathering Storm
The US is not conducting enough
transformative research
to stay competitive in the global economy, the federal research enterprise does not systematically plan for it
(National Academy of Science 2007)

America COMPETES Act
NIST and NOAA are directed to create strategies
transformative research
in the 2007 America COMPETES Act
(US Congress 2007)
and its 2010 reauthorization
(US Congress 2011)
Is ‘transformative’ a meaningful, measurable distinction? How is transformative research different from transformative innovation?
What are the organizational factors that foster transformative innovation in the federal R&D programs that succeed in creating it?
To what extent is NOAA’s central research division managed like federal R&D agencies that routinely create transformative innovation?
transformative research:
science, engineering
What is transformative research?
my interest.
What choices enable transformation?
my interest.
Heuristics are
simple rules


cognitive shortcuts

that organizations learn when facing decisions with limited information, time, and analytical capability.
(Davis, Eisenhardt, & Bingham 2009; Bingham & Eisenhardt 2011)
a term in search of a concept

Characteristics of transformative research

(Dietz & Rogers 2012 p. 24):

1. driven by ideas, discoveries or tools,
2. disruptive to existing theories or perspectives,
3. results in radical changes in our understanding of existing concepts,
4. leads to the creation of a new paradigm or field,
5. can redefine the boundaries of science, engineering, or education,
6. can be approached from different pathways,
7. can lead to new techniques or methodologies,
8. does not fit comfortably into existing funding mechanisms,
9. is not necessarily step-by-step,
10. doesn’t fare well when reviewed by parties invested in the status quo,
11. initially difficult to interpret,
12. difficult to recognize at the time of creation,
13. not necessarily risky,
14. not necessarily interdisciplinary, and
15. you know it when you see it

A novel creation that produces

(Nagji & Tuff 2012, p. 4)

The intersection of invention and insight, leading to the creation of social and economic

(US Council on Competitiveness 2005, p. 8)

The process by which individuals and organizations generate new ideas and put them into

(OSTP 2011, p. 7)

The processes by which firms master and get into
product designs and manufacturing processes that are new to them, if not to the universe or even to the nation
(Nelson 1993, p. 4)

of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations
(OECD 2005, p. 46)

An innovation in the economic sense is accomplished only with the first commercial transaction involving the new product, process, system or device, although the word is used to describe
the whole process

(Freeman & Soete 1997, p. 6)
innovation: value though application

What determines the course of innovation are the organizations and the institutions that link push and pull, supply and demand
(Bonvillian 2006)

‘In virtually all fields one must understand technical advance as proceeding through the work of a community of actors’, including but not limited to those performing R&D
(Nelson 1993, p. 14)
among actors
We can
transformative innovation based on:
which problems it aims to solve
how well it defines those problems
how well it is organized to solve them
(not necessarily based on scientific discipline)

We can
transformative innovation by:
changing management and organization
(not necessarily by changing funding)
political risks for advocates,
economic costs for incumbents

‘Innovation may
benefit society,
but it has its
victims, and these
victims fight back’
(Sapolsky and Taylor 2011, p. 33)

Agencies created for innovation must ‘ensure in program design that there will be a noteworthy political interest constituency’
(Bonvillian 2011, p. 312)
We can expect to face:
different concepts, re:
strategy and serendipity
different commitments, re:
politics and professions
model agencies: isolation and interaction

Every group responsible for transformative innovation ‘is an island, but an
island with a bridge
to the mainland’
(Bennis & Biederman 1997, p. 206).

The island is a refuge for experimentation, creation, and failure

The bridge is a conduit for the transfer of knowledge and technology
NOAA Research,
as a whole, is not organized for transformative innovation in the way that DARPA, ARPA-E, and ATP are
(note: land-based heuristics)

large established infrastructure, research staff
no time limits for managers, programs, or projects
success means survival and growth, not visions and metrics
low tolerance for risk; no desire to 'throw rocks'
faith in science; ideas from academia, not management
quasi-operational mission to improve understanding

Program offices
are closer to the island+bridge model than labs or CIs

little or no infrastructure, research staff
managers feel more empowered
high concern for transition, stakeholder outcomes
reliance on external input to direct program
NOAA might consider the advantages of:

program offices
versus laboratories and cooperative institutes

programs in a special unit
versus programs in a science division

negotiated cooperative agreements
versus open-ended grants

excited temporary managers
versus expert permanent scientists

tackling risks though specificity
versus assuming risk though ambiguity

Confirms the factors identified by Bonvillian and Van Atta are present at DARPA, ARPA-E, and ATP
(Bonvillian & Van Atta 2011)

Starts to answer how one may characterize the ‘transformativeness’ of a research proposal or portfolio
(Koizumi 2011, p. 298)

Accounts for the ‘interrelations among values that motivate research within a complex institutional ecology, as a foundation for assessing a science institution’s potential to achieve desired social outcomes’
(Sarewitz 2011, p. 346)

Includes the inter-personal, inter-organizational factors ‘on the bridge’, which are not directly addressed by the ‘Special Forces’ model
(Dugan & Gabriel 2013)


Mission agencies and inter-agency programs in the federal research enterprise, per Rising Above the Gathering Storm
(National Academy of Sciences 2007)

Beyond the US federal system, in private industry, in the government research efforts of other nations, or in large-scale international R&D efforts
island+bridge as a model

Prima facie,
are opposites, but transformative innovation business models harmonize them.

The model
is not a recipe
for the ‘secret sauce’ of the ARPA-model; rather, it
is a palette of flavors
for the three sauces sampled


The ability to be
deliberately but delicately disruptive:
managers are intent on and empowered to transform systems, while still working within a system of controls
(centered on the island)

The importance of
frank and frequent face time:
regular, detailed conversations between the managing team and performing team as projects progress, focusing on direction and performance
(centered on the bridge)

strategic communication
among cognitively diverse groups

What modes of communication work well for this purpose?

Are successful results attributable to shared vocabularies? Or particular or complementary personality traits?

Could new technology
and social media
facilitate collective
some innovation isn't science;
some science isn't innovation

science and innovation can satisfy separate public values, however:

Tough choices
are inevitable

Claims of public value should be authentic, not hyperbolic

Serendipity should be part of strategy, not separate from it
our understanding of an important existing
scientific or engineering
concept or leading to the creation of

a new paradigm or field of
science or engineering

(National Science Board, 2007, p. 10)
work organized to realize concrete visions of change beyond the research community

revolutions outside the Balkans

beyond milquetoast objectives

recipes rather than ingredients

Transformative federal R&D cannot occur without organizations that embody transformation
transformative innovation:
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