BOOK REVIEW

Qualitative Futures Research for Innovation
by
Patrick van der Duin

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 8, No. 12, 12/1/06

Homepage

Futures research and innovation:

  This book arises from a PhD thesis - and thus has characteristics of such a thesis which this review need not cover. It would have been a better book if much of that had been edited out - and if the proof reading had been better.
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The near future is no longer reliably merely an extension of current trends. Revolutionary developments like the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the internet and the economic emergence of China and India are becoming expectable features of each decade.

  It is, however, on a subject of interest to all futurists, business consultants, and those planning for the future - and it is as such a book that FUTURECASTS reviews it. In "Qualitative Futures Research for Innovation," Patrick van der Duin describes and critiques six case studies of the use of futures research to facilitate innovation.
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  Planning for the future becomes increasingly critical as the pace of technological, economic and social change accelerates. The near future is no longer reliably merely an extension of current trends. Revolutionary developments like the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the internet and the economic emergence of China and India are becoming expectable features of each decade.
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  In the Netherlands - Duin's native land - society has shifted dramatically from one reliably segmented on religious, economic and political lines to one that is networked across such segments and thus much more dynamic. This increases the difficulties of analysis and planning for the future - and makes such efforts increasingly important and interesting.
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Trend analysis, roadmapping, and scenarios are the qualitative methods primarily covered in this book.

 

Today, there are a variety of useful analytical methods that have been developed to "explore" the future and that are increasingly a part of decision-making processes.

  Markets are increasingly competitive in today's globalized world, so an ability to anticipate changes in customer demands and needs is essential. Business, today, must strive to keep up with - and anticipate - market trends. Duin refers to the failure of Swiss watch-makers to timely switch to quartz electronic technologies as a prime example of the dangers. All of this heightens the value of competent futures research.
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  Duin provides a brief history of futures research and an overview and some specifics of methodology and scope. He provides an explanation of "innovation" and its methodology and its links to qualitative futures research. Using the case method, he outlines the factors involved in the use of futures research, evaluates his own research, and offers pertinent recommendations. Trend analysis, roadmapping, and scenarios are the qualitative methods primarily covered in this book.
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  The history of futures research has been set forth more comprehensively by E. Cornish of The World Futures Society in "The Study of the Future" (1978), and in a more recent article by V. Coates, et. al. in Technology Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 67, Issue 1, pp. 1-17 (2001), "On the Future of Technology Forecasting."
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  Jules Verne stimulated the modern development of systematic methodology.

    Duin loosely uses the term "scientific" as do so many when they really are referring to "professional" methods of analysis. Futures research yields "professional opinions," not results proven to a "scientific certainty" by application of scientific methods. "Scientific certainty is closer to but of course still not equal to an absolute certainty.
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  Futures research is a practical art, not a science. Use of a few scientific tools - brushes and paints produced scientifically by Du Pont - does not turn a painter into a scientist. Duin more accurately refers to the increasing "professionalization" of the field.

  Think tanks like RAND Corporation extensively developed successful analytical methods during and after WW-II. (Rand had more than a few extraordinary analytical failures during the Cold War.) Shell used scenarios to prepare in advance for the 1973 oil crisis. Today, there are a variety of useful analytical methods that have been developed to "explore" the future and that are increasingly a part of decision-making processes.
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  Evaluation of technological developments dominated early efforts in the 1950s. The Delphi iterative interview method was developed in the 1960s, and Shell demonstrated the utility of scenarios in the 1970s.
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  The limits of technology forecasting have become evident. Forecasts decline in utility as their time horizons increase. (Fifteen year and longer forecasts have a poor record. See, 25 year economic forecasts.) The Club of Rome made forecasting look ludicrous with its ideologically driven Malthusian forecasts.

  Duin is kinder - asserting that these were "self denying" prophecies that caused political leaders and policy makers to take preventive action - but he does not identify either the farsighted political leaders and policy makers or any actions specifically attributable to Club of Rome prophesies or how those actions contributed to the broad failures of Club of Rome forecasts.

  The tendency of futures research to concentrate on impending disasters was strengthened in the 1980s as ecological problems became prominent. The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, deforestation and global warming have provided considerable grist for declinists and disaster forecasters. (Forecasters always find it easier to gain publicity with disaster forecasts.) Ecological, technological and global political risks have become very popular subjects for futurists.
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  Information and communication technology in the 1990s facilitated the establishment of futures research as an ongoing organization-wide process. Scenario thinking, knowledge development and monitoring are now permanent processes in many organizations.

  "Nowadays, when new futures research methods are developed, the idea is to try and capture and describe possible future developments and variables rather than selecting a limited number of variables and using them to forecast the future course of events. Futures research has become more interactive, information sources have become more diverse, and the process has become less linear due to the growing influence of clients on its content and structure."
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  "Nowadays, futures research is to a large extent integrated with other disciplines and parts of organizations, thereby combining methods, using the possibilities of new software tools, new ways of gathering data, and all kinds of creative and interactive techniques. This is a marked contrast with the 1950s and 1960s, when futures research was primarily the domain of experts - "futurists" - who used complex and quantitative models aimed at predicting the long term future. Futures research has become a specific discipline with its own institutions, practitioners, journals, and books. [It has been described as] a distinctive movement of futures research that even leads to an industry of 'futurism' whose members are unaware of the fact that many fellow scientists [still] view them as 'renegades.'"

Futures research:

 

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  How "qualitative" futures research methods are used to facilitate commercial innovation is the subject of the six case studies in this book. Duin explains his case study research approach in some detail.
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  Studies that examined how futures research applies to government organizations are cited by Duin. These differ from Duin's studies because of the profit motive that disciplines commercial planning. Usually, time horizons are shorter, research projects are shorter, and the objectives are more concrete for commercial entities than for government entities. The focus for commercial entities is on opportunities and risks in markets, and on changes in technology, strategic options and innovation possibilities.
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  Duin explains the futures research methodology used in each case, the innovation and innovation processes, and how the futures research was linked to the innovation processes. He also provides his evaluation.
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  The author provides a useful summary of existing literature - none of which cover the same ground as his book. Most fail to show specifically how futures research was linked to innovation. Some did not focus on futures research methodology. One focused on "quantitative" methods such as decision trees and option pricing theory.
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  Innovation frequently involves technology. It involves analysis of the potential of the technologies being developed, finding new potential in existing technologies, and assessing the sustainability of activities based on existing technology.
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  All of this involves futures research. Even after an innovative advance is identified, there are questions about how long the development process will take and whether the market will still be attractive when it is complete. Duin cites Kevlar as a product that arrived for a market - reinforced tires - that had become dominated by steel.
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  The R&D process thus cannot be fully controlled. Market and competition may change unexpectedly, difficulties may arise, the product may have benefits or impose burdens not fully appreciated.
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The term "futures research" emphasizes that the future "can be investigated and knowledge about the future can be gained which can serve as a valuable input to today's decisions about the future."

  The futures research evaluation process thus must be continuous, before and throughout the development process, and even after the product is brought to market. Development doesn't end. New technological advances, new improvements, competition, and new opportunities must be the subject of constant research and evaluation. An innovation process must be flexible, and must adjust or even be terminated in response to new realities.
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  Duin segments this uncertainty into five categories for purposes of analysis. Science, technology, market, societal, and organizational developments can impact an innovation process. They must be the constant subjects of a futures research process. The longer the development time horizon and the more of these factors that are involved, the greater the risks. Radical innovation, of course, is more uncertain than incremental innovation.

  "By using futures research methods in innovation processes, organizations can recognize and subsequently cope with elements of uncertainty. Futures research can provide an overview and help assess the effects of certain developments and make organizations aware of them."

  The term "futures research" is used rather than the variety of alternatives because the plural "futures" emphasizes the multidimensional scope of the activity - there are multiple futures of varying possibility and they have social, cultural, political and technological aspects. They are "researched" - investigated - without pre-conceptions of the results or even of the possibility of achieving reliable results. The term emphasizes that the future "can be investigated and knowledge about the future can be gained which can serve as a valuable input to today's decisions about the future."
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  Rejected are such alternative terms as "futurology," "futurism," "forecasting," and "operational research."
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Most important is the link between the futures research activities and the actual decision-making process.

  Trend analysis, roadmapping and scenarios are frequently used by commercial organizations. Duin emphasizes the "good practices" that maximize their utility and reliability. He provides useful outlines of these practices. (See, J. Scott Armstrong, "Principles of Forecasting.")
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  All of these methods include a wide variety of types that are designed for the wide variety of research projects. For purposes of supporting innovation, the method must be broad - taking in the broadest possible range of factors and examining a broad range of possibilities.
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  In practice, these methods and their practices may overlap in a nearly chaotic flow of investigations and evaluations and reevaluations. Most important is the link between the futures research activities and the actual decision-making process.
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  The basic elements of futures research are also outlined by the author. He divides them into three categories: "Pre-foresight/input," "Main foresight/throughput," and "Post-foresight/outputs and action."

  • Preforesight/input involves - determining the participants and their expertise - evaluating the needs of the client or researcher if there is no client - considering costs and duration of the study and its specific objectives - and the reasons for the choice of primary method.

  • Main foresight/throughput involves - research by means of communication flows between participants and stakeholders - involvement of expert futures researchers - establishing the scope of the study geographically and with respect to its time horizons and subjects covered - and appropriately applying the futures research method or methods chosen.

  • Main-foresight/outputs and action involves - utilization of the results through appropriate communications with client personnel and participation in decision-making and planning - and dissemination of the results among decision-makers and participants and stakeholders. The payoff is in the implementation of the resulting plans.

Innovation:

 

 

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  The "newness" or "change" in product or service or process as viewed by the consumer or user of the futures research is the innovation pertinent to Duin's study. It can involve a change in the market or in competition or the political or social environment. The failure to take public and political responses into account led to the failure of narrowly based forecasts about nuclear energy, Duin notes.
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  Futures research can contribute to both invention and its exploitation. "Futures research is one of the many activities that provide input to the innovation process." Invention is another aspect of the process of innovation.
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  Innovation is generally not a distinct outcome in the real world. Innovation comes as a progression or cluster of related innovations. Mobile - cellular - telephony developments are offered as a prominent modern example of both the progression and business processes of innovation.
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  At all levels, innovation involves uncertainty that requires constant evaluation and the flexibility to respond - to both of which futures research can contribute. Flexibility involves creativity - "the ability to imagine, anticipate and cope with unexpected and possibly even highly implausible future trends."
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  Duin provides a description of innovation processes. Some are broad organizational processes, others more narrow projects that may be a part of an organizational process. He outlines the history of such processes since WW-II. Today, they can be increasingly complex constant cycles - with feedback loops between markets and technicians and business decision-makers. Depending on the context, of course, they can also be individual efforts.
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  A useful outline of product development projects is provided by the author. Modern concepts stress adaptability - in-process evaluations such as "go" and "no-go" decisions - the ability to focus resources as the most likely projects are revealed - and flexibility in designing the process to meet the needs of the project.
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Assessment of innovation processes:

  Innovation audits have been devised to ascertain the quality of innovation processes.
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  These audits must be customized to fit the characteristics of different organizations. There are no universally optimum criteria, although many are universally applicable. Duin takes his own list from studies of other authors. He uses his audit outline in the case studies that comprise the bulk of this book.
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  The audits evaluate a long list of factors.
 
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  Input is evaluated on the basis of the organization's pertinent culture - such as its tolerance for failure and acceptance of change, the personnel and financing dedicated to the process, the process itself and its external linkages.
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  The heart of the futures research process is judged by evaluating a substantial number of throughput factors as pertinent. These include - technological aspects and competencies and their cultivation within the organization - methods for evaluating R&D and other innovation expenditures - linkages between innovation strategy and corporate strategy - futures research techniques - development of networks of know-how - level of support within the organization and among top management - mechanisms for evaluation of progress to support likely projects and cut losses on unlikely projects - and mechanisms for applying the results in development of new goods or services or processes.
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  The payoff is the output
in recent innovations implemented by the organization and their contribution to the organization's financial success. Outputs evaluated include patents, scientific publications, and new or improved products or processes or services.
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  The evaluation of particular projects focuses on application of best practices. These include - emphasis on pre-development work and evaluation - application of a suitably multi-dimension multiple viewpoint approach - assessment of the whole process rather than just the development work - integration of marketing and manufacturing with development - a clear decision-making process including go/kill criteria - introduction of parallel or concurrent engineering - the fluidity of the effort and its focus and flexibility.
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KPN Research:

 

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  The innovation chain of KPN Research uses the scenario method to explore new products and services for customers of KPN, a major Dutch telecom company. It focuses on genuine innovation by identifying customer communication needs. KPN Research is a spin-off of KPN and is not involved in improvement and modification of existing KPN products and services.
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Customers had been mere passive onlookers at previous technological presentations.

 

The scenarios serve as templates that become customized by inserting each particular customer and its concerns.

 

The scenarios concentrate mainly on customer needs rather than on technology.

  Scenarios have been found useful in stimulating expert input and customer interaction concerning customer communication needs. Customers had been mere passive onlookers at previous technological presentations.
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  Four scenarios were put on the internet to permit anyone to use and comment on them. Two of them presented expansive business environments - two presented constrained business environments - for different types of organizations. They serve as templates that become customized by inserting each particular customer and its concerns.

  "The scenarios needed to be easy to understand by customers who were not accustomed to working with them, and they needed to allow customers to picture themselves, their customers and their portfolio in the four scenarios, which made it easier for them to use the scenarios."

  These innovation chain exercises were generally completed in a single day.
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  The scenarios are of general applicability for use by a wide range of KPN Research customers in addition to KPN. The scenarios concentrate mainly on customer needs rather than on technology. They are built around four "workspaces of the future" that customers can put themselves into. Societal aspects - like "individualization" - are also trend-stressed. The scenarios thus contain "general elements that affect every organization in some way or another." 

  "It was decided that trends with the largest impact on the communication needs of end-users, trends with the largest uncertainty, and trends that deal with society, were suitable to be used as scenario-dimensions. This decision was inspired by the emphasis in the assignment on including a social and market-related perspective in the scenarios."

The customer is placed in the four scenarios, and the customer's main concern is addressed. The result is a customized version of opportunities and needs, and a roadmap of needed actions.

  The innovation chain begins with an analysis of the current situation. New business opportunities, existing bottlenecks and possible improvements are evaluated at this point.
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  Then, the customer is placed in the four scenarios devised for use in these exercises, and the customer's main concern is addressed. The result is a customized version of opportunities and needs, and a roadmap of actions needed to respond to them. KPN sales is an important participant throughout the innovation chain exercise, and at this point new telecommunications products and services that may help the customer are explored.
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  Duin suggests adding business sector trends pertinent to each individual customer. He demonstrates how the scenarios identify the differing wireless security needs of different organizations, and the new ICT security products that need to be developed. He criticizes KPN research for not subjecting itself to its own scenario-based innovation chain.
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  Duin also identifies some weaknesses in the trend analysis inputs of the scenarios, and in the identification of customers that are "genuinely looking for new ideas" that would be willing to engage in follow-up implementation processes that might result in actual innovations.
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Syntens New Technologies:

 

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  The innovation expert interview process of Syntens New Technologies was used to stimulate and promote innovation among Dutch small and medium-sized ("SME") enterprises that comprise 99% of all Dutch companies. It is a department of Syntens, an independent foundation subsidized by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.
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  Syntens specializes in innovation and knowledge transfer. As a foundation, it makes use of external resources such as universities, consulting companies and research institutes.
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  Trend-spotting and trend-analysis, internal knowledge management, and the development of new public projects were the areas of Syntens New Technologies expertise. Since 2004, it has been disbanded, and its tasks reintegrated into Syntens.
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  Because of their great variety, statistics on SMEs are very nebulous, Duin concedes. The EU and national governments subsidize their innovation efforts, which are approached in a wide variety of ways.
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  Syntens concentrates on information and communication technology, human resources and organization, methods of cooperation, marketing and strategy, and "new entrepreneurship." It has "knowledge explorers" that it has dedicated to keeping abreast of developments in each of these areas. It cooperates with other "external" parties for additional areas of expertise.
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  A form of Delphi iterative process - a 'ToekomstWijzer" - is used for futures research. Knowledgeable SME participants of on average 10 individuals are paired up and discuss separate topics consisting of trends or propositions. The topics rotate among the couples, giving each an opportunity to reassess and elaborate on what others have written earlier. The trends are evaluated and the most relevant material is then selected.
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  Then, the whole group discusses the selected trends and possible consequences, the innovation possibilities and consequences.
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  Trends are sometimes drawn from an online national Delphi iterative process. External experts can be invited to participate. Flexibility is provided by varying the length of the iterative process - including trends, propositions, themes or scenarios suggested by SME participants.
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  This process has now been carried out at various levels - national, regional, and business sector, individual company, and related business groupings. Other trend-spotting activities provide input. Implementation of the results is encouraged by separate processes designed to induce innovative actions in response to the results of the futures research process.
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  Duin provides an example of this futures research process. Over 100 attendees from various businesses and disciplines discussed (1) societal forces like population aging and individual expectations about work, (2) technology such as global positioning systems, (3) ecological problems, (4) economic trends like increased cross-industrial cooperation, and (5) political problems like threats of terrorism.
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  The results were evaluated and the most relevant ones were chosen for further consideration. They were placed in a framework designed to highlight the technological, organizational and marketing aspects. Each company participant must have "a clear idea what the tips and obstacles are in further developing an innovative idea," Duin explained.
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  The results were put into newspaper article format for subsequent circulation - then more formal reports, along with pertinent responses from industry experts.
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  The ToekomstWizer process frequently does not produce sufficiently specific results to be useful in more than the awareness phase of the innovation process, Duin notes. If it were carried further for more specific results, it would be more useful in creating interest, desire, and initiation of action.
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  The quality of the exercise depended critically on the expertise of the participants. Many were disappointed in the national exercise because the results were vague and inapplicable to particular businesses. The company exercises attempted to mix generalists with experts, with the result that the experts felt they had learned nothing from the effort.
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  Results depend critically on the quality and knowledge of the exercise facilitators and the success and scheduling of their exercise plans.
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  Duin recommends using only identifiable trends as discussion points. Propositions may be inapt or unclear or may generate more discussion over their truth than over their impact if true. Even trends must be carefully chosen. Businesses operating as suppliers early in the production chain may not be interested in consumer trends. Company experts may have little interest or expertise to offer on developments outside their economic sector. However, this broad cross-section of participants is brought in on the assumption that most innovation crosses economic sector boundaries.
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  Little innovation could be traced to these exercises, although awareness was generated and broadly appreciated. The exercises did not help companies figure out how to take advantage of the information and implement pertinent innovations. However, because SME innovation is generally informal, it is hard to document the source of any innovation that may take place.
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DaimlerChrysler:

 

 

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  The Society and Technology Research Group of DaimlerChrysler uses many different futures research methods, but relies on trend-analysis as the core of its futures research effort. The Research Group has been in operation for about a quarter of a century - much longer than the other research organizations studied in this book. It is the only one of the six that services only internal clients - within DaimlerChrysler - and it is considerably larger than the others.
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  DaimlerChrysler faces many challenges requiring distinctive evaluation and planning efforts. It operates in many countries, has expansion opportunities in others, produces distinctive models for particular customer groups, is developing new technologies for alternative fuels, reduced emissions, and greater safety, and constantly strives to increase quality and productivity. The predominant time horizon for innovation is 3-to-5 years.
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  Duin provides interesting details of the complex innovation processes and projects at DaimlerChrysler. Each project has to pass through periodic "quality gates," and the process itself is frequently reviewed both in terms of the project and the input of its "clients" within the company. The innovation process varies depending on the nature of the client - whether premium brand cars, "early follower" cars, or commercial vehicles or other business branches.
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  The futures Research Group is divided into four sub-divisions. These cover socio-scientific systems, socio-scientific environment and trend research, research applications for mobility trends in general, and vehicles and transportation systems in particular.
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  The researchers combine knowledge about the automobile industry and traffic forecasts with skills in organizing and facilitating various methods of futures research. Their backgrounds are in engineering, psychology, economics, communications, marketing, and history. There is a great deal of employment stability and job satisfaction which has resulted in a considerable accumulation of pertinent know-how.
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  A typical project may involve ascertaining the multi-media aspects of a new car cockpit prototype. Another is the functional aspects for truck cabs for the 2008-2010 time period taking into account the needs of the owners and drivers, the man-machine interface, communications technology, and market and corporate environment trends. Scenarios were used to ascertain servicing and design needs.
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  The societal and business-related environment is actually stressed ahead of technology developments, since the automobile company is after all in the business of satisfying customers. Customer satisfaction with the product is more important than the speed with which new technology is applied.
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The choice of futures research method to be used is considered by some as the most important factor in the quality of the futures research, but others do not think so. Often, the method used is determined by the time, money and personnel made available for the project.

  Because of the substantial resources available, the Research Group can keep an eye on a wide variety of external developments using many different futures research methods. Value creation in the value chain of other businesses and societal developments are monitored. Input is sometimes obtained from outside consultants and, of course, from the various departments and employees of the company. Because the Research Group works only for the company, its research results can be kept confidential and out of the hands of competitors.

  "[The Research Group] has a broad portfolio of methods of futures research - - - in which trend-analysis is the basis. For example, they use the scenario-method to identify potential future developments, early warning systems to recognize future markets before competitors do, and target group analysis and projection to describe action and decision patterns and lifestyles of customers. In addition to these methods, [there is] a confidential method for the evaluation of innovation by looking at customer needs in which method and content are linked."

  The Research Group continuously analyzes market and business sectors, and the international business environment, and assesses future products and innovations. It provides annual reports and quarterly newsletters. The time horizons for futures research projects are usually long - as much as 13 years - but they also perform medium and short-term research.
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  The Research Group's activities "can be characterized as outside-in, interactive, with interests in many different areas and designed to be applied in the various regions of the world where [DaimlerChrysler] is active." There is close - frequently weekly - contact with other departments. The choice of futures research method to be used is considered by some as the most important factor in the quality of the futures research, but others do not think so. Often, the method used is determined by the time, money and personnel made available for the project.

  "[There] has been a shift away from individual and detailed scenarios for business units, towards the construction of a set of corporate scenarios that can be customized for different business units. The business units no longer have the time and money to finance and instruct full-blown scenario studies."

  Duin provides three research projects as examples.

  • The future of China's automobile market: Macro-scenarios were devised using politics, traffic and transportation, society, industry, growth levels and other factors. Then, more specific "mobility" scenarios were used. The scenarios revealed several "hidden risks" in the Chinese market.

  • Innovative ideas for vans: This began with an evaluation of van usage, expert interviews on future developments and customer requirements with respect to such factors as safety and functionality, a ranking of the identified future requirements, creative workshops with engineering, marketing and sales personnel to identify and solve problems. Innovative ideas were then evaluated and prioritized against customer requirements, and feasibility analysis provided lists of ideas that could be implemented quickly - those that would take longer - and the needs of the research and development projects.

  • Evaluation of new information technology applications and their acceptance: It was discovered that personal obstacles often were more of a problem than technological problems. Scenarios were used to evaluate workspace options and their impacts on employee productivity. Conclusions also included preference for refinement of information technology strategy, and evolutionary change to prevent becoming locked in long term to any one approach.

  Because innovation takes place continuously throughout the corporation, it is frequently difficult to determine the contribution of futures research. However, several recent successes were identified including the development of the "Smart" for upscale European urban customers, emphasis on fuel cell development, emphasis on comfort for aging customers, and the importance of political and personal contacts for the Russian market.
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TNO Industry:

  Roadmapping is used for futures research by TNO Industry, a major Dutch non-profit futures research organization.
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First generation owners may be entrepreneurial and innovative, but second generation owner/managers have shorter time horizons and pay less attention to innovation.

  The main clients are SMEs. Individual roadmaps are devised for the business sectors pertinent to the customer and are customized to show the tasks needed for the customer to initiate the innovation process. Roadmapping may be preceded by a trend analysis. TNO uses roadmapping for its own planning, too, but with mixed success.
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  Innovation processes at Dutch small companies are informal, usually "opportunity driven." First generation owners may be entrepreneurial and innovative, but second generation owner/managers have shorter time horizons and pay less attention to innovation. Most innovation is concerned with new products rather than with improvements in function.
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"The scenario method was considered too far-fetched for SMEs."

  Roadmapping carries futures research into its implementation stage, thus assisting in getting the innovation process started. It is only useful for clients that expect to dedicate some resources to both the futures research and implementation of its output.

  "[Roadmapping is] a manageable method capable of offering unambiguous outcomes, realizing focus in a diverse area, and visualizing the connection between product, market, technology, and knowledge. - - - More specifically, the scenario method was considered too far-fetched for SMEs."

  For smaller enterprises, the researchers found it better to interview client employees separately to avoid "group-think." The concentration of the exercise varies depending on whether clients are technology, market or product oriented, because each needs help thinking in terms of the other phases. "Finally, all the relevant issues of the company and roadmap should be incorporated, so that all the relevant people are involved, which increases support for the roadmap."
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  TNO industries has a detailed handbook on roadmapping, but the practices actually used differ according to the differing applications and researchers. The researchers begin a project by learning about the client and its problems, the objectives of the client, the focus of the roadmap - whether on the whole client, its value chain, or a product or market. The time horizon and budget must be established.
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  Interviews, document analysis, surveys, observations, etc., are used to gather information pertinent to its focus, and the scope of the roadmap is determined. This information is inserted as appropriate into the roadmap. Analysis then reveals the links - how the various elements impact each other.
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  A time frame for each element is then established. Hopefully, the roadmap serves to focus minds and assist decision making.

  "[TNO Industries believes that roadmapping] can be used as a tool to make decisions and the roadmap can make reaching a consensus easier. - - - The value of the roadmap increases when the 'playing field' of the roadmap is broad and very diverse. - - - Also, given the dynamics of science, technology and business, the roadmap should be adjusted at least every year. Sometimes the roadmap is already outdated when it is finished. An important condition for a good roadmap is that the participating group is not too large - i.e. four to six persons - and that unless 'key personnel' [are] involved, the quality of the input is low and no decisions can be made because the people responsible - - - are absent from the process."

Companies may shy away from any radical innovation that may put their current product line in jeopardy.

 

Because of the variability and complexity of roadmapping, its quality is highly dependent on the capabilities of the researcher. They should not only be knowledgeable about roadmapping, but should also be knowledgeable about the field of application.

  The time and expense involved often undermines the enthusiasm of SMEs for roadmapping projects. Effective roadmapping often involves several other futures research methods such as expert interviews, trend analysis, workshops, brainstorming. Also, companies may shy away from any radical innovation that may put their current product line in jeopardy.
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  Duin provides an example focusing on medical industry telemedicine. The complexity of the effort is substantial, its utility limited by its focus on an "industry" rather than on particular companies, and the industry value train is fragmented. Recommendations thus involved enlisting the government to administer promotion, information sharing, value chain coordination, and evaluation research.
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  More specific is the example of Vitaphone, producer of the Cardiophone that links heart patients to a service center and provides the patient's location. The exercise clarified important matters for Vitaphone, and identified hospital physicians as their most important means of contacting patients. The extensive time and effort involved in the roadmap project was mitigated by the client's ability to continue to use it after the project was finished.
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  Because of the variability and complexity of roadmapping, its quality is highly dependent on the capabilities of the researcher. They should not only be knowledgeable about roadmapping, but should also be knowledgeable about the field of application.
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  Duin was not able to identify any actual innovation stimulated by TNO Industries roadmapping exercises.
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PinkRoccade:

 

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  Corporate scenarios are used for business development by the Dutch IT company PinkRoccade. Separate "business scenarios" are used within the company's various business areas. They are used to search for new business opportunities and concepts and to determine the company approach to existing markets, and to examine aspects of company strategy.
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  The "Foresight Project" is the responsibility of a small Corporate Development department. With input from around the company, it develops scenarios to encourage long-term and outside-in thinking and to discover potential synergy between the various business areas.
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  Yet, PinkRoccade has no patents or otherwise protected intellectual property. Its innovations seem to be confined to incremental improvements in its services and to business development.
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  Considerable time and effort was employed in the initial creation of the scenarios. The effort was company-wide, with workshops enlisting input from managers and others with expertise in the various business sectors.
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  Four overall scenarios were created reflecting either stable or dynamic business environments, and major societal forces or small societal forces. These scenarios are customized to apply to the various business sectors - infrastructure services, ICT management, local government, finance and health care, industry, public sector.
 &
  However, they also explore new services and new organizational configurations. Input is constantly taken into account from the company's ongoing analyses of competition and demographic, economic, societal, technological and political developments.
 &

  An example involving the health care market is set forth by Duin. The four scenarios present markets dominated by a heavily regulated corporate structure, a competitive private structure, a patient-oriented market, and one dominated by regional government health care. Each scenario presents PinkRoccade with differing opportunities as consultants, in-sourcing or out-sourcing IT systems, marketing for private providers or integrating for regulated providers, managing systems, development of standard products, etc.
 &
  Duin notes that the scenario futures research project failed to test the various possibilities to evaluate their risks or feasibility.

  "The scenarios of the Foresight-project are mainly used to generate ideas - - - which is the early phase of an innovation process. Despite the connection with many other management methods - - -, no specific link is made to innovation-process methods. Some interviewees said that different innovation methods were present - and used - in the different business areas, but that they were not explicitly linked to the scenarios. - - - Also, no specific - or formal - method has been developed to integrate the scenarios and innovation processes. Integration takes place [only] during [innovation] development."

  If there are innovative results, they appear to come out of the subsequent workshops and depend on the individuals at the workshops. Some participants thought the time horizon of the scenarios was too long. Short term scenarios might be more productive for an IT company in an intensely competitive market because of the more concrete nature of short term scenarios and the need to respond to immediate competitive pressures. Scenario time horizons were 5-to-10 years, but time horizons for product development at PinkRoccade don't exceed one year, with 2-to-3 years for business plans.

  "Combining scenarios with a short term forecast and a roadmap - based upon regular applications of the early warning system - may provide the scenarios with a greater sense of urgency. In addition, other methods of futures research can also bring in more quantitative information and data to narrow the gap between the [corporate] scenarios and the specific business cases."

  The lack of a business case is another weakness in the scenarios, Duin points out. Company personnel involved in account management and business development are concerned with meeting commercial targets and need a business case based on expectations about the size and possible growth of the pertinent IT markets.
 &
  The scenarios are an internal project. Ideas are generated within the company for use as pertinent in subsequent discussions with customers. The ideas and perspectives of customers thus do not find their way into the scenarios.
 &
  The autonomous nature of the separate business sectors has some drawbacks. There is no centralized influence on the use of scenario results or the gathering of information to update the scenarios.

  "The information that is needed is often dispersed and is not collected on a systematic basis, because, rather than using a permanent project team, the company has to rely on a number of non-dedicated people at various points in the organization."

  Continuous operation of the scenario process would not be welcomed at lower levels, but having a separate department to maintain them would clash with the company's culture of autonomous policy development in each department. Yet, it is important that the scenario project result in a continuous effort.
 &
  Duin suggests having a single person dedicated to facilitating and encouraging the scenario projects and the implementation of innovation ideas in each department. However, he acknowledges the risk that this individual might move on to another job or leave the company.
 &
  The author concludes by emphasizing the need to link scenario projects directly to innovation processes and to involve clients in the development of the business cases.
 &

Philips Medical Systems:

 

&

  Roadmapping is used by the business unit Cardio Vascular of Philips Medical Systems of Royal Philips Electronics for individual topics such as science, technology and markets. These are combined into product roadmaps. Cardio Vascular is an autonomous profit center with its own R&D and sales departments.
 &
  Innovation is essential in this business and considerable resources are dedicated to innovation processes, for which the roadmaps are initial phases. Nevertheless, it is small companies that often are the product innovators, so Philips and its two major competitors, GE and Siemens, often acquire small companies to obtain new technology.
 &
  The three major competitors keep a close eye on each other. Philips Medical Systems must be viewed by its customers as an innovator in its own right as well as able to quickly match the innovations of its competitors.
 &

Roadmaps link products, clinical issues, market needs and product components so that an entire system can be offered.

  Roadmaps are particularly helpful since hospitals now seek to acquire integrated systems rather than individual products. Roadmaps link products, clinical issues, market needs and product components so that an entire system can be offered.

  "Although these systems and platforms need more innovation time, the time-horizon of innovation is becoming shorter because more focus is put on the [current] market situation and the actions of competitors."

  The market for these products and systems is primarily hospital departments in areas such as radiology, cardiology, oncology, surgery, critical care, women's health, hospital information management, and certain types of out-care.
 &
  The Product Creation Process starts with futures research
such as trend-maps and roadmaps. Actual product development is very structured because of the regulatory oversight procedures of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the similar Dutch agency.
 &

  Roadmapping is a process of several stages.

  "[The Product Creation Process] starts with trend-maps on topics such as clinical technology and markets that are condensed into different roadmaps - - -. Based on those roadmaps, project plans for innovations are made that together form a program. Then, the execution of the project takes place, which occasionally means that additional research is necessary to make more specific what will be developed - i.e., Pre-Study Process. After the innovation is implemented maintenance is needed. - - - There is constant feedback between [the various Product Creation Process] stages to make sure that sufficient information is present to carry out an activity [within it].

Since financial resources are limited, the roadmapping also becomes a budgeting exercise.

 

"The roadmap itself is a 'living document' that is regularly updated with new information and insights."

 

Each employee in the roadmapping exercise has expertise in some aspect of Cardio Vascular's business and future developments. They are not futurists or experts in roadmapping.

  Various trend-maps provide inputs on such factors as clinical, market, technology and company developments, and the key factors identified as vital for success. These provide a customer "wish list."
 &
  The roadmaps address these needs and describe what is possible and what Cardio Vascular can create. Since financial resources are limited, the roadmapping also becomes a budgeting exercise. Product roadmaps estimate a product's financial yield and feasibility and provide input for the product development project proposal. Separate roadmaps are developed for the product and its subsystems.

  "Roadmapping - - - is an ongoing and iterative process involving much discussion and fine-tuning - - -. The roadmap itself is a 'living document' that is regularly updated with new information and insights - - -. So, in principle the roadmap changes along the road, although these changes become less significant as time goes on. However, in practice, roadmap activities are often halted to give more space to the development activities [projects]."

  Each employee in the roadmapping exercise has expertise in some aspect of Cardio Vascular's business and future developments. They are not futurists or experts in roadmapping. They learn roadmapping skills on-the-job. "They have more faith in improving the content of the roadmap itself" than in improving their roadmapping process.
 &
  Indeed, there is no fixed roadmapping method. In general, however, they proceed with analysis of relevant trends in their market, in pertinent technology, and in clinical practice, and they identify technological options, set priorities and decide on the features and technology that is financially feasible. This information is inserted into a roadmap, which is evaluated with respect to available resources and overall company strategy.
 &
  The various related roadmaps are consolidated, and uncertain aspects of the project undergo preliminary studies. Then, the overall project is set forth in detail. Before development is initiated, any remaining uncertainties are resolved by repeating the previous steps.
 &

Complex roadmaps and medical systems tend to put emphasis on radical system-wide innovations. They are less useful for incremental innovations. Trend analysis is more suitable to incremental innovations.

  Duin provides an outline of the roadmapping and development program for a complex integrated diagnostic system. Product roadmaps are both a vision of the future and a development plan. If there are technological uncertainties, then the process becomes increasingly flexible.
 &
  Time pressure is intense because of the competitive environment. While this places emphasis on the dedication of  sufficient personnel and financial resources, it cuts into the time available.

  "Often they need to speed up their work and spend less time thinking about and figuring out new ideas for innovation. Also, the additional money is used to quickly incorporate 'new' features that competitors - - - have in their system and platforms instead of spending the money on long term development. An advantage of the increasing pressure on innovators and roadmappers is that it prevents them from 'over-engineering.' Sometimes innovators and roadmappers look more at what might be possible from a technical perspective than at what the market - - - requires - - -."

  This rush to decisions sometimes costs additional time and money to work things out in the development project. Development of new products sometimes takes as little as nine months - new systems take as much as six years.
 &
  Product and system development projects are staffed with a manager and appropriate expertise from technology, marketing, and clinical application departments. These take part in the roadmapping process as well as the development process. Physician customers are often consulted with respect to possible applications, their current needs and problems.
 &
  A formal network is maintained with physicians who work at innovative hospitals - including the top 50 hospitals in the U.S. An advisory board of top innovative physicians is available and is brought to an annual meeting. When products and systems are introduced, field monitoring teams visit customers to see how they are used.
 &
  Complex roadmaps and medical systems tend to put emphasis on radical system-wide innovations. They are less useful for incremental innovations. Trend analysis is more suitable to incremental innovations.
 &
  Duin finds the innovation process at Cardio Vascular well developed,
but suggests that more expertise in the process of building roadmaps might be worthwhile.
 &

Duin's conclusions:

 

 

&

  Duin recognizes the limitations as well as the strengths of a study based on six extensive case studies. Quantitative data research cannot be based on such a limited sample, so the study is based on qualitative analysis, from which he draws his analytical generalizations. In any case, quantitative data would be difficult to gather and would be suspect because of the wide variety of research practices and unique characteristics of individual applications.
 &

Roadmapping naturally facilitates a fully integrated effort, but must be supported by inputs gained through other methods.

  The futures research methods studied - scenarios, roadmapping and trend analysis - are not discreet. Trend analysis is an important aspect of all of them, and other tools - such as expert interviewing, brain storming, and group discussions - are used as well.
 &
  Futures research within a company for internal use was unsurprisingly found much more sharply focused and integrated into innovation processes than the futures research of advisory or consulting entities. Futures research by advisory and consulting entities was generally broader and more exploratory in nature. Roadmapping naturally facilitates a fully integrated effort, but must be supported by inputs gained through other methods.
 &
  Futures research efforts wax and wane with the prosperity of the relevant markets and vary with the resources available. Unfortunately, when business is slow, resources are unavailable, and when business is good, companies have little time available to engage in innovation processes unless they have dedicated resources for that purpose - something lacking in small and medium sized companies.
 &
  In larger enterprises with dedicated futures research and innovation procedures, it is often impossible to distinguish which innovations were the result of the futures research and which would have occurred without it. Often, there is a sufficient disconnect so that the results of a futures research project play no formal role in subsequent decision-making and innovation. The impact at best is "implicit." Some organizations, however, do integrate the two.
 &

Futures research is a profession, and the results will only be as good as the professional skills of the researcher. Innovation depends on the content knowledge of the innovator.

  However, futures research also serves purposes preliminary to innovation. It can "create awareness," and even "inspire" innovators to generate ideas.
 &
  Scenarios and roadmapping can induce both incremental and radical innovation. The latter occurs when the objective is broadened to increase the degree of uncertainty - thus requiring more radical innovation efforts. Shifting from single innovations to innovative systems was a successful method of introducing requirements for radical innovations into the innovation process.
 &
  Results depend crucially on the skill and efforts of the personnel involved. Futures research techniques and innovative processes can only facilitate innovative efforts. Futures research is a profession, and the results will only be as good as the professional skills of the researcher. Innovation depends on the content knowledge of the innovator (and on his creativity). Either a lack of futures research skills or a lack of content knowledge can undermine the process.
 &

The major weakness is failure to firmly connect the futures research and innovation processes.

  The process should begin with the collection of all relevant information using expert interviews, desk research, brainstorming workshops, and library and internet research, the author emphasizes. Futures research based on that information should be used to generate images of the future. Those images should be added into the information base for further futures research in an iterative process. An evaluation of the results should again be added into the information base for further futures research and innovation.
 &
  The major weakness is failure to firmly connect the futures research and innovation processes. Duin summarizes as follows:

  "[The] information serves as input to the process of futures research; the image(s) of the future, which can be considered the output of the process of futures research, the application in the innovation process, which is the use of futures research in innovation processes; and, the impact on innovation, which is the innovation and the result of an innovation process, [are the "units of analysis" of futures research]."

  Feedback loops make this a iterative process.
 &

  This interconnectedness and iteration is necessarily lacking in the futures research of stand-alone futures research entities such as those established and subsidized by the Dutch government. Each client is different, there is no useful content feedback in the process and no formal connection with actual innovation. However, the futures research process can be strengthened by the information inputs of diverse clients.
 &
  Even where futures research is customized and integrated for individual clients such as in TNO Industries roadmaps, the effort was primarily to raise awareness and inspire. There was no feedback from clients, so the results were unknown and the process discontinuous.
 &
  Interconnectedness and iteration are more feasible for dedicated futures research departments of large businesses like DaimlerChrysler and Philips Medical Systems, but financial and personnel resources may be limited by overall economic conditions, and the results of futures research will vary with variations in the skill and experience of the researchers and innovators. Also, futures research projects that are limited to individual innovation projects already under consideration changes them from continuous processes to sporadic and undermines their use to generate new innovative ideas.
 &
  While the four large companies examined by Duin were all "technology" companies, he argues that today all large businesses are involved in technological developments. He concedes that his corporate case studies failed to include overall corporate strategy as context, and that it would be profitable to conduct case studies of several competitors in a single industry.
 &

  Recommendations for strengthening futures research and its interconnections with innovation are provided by Duin. All involve further elaborations of the process that must inevitably increase the time and expense involved. Futures research audits, broader more "holistic" research projects, customization for particular innovative projects, and strategic visioning are all good ideas - if the resources are available and the payoff is sufficient. However, understanding corporate strategy and connecting futures research to that strategy should be basic elements in all innovation oriented futures research.
 &
  Duin notes other innovation methodologies such as competitor analysis, market research, benchmarking, and core competence analysis. He recommends ways to include such processes as inputs in futures research. He concedes that his research does not cover "techno-starters" - new businesses begun by innovative people.

  This omission is important. It is far more productive as a matter of national policy to establish an economic and regulatory environment that provides incentives for innovative people to establish businesses and facilitates their efforts than to attempt to get ordinary business people to be innovative. The most that as a general rule can be expected of the latter is that they follow the innovative advances of others.

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  Copyright 2006 Dan Blatt