Special Seminar: Serial Innovators — How Individuals Create and Deliver Breakthrough Innovations in Mature Firms

Bruce A. Vojak, Associate Dean for Administration & Adjunct Professor, College of Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Friday, March 13, 2015, 3:30–4:30pm

Room 200, Cummings Hall


For over 25 years, research on innovation has taken the perspective that new product development can be managed like any other (complex) process of the firm. While a highly structured and closely supervised approach is helpful in creating incremental innovations, my research (conducted in collaboration with Abbie Griffin and Ray Price) finds that it is not conducive to creating breakthrough innovations. In fact, the drive to routinize innovation has gone too far; so far as to limit many mature firms' ability to create breakthrough innovations. In today's economy, with the future of so many large firms on the line, we bring a clarion call to businesses to rethink how to nurture and thrive on their innovative workforce.

In sharp contrast to the perspective that innovation can be managed like any other process, my colleagues and I instead re-frame the problem by exploring a "people" perspective of innovation. This research zeros in on the cutting-edge thinkers who repeatedly create and deliver breakthrough innovations in large, mature organizations. These employees are organizational powerhouses who solve consumer problems and substantially contribute to the financial value to their firms. We refer to them as "Serial Innovators."

In this presentation I will detail who these Serial Innovators are, how they develop novel products — ranging from earth-moving equipment to improved electronics to personal care products — and how they navigate mature firms — in companies such as Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Procter & Gamble. Based on interviews with over 50 Serial Innovators and an even larger pool of their co-workers, technical managers and human resource managers, I will review key insights about how to better understand, emulate, enable, support, and manage these unique and important individuals for long-term firm success.

About the Speaker

Bruce Vojak is Associate Dean for Administration and an Adjunct Professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to joining the university in 1999 he was Director of Advanced Technology for Motorola’s non-semiconductor components business; earlier he held research and business development positions of increasing responsibility at Amoco Corporation and a research position at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, he teaches and conducts research on the topics of innovation and strategic technology management. With Abbie Griffin and Ray Price he is co-author of Serial Innovators: How Individuals Create and Deliver Breakthrough Innovations in Mature Firms (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2012). Further, he currently serves on the Board of Directors of Midtronics, Inc., the Advisory Board of JVA Partners, and periodically consults for Procter & Gamble. Bruce holds B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MBA, with concentrations in finance and marketing, from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

For more information, contact Haley Tucker at haley.tucker@dartmouth.edu.