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Social Innovation: The Research Lab

Management is increasingly becoming the agent of social innovation.

The research lab dates back to 1905. It was conceived and built for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York, by one of the earliest “research managers,” the German-American physicist Charles Proteus Steinmetz. Steinmetz had two clear objectives from the start: to organize science and scientific work for purposeful technological invention and to build continuous self-renewal through innovation into that new social phenomenon—the big corporation.

Steinmetz’s lab radically redefined the relationship between science and technology in research. In setting the goals of his project, Steinmetz identified the new theoretical science needed to accomplish the desired to obtain the needed new knowledge. Steinmetz himself was originally a theoretical physicist. But every one of his “contributions” was the result of research he had planned and specified as part of a project to design and to develop a new product line, for example, fractional horsepower motors. Technology, traditional wisdom held and still widely holds, is “applied science.” In Steinmetz’s lab, science—including the purest of “pure research”—is technology-driven, that is, a means to a technological end.

ACTION POINT: Follow the example of Steinmetz and do market-driven research and development.

The Ecological Vision

* Source: The Daily Drucker by Peter F. Drucker

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