Corning Glass is a large, multinational organization involved in glass and related products with an increasing emphasis on high-value, technologically-specialized products, many of which are now part of joint-venture programmes and developments.
Innovation ‘Claim to Fame’
This firm is another of the ‘100 club’, having been founded back in the mid-nineteenth century. It was a pioneer in process innovation enabling high-volume manufacture of glass, but in the twentieth century moved into developments of specialized glasses which led through to a variety of product/process innovation links. It has successfully managed to avoid the commoditization of its core products by repeatedly climbing up the technological ladder to enter new and more difficult fields in which it can preserve competitive advantage. Its consistent investment in R&D has meant it has a ‘technology till’ into which it has been able to dip each time the company has faced crisis. At first perhaps by accident but in more recent times as a function of strategic design, they have built a capability for reinventing themselves – moving from a glassmaker to a fibreglass pioneer to a key player in photonics, fibre optics and moving into Internet services.
How Do They Manage Innovation?
Corning’s history is one of continuous innovation, much of it around process, but one which is also punctuated by breakthrough shifts into new and key areas. They have increasingly come to use external partners bringing new and often very different knowledge sets and have learnt to let go of their earlier reliance on doing it all in-house. Similarly they began life as a technology push company but some big mistakes, such as their expensive failure in trying to create a technology-driven market for automotive safety glass, led them to rethink and shift to a much more market-linked organization. A key stage came in the 1980s when they recognized that growth and increasing diversification of innovation options required that they systematize their approach to its management – prior to that it had been a classic culture of individual champions driving a technology system. They identified their ability to ‘dance’ as being key to their innovation success – that is, getting different and complementary knowledge sets to come together around a new product concept and turn it into reality at high speed once the core principle had been articulated.
Innovation Strategy and Leadership
The company has always held innovation as a core strategic value, and they link this strongly to generating and managing intellectual property – their knowledge bank. ‘What really matters for innovation … is continuous generation, management and deployment of intellectual property as a strategic asset’. This has been a boardroom issue on a number of occasions when the company has faced crisis – for example, when the market for television tubes declined and they were forced to make significant cutbacks ©2005 Joe Tidd, John Bessant, Keith Pavitt
and changes – but it has helped them move forward each time into new technological and market fields . Their strategy until recently can be described as strongly technologyled but there has been a marked shift in the late-twentieth century, first to a marketoriented approach and most recently to a network-based model which sees key alliances as the way forward. A number of key strategic enablers are worth flagging: • Consistent support for 150 years for the core values of innovation through knowledge generation and application
• Willingness to let go – to reinvent themselves by moving on from their proud heritage and into new fields
• Consistent commitment to R&D funding – typically it has run between 8 and 10% ever since the founding of the company when it was one of the first to set up an R&D lab .
• The use of ‘deep dive’ sessions – essentially strategic review...