Research & Development
ing (MRI). The firm bought promising technology from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (through its licensee, Steady State Imaging LLC) that
detects tendons, ligaments and other tissues normally obscured in conventional scans. The
SWIFT method (SWeep Imaging with Fourier Transform) sends a series of radio frequency
pulses that switch back and forth from transmit to receive, allowing bone, tendon and cartilage to appear in an MRI. Typical MRI scans send all frequencies at once, concealing some tissues. The SWIFT method has gained interest among MRI researchers for its potential to look
at areas near the lungs and other organs where conventional MRIs typically are ineffective.
Stryker and MicroPort Medical also enriched their knowledge bases in a flash through acquisition. Kalamazoo, Mich.-headquartered Stryker added neurovascular technology to its corporate
cognition more than three years ago, courtesy of Boston Scientific (and a hefty $1.5 billion check),
while cardiovascular device-focused MicroPort quickly absorbed hip and knee implant technology last summer from Wright.
“Medtech companies have been on a technology maturity curve for quite a while,” MacLeod said.“They’ve become adept at making solid incremental changes to their innovations,
but to keep growing, they often have to go to a new platform and that can involve a radical
shift to a completely new technology class. So they’re reaching out to R&D partners to help
them accomplish that.”
Matchmaking and Midnight Lunches
The professional life of a genius is neither simple nor glamorous. It’s a life best suited for introverts—deep thinkers with a partiality to intense study and a preference for monotony (extroverts
are too easily bored by the tedium of repeated tasks, psychoanalysts claim).
The innovation process, of course, is far from boring. The creativity, the experiments, the prototypes, the teamwork—all make for unique, stimulating days. To be truly successful, however,
the process must incorporate two concepts Edison fostered masterfully in his research laboratories: collaboration and camaraderie.
As with most introverts, Edison constantly strived to achieve a balance between seclusion
and socialization. He’d often leave his Menlo Park, N.J., laboratory around 5 p.m. to have a family
dinner, then return to his“office”around 7 p.m. to monitor the status of his experiments on nights
his workers stayed late. According to his great grandniece, Edison would speak personally with
the dozen or so employees, encouraging them to share insights with each other and learn from
the diverse expertise each person brought to their projects. Workers from all specialties mingled
together and engaged in casual, unstructured conversations that often yielded profoundly creative solutions to problems.
At 9 p.m., Edison would order food from a local tavern for his crew. For the next hour or so,
the workers would relax, tell stories, sing songs and even play music together before returning
to their various experiments. Employees affectionately referred to those late-night dinners as the
“midnight lunch,”and they came to cherish them as much for the camaraderie as for the food.
“They connected socially, and created a deeper understanding of each other as people and not
just workers,”Caldicott explained in a 2013 interview with Innovation Excellence, the online por-
tal of the global innovation community.“This process of midnight lunch transformed employees
into colleagues. It served as the foundation for collaboration in all of Edison’s labs.”
Collaboration is still an essential component of commercial R&D but it has become infinitely
more complicated since the days of Edison’s relationship-building communal meals. Profits and
productivity have taken precedence over workplace bromances; moreover, globalization and the
World Wide Web have made partnering as quick and as easy as the click of a mouse.
Not all partnerships are true collaborations, though. Those without trust—the ones that lack a
personal connection and sense of collegiality between its members—are nothing more than superficial pairings. In Edison’s lab, suggesting an idea was a low-risk situation; employees’random
notions routinely were transformed into experiments.
“[R&D] relationships need to be invested in, nurtured and fed,” Stratos’ MacLeod said. “It
doesn’t always mean a dollar investment—it often means a set mindshare and mutual respect.