Our research is motivated by this basic question: How do firms exploit new fields of science and engineering which converge from existing disciplinary fields? Biotechnology and nanotechnology for example, combine multiple scientific disciplines, creating converging technologies that integrate and exploit frontier knowledge. The rapid advancement of converging technologies has led to many new possibilities in tools and applications that promise to make radical improvement in various aspects of our lives. These possibilities impact R&D funding policies, investment decisions, and business strategies inasmuch as the opportunities and the consequence of redeploying the building blocks of matter for manmade and living systems are highly uncertain and, at times, contentious.
To capture the economic benefits generated from converging technologies, both established firms and new ventures are attracted to develop pioneering innovations and, in so doing, are often confronted with rapid changes in multiple fields. There is a pressing need for academic scholars and practitioners alike to address the challenges of innovation processes that rely on interdisciplinarity, specifically with respect to the integration and the transformation of knowledge from converging fields into marketable innovations. However, few studies have systematically addressed the issues centering on R&D management inside the firm.
In exploiting converging technologies, firms are particularly concerned with designing organizational process and managerial strategies that embrace interdisciplinary research. Typically, interdisciplinary research involves merging more established branches of knowledge and collaboration between laboratories from different disciplines, or mixed R&D teams with members from diverse disciplinary areas. However, the integration of frontier knowledge from converging fields entails significant learning in the respective fields, often requiring more than one approach to knowledge acquisition. In some instances, firms need to develop entirely new technologies to enable them to solve the scientific challenges they confront. When a high level of technical imbalance (i.e. inaccessibility of engineering tools or applications at the time of R&D activity) and knowledge asymmetry (i.e. lacking breadth or depth in certain disciplines) exist, knowledge integration becomes a formidable challenge.
In 2005, global nanotechnology R&D investment amounted to $US9.6 billion. By 2015, the economic value of nanotechnology is estimated to reach $US1 trillion. Given the rising expectation associated with the convergence phenomenon, R&D management in converging fields requires specific study. We seek to understand firm strategies for managing R&D into converging technologies. To do so, we will investigate the convergence phenomenon in the biotechnology and nanotechnology fields by conducting fieldwork and case studies on six sample firms and administering a survey to 221 firms. We will focus our fieldwork on the inventive activities of R&D teams in developing innovations based on converging technologies. Specifically we propose to develop a new theory of dynamic innovation and a typology of knowledge strategies for different types of innovations, and identify collaborative practices that lead to successful innovation development. These research outcomes will be of value to technology policymakers as well as to the leadership of technology firms.