Show of hands! Does your car still have at least one fold-out state map or road atlas? This afternoon I’ll admit that my car has seven fold-out maps in the front passenger-side interior door pocket “cubby.” There are five maps from Illinois, one for Indiana (where I live) and one for Michigan. Obviously, you can tell that (1) I’m old, and that (2) I fear getting lost in Illinois.

That said, I do believe it’s important to know where you’re going. Of course, that applies to those driving cars as well as anyone driving a company’s R&D department.

Right hand raised, I also admit this December issue is one of my annual favorites. It can be tedious to shepherd as many as 24 small features through writing, editing and production. Yet we bring you some of the industry’s best-known experts and their insights for the year ahead. We hope these pieces help you map out some strategic direction(s) in 2021. 

In a related note, let me reference that map you find in gigantic shopping malls. It’s the one with the red dot to indicate: “You Are Here.” During this reflective season, I’ll put this corporate question to you: “Do you know where you are—as a R&D department?” If you want or need to start that conversation within your company, I’d suggest a leadership piece from McKinsey & Company. It’s titled, “Building an R&D Strategy for Modern Times” and you can find it here:

The article authors assert: 

“Amid a growing gap in performance between those that innovate successfully and those that do not, companies wishing to get ahead and stay ahead of competitors need a robust R&D strategy that makes the most of their innovation investments. Building such a strategy takes three steps: understanding the challenges that often work as barriers to R&D success, choosing the right ingredients for your strategy, and then pressure testing it before enacting it.”

So what next needs to happen? 

“Given R&D’s role as the innovation driver that advances the corporate agenda, its guiding strategy needs to link board-level priorities with the technologies that are the organization’s focus,” says McKinsey. “The R&D strategy must provide clarity and commitment to three central elements: what we want to deliver, what we need to deliver it, and how we will deliver it.”

If you’re looking for real-life illustrations and encouragement, I’ll also refer you to Prepared Foods’ 2020 New Products Conference, which lives online in an on-demand video format. This year’s agenda featured as many as four R&D senior executives—including Kraft-Heinz, Del Monte, Ocean Spray and Planterra Foods—who connected corporate strategy and R&D innovation efforts. You can find them here at:

Where will your company go in 2021? Although it’s too soon to predict that, I extend best wishes to you on the journey. And if you need a fold-out state map—just let me know!