Monday, November 07, 2005

Dissertation Inspiration

How inspired am I to create a doctoral dissertation? On the one hand, it seems important to pursue a topic that I am really interested in and that can be used in my professional life. On the other hand, professors encourage us to pick a topic that we can complete, hinting that any finished topic is a good topic.

The latter is certainly true if the DM is just a credential to help you do something else. However, the former is important if the DM program is a structured learning process upon which to build a new step in a career. In this case the dissertation is the opportunity to establish expertise and credibility that can form the basis of a business. That is what many consultants emerging from Harvard and MIT have done. They pick a dissertation topic that can become a book, a new management fad, and a constant source of speaking and consulting engagements.

I am inspired to do something in the area of innovation and R&D management. I began wanting to understand the CTO position, which I held at a previous company. After much study, I understood the way the position was being used and how it contributed to the company. But, I also discovered that it was not a very significant position. The CTO has great thoughts and strategies. But for the most part he is a salesman. His job is to sell the company an investing in technology and to sell the customer base on the fact that the company is the best in this field. There is nothing wrong with that. It is an important part of the company. But, what he really contributes to strategy, market share, market valuation, and corporate direction seems to be minimal.

Take the example of Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Motorola. She really came up with the company’s vision statement “seamless mobility.” But those words had to be placed in the mouth of Ed Zander because he is the one getting the exposure in the media. He is the face of the company. In the first story on this new strategy, the magazine reported that Warrior had worked with Zander to create the mission during an airplane flight together. However, in subsequent reporting the idea was placed firmly in the mind and mouth of Zander and Warrior was forgotten.

The CTO position is still interesting. It requires interviews and analysis – qualitative analysis to do a current dissertation. This may reveal connections to financial positions or stock price that can be investigated later. But, currently we just do not know enough about the position to do a quantitative study that is meaningful.


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