Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 1.3 (2003) 243-254
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The Metronome of Technology Transfer
Gary Klein and W. Benjamin Martz
In the two previous issues of Comparative Technology Transfer and Society, individual editors-in-chief laid out their sense of possible topics and approaches that they hope the journal will develop and pursue over time. This is the third attempt to suggest some of the parameters of our publishing endeavor. Whereas the other essays approached technology transfer from the perspective of history of technology and public administration, this final introductory essay offers a business school and information systems outlook.
Our approach to this conversation is rather different, for we wish to suggest that the technology transfer process can be illustrated both visually and conceptually by developing an analogy to the metronome, itself a mechanical innovation that standardized musical performance and embodies a transfer of technology between music and mathematics. The metronome dates back to 1696, when Etieune Loulie applied the principles of pendulums discovered by Galileo Galilei 115 years earlier (Franz Manufacturing, 2003). The basic principle of the metronome is that the amplitude of a pendulum can be adjusted to make the "swing" of the pendulum match a particular music beat (i.e., 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 time). [End Page 243]
As Klingner (2003, p. 123) pointed out, "Technology transfer, then, is the development of new technologies (hardware and software innovations) and their diffusion (replication or adaptation to a new environment)." Two characteristics of a metronome that are of descriptive value in this framework are as follows: (1) the continuous oscillation, and (2) the longer the amplitude the slower the beat. Applying the metronome analogy to Klingner's description, the development process is the oscillation while the diffusion into the user base becomes the amplitude.
As an organization matures, it is essential that knowledge and best practices be transferred to the next generation to capitalize on the value of the technologies and ideas generated. A failure to transfer these operating technologies and corresponding knowledge results in the significant loss of large investments in developing this resource. Simply having the technology to improve competitive posture does not guarantee success. To acquire the competitive posture, there must be an ability to transfer the technology either from the design bench into practice; or even more commonly, from research and development to the day-to-day operations of an organization.
Successful transfers of technologies throughout an organization lead to substantial gains in capacity, operational excellence, customer service, and product-to-market excellence (O'Dell & Grayson, 1998). However, gaining success involves more than the presence of technology. It is the ability to apply it in a productive fashion. Cavemen froze to death in a world with natural fire, but did not gain any life-saving advantage until they learned to control that technology. The ability to control and apply technologies to multiple locations and situations is the key to sustainable success. And this has proven to be a recurring problem in technology transfer.
Paradoxically, this transfer process is also the stumbling block for many organizations. Much advice exists on the process of successfully transferring technologies, often in the genre of best practices (Peters & Waterman, 1982). Quite often, step-by-step approaches are proposed based on case histories; often missing is an analysis of why the steps worked or whether they were general principles or situational adages. True understanding is clouded because the outcome of transfer activities is heavily influenced by the interaction of existing infrastructures, corporate cultures, evolving technologies, and metrics aimed at comparing performance to goals.
The metronome (Figure 1) is a visual metaphor whose function mimics the anomalies of the technology transfer process as it oscillates between a technical core side and an ongoing support side. The technical core concept builds on the discussions originated by Thompson (1967), where he [End Page 244] suggested that an organization has a basic core technology that it must protect. He posited that businesses organize in such a way as to protect that core. For example, a manufacturing-intensive company...