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  • Writer's pictureIMNEWRUN

How to Work with Generation Z to Do Innovative Research



Generation Z, which has witnessed a period of economic prosperity, exhibits a remarkable proficiency in digital technology, self-direction, and creativity. They possess a keen interest in addressing societal issues, embrace diversity, and excel in collaborative endeavors. These qualities are invaluable for elevating a company's competitiveness. However, harnessing these traits requires a departure from conventional approaches. It is imperative to establish common ground, encompassing aspects such as values, the significance of work, and the challenges they aim to tackle, to fully unlock their potential. Through this process, they become deeply engaged in their roles.


Innovation often emerges unexpectedly. During research, outcomes frequently deviate from initial hypotheses. However, delving deep into seemingly overlooked areas and exploring alternative methods can lead to meaningful breakthroughs. Engaging in dialogues with research staff allows you to uncover the traces of their extensive contemplation on problem-solving and sense the passion and time they have dedicated. Therefore, creating an environment conducive to their immersion in research is of paramount importance. Nonetheless, as times change, the essence of innovation remains unaltered. The process of establishing a strategy, designing a system, and building a culture may evolve, the fundamental principle of innovation remains unaltered.


Establishing an Innovation Strategy

Within a company, a web of interdepartmental relationships and diverse individual perspectives exists. Consequently, it is vital to formulate an innovation strategy capable of unifying shared priorities. This strategy should be concise and crystal clear, radiating brightly from every angle like the North Star in the night sky. A well-crafted strategy effectively streamlines the prioritization of complex tasks, mitigates unproductive debates, and fosters unity among the team. When researchers propose experiments, leaders are advised to pose fundamental questions rather than immediately sharing their own thoughts. What is the purpose of the experiment? What decisions can be made based on the data to be obtained? Is the conceptual design aligned with the purpose? Through such inquiries, researchers undergo a process of reassessing the company's innovation strategy and refining their perspectives. This is where Gen Z significantly distinguishes itself from previous generations. Neglecting the process of nurturing their critical thinking abilities and sharing the purpose and values of their work can impede them from fully unleashing their traits (self-direction, diversity, passion, teamwork, and creativity). Without an innovation strategy, it is impossible to leverage the advantages of Gen Z or effectively integrate diverse perspectives around common priorities.


Designing an Innovation System

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing an innovation system. Each company must devise its optimal approach based on its unique circumstances. This necessitates a leader with a creative and humanities-oriented skill set. An effective innovation system serves as a tool for seamlessly integrating the collective capabilities of the organization to attain objectives optimally. The leadership team at IMNEWRUN endeavors to harmonize the flow of ideas from various members into concrete and consistent business concepts through the following innovation system.


Integrated Enterprise-Academia System

To make groundbreaking strides in the realm of brain disorders, where clear-cut solutions often elude us, it is imperative to centralize global-level infrastructure and capabilities. During my tenure at Yuhan, a leading pharmaceutical company in Korea, I had the privilege of visiting Sungkyunkwan University's N-Center. Through two professors who later became co-founders of IMNEWRUN, I received a comprehensive tour of the center and was thoroughly impressed. It boasted a self-sustaining structure for conducting world-class brain science research, encompassing everything from infrastructure to animal experiments and brain imaging analysis. The center was home to exceptional researchers and engaged in active exchanges with renowned international scholars. Inspired by this experience, I could effortlessly envision a learning platform where students, professors, and industry experts interact, creating a geometric progression of learning opportunities. What would a new breed of bio-company look like when it merges the diversity and creativity of universities with the strategies and systems of corporations? I coined the term "learning platform" to describe this novel concept of a company. When actively applied within the organization, it nurtures an entity that seamlessly melds creativity, productivity, and vitality among individuals. In the quest to establish a robust ecosystem of academic-industry collaboration, IMNEWRUN is presently in the process of establishing a CNS Center in partnership with Sungkyunkwan University and Yuhan-Kimberly. This center is equipped with world-class research capabilities and infrastructure.


Leadership Comprising Academic and Industry Experts

IMNEWRUN's leadership consists of leaders from various teams, each headed by an expert from industry, as well as three in-house advisors who are professors at Sungkyunkwan University. This team, known as Integrated Program Team (IPT), are led by the CEO. The IPT is tasked with formulating the company's innovation strategy and making strategic decisions. Decisions made by IPT are promptly communicated to team members through each IPT member to his/her team members. The key here is to ensure a thorough understanding and alignment within the teams. Leaders need to be effective communicators, promoting a bilateral dialogue rather than unilateral one. It is at this juncture that all researchers within the organization effectively prioritize complex tasks within the framework of IPT's strategic objectives, pooling their skills. The three in-house advisors provide independent insights into various issues raised at IPT. They also lead research in areas of importance to the company as independent researchers. The company supports their work through master contract with the university, offering research funds and doctoral fellowships for students in PhD program. To date, eight doctoral students have received fellowships, and four of them have joined the company after graduation.


Cultivating Talent to Shape the Company’s Future

The integrated enterprise-academia system and the IPT operation serves as a learning platform for researchers. All members actively participate and learn in the process of generating diverse ideas within the organization and integrating them into business concepts. This enables team members to experience the entire process of conceiving, deciding, and executing the company's strategic objectives. In practice, numerous researchers have undergone a remarkable learning curve, rapidly honing their skills. To unlock the full potential of young researchers, the company offers competitive performance incentives and opportunities for constructive growth in their career.


Building an Innovation Culture

Culture serves as the software that empowers a company's strategy and systems, embodying shared values among its members. Culture also molds specific behavioral patterns within the organization. Since its inception, IMNEWRUN has dedicated significant efforts to cultivate this culture. When the foundation of a company is fragile, establishing a culture may appear superfluous, but it is precisely when there is nothing that culture begins to take shape. The question arises: What values should we instill? The answer lies in "SEVEN CULTURES®," a concept borne from this introspection. To infuse innovation culture deeply within the organization, our management team has systematically instituted processes and systems in human resources, performance reward, and effective management of corporate, as well as research operation. Some of these include an unlimited vacation policy, IPT objective management system, streamlined approval process, one-stop online shopping & tracking system and for research equipment and logistics, Check & Feedback evaluation system, and competitive compensation package. The leadership team is actively committed to instilling the values of SEVEN CULTURES® throughout the company. Corporate branding is also crucial. IMNEWRUN's corporate identity (CI), "BOW TO TOMORROW®," was inspired from the concept of an arrow precisely aimed at its target, and simultaneously, it resembles a face, reflecting an individual who pursues the ultimate mission. Above all, our leadership team is unwavering in our efforts to create and uphold this culture. Years of consistent dedication are bearing fruit, solidifying the company's strategy, systems, and culture. The shared values among members are evolving into the cornerstone of prosperity within the organization, influencing various decisions.


In the end, an Immersive Research Environment is Crucial

Generation Z demonstrate unparalleled dedication when they share values. However, perceiving value sharing as mere empathy would be a misconception. It entails synchronization within an environment where the company's strategy, systems, and culture are in harmonious alignment. Translating this into practice, rather than theory, is a truly formidable task. Personally, I believe that I cannot do it unless I become a grain of wheat. Sincerely desiring the well-being of employees and providing financial stability is a virtue that leaders of this era should possess. The fundamental DNA of the Gen Z generation is not inherently different from that of previous generations. Their DNA has been epigenetically regulated to suit the times. Consequently, wisdom is essential for the coexistence in different generations. The core competitive advantage of a company pioneering advanced technologies lies in establishing an environment where researchers can wholeheartedly immerse themselves in their work. Ultimately, IMNEWRUN's mission is to create transformative solutions for patients. Efforts are being made to ensure that employees can actively participate in noble mission and take pride in their work. Leading a purpose-driven life, both individually and as a company, is paramount. It is through this journey of contributing to society that we can genuinely understand the significance of coming together at work and experiencing authentic fulfillment and satisfaction.


 

Han-Joo Kim is the co-founder and CEO of IMNEWRUN Inc., Suwon, Korea. He is experienced in all phases of drug development with a successful track record of multiple regulatory interactions, approvals, and deal transactions. He possesses a unique combination of scientific, analytic & business skill sets with experience to lead new technology development, translational research, and clinical trial designs. He received Ph.D. in biostatistics from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.


The article originally appeared in Science & Technology September 2023 Issue; a monthly journal published by Korean Federation of Science & Technology Societies (KOFST).

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