Case Detail

Case Summary

Sony Computer Science Laboratories: Sustaining a Culture and Organization for Fundamental Research

Case Number: 5-120-007

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In late 2019, Dr. Hiroaki Kitano, the president and director of research at Sony Computer Science Laboratories (Sony CSL), had decided he would be stepping down from his position soon. Sony CSL, a small blue-sky fundamental research facility funded by Sony, had always operated on the strength of the trust between Sony’s CEO and the lab’s director. Sony had been hands-off in its management, leaving Kitano to hire, fire, fund, and evaluate the lab’s researchers and project portfolio at his own discretion. Now that he was stepping down, however, he worried that Sony CSL could not withstand his departure. Kitano wanted to make a transparent plan for the organization’s future before he handed off Sony CSL to his successor. That plan involved three key decisions. First, what should be the optimal structure and governance of Sony CSL? Should it maintain its independence and autonomy, or should it align more closely with Sony’s business priorities? Second, how could Sony CSL scale its impact on Sony and society at large, given its small size? Finally, should Sony CSL establish some standard methods of measuring project success and strength of the portfolio? In making these decisions, Kitano wanted to ensure that he preserved the unique culture that had allowed Sony CSL to pursue path-breaking research and innovation.

Learning Objectives

After reading and analyzing the case, students will be able to:

  • Identify the differences between organizations that perform fundamental research and those that perform applied research
  • Recognize that organizations that perform fundamental research must be structured, governed, and assessed using different methods than organizations that perform applied research
  • Appreciate the importance of the culture and “soul” of an organization in its success.

Number of Pages: 32

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Strategy, Technology

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: Japan

Industry: Technology

Organization Name: Sony Corp.

Organization Department: Computer Science Laboratories

Organization Size: Large

Decision Maker Position: CEO

Decision Maker Gender: Male