Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Pure research, applied research and development, and business models 1

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 3, 2016

I have been writing on a recurring basis about innovation in this blog, and since its earliest days. And I have written just as actively and consistently about blue ocean business opportunities and disruptively novel innovation, and both in what is brought to market and in the processes and practices that businesses follow as they seek to be more effective and competitive in their marketplaces. See:

Business Strategy and Operations and its Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 continuations,
• As well as Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation for related material,
• And certainly where the word “innovation” appears as a common recurrence in posting titles. Though a variety of other postings and series there are also innovation-related too.

I continue this pattern here, with a goal of examining a commonly held belief, to the effect that disruptive innovation, or at least ongoing efforts to repeatedly achieve it, are primarily if not exclusively the prerogative of large businesses and corporations. And my focus there is on pure research, and its place in businesses, and the question of what types and scales of business can afford to participate in it.

Disruptively new can and does arise from applied research, and particularly where this means “applied to still relatively new and unexplored contexts of knowledge and understanding” – new technology fields for example, that have just started to be explored and developed. But ultimately most new can be traced back to pure research and discovery – that develops knowledge bases and even enabling technologies that make it possible, without themselves having been specific-product or specific product type-focused. So while I am writing here on innovation, and disruptive innovation, I am also very specifically writing here about pure research, and its next-step applied research cousin. And I focus on the pure and applied research sides of this overall topic in what follows.

As a first step in this discussion and analysis, I would offer at least crude first take definitions as to what pure and applied research are.

Pure research seeks to develop new basic knowledge, independently of any concern or consideration as to how that knowledge might be applied in developing specific technologies or products.
Applied research can also arrive at basic knowledge, and certainly when it is carried out in new and less explored areas. But it is organized and prioritized with more specific and at least intended-practical goals in mind.
• Applied research does not always successfully lead to practical new technologies or products but it is carried out with a goal of doing so, and can be seen as a practical next-step approach in creating usable, marketable value out of pure research’s basic findings.

Pure research can uncover new phenomena and new understandings of known ones, that can directly lead to applied research and new product development – including new disruptive technology product development that can create blue ocean, new market-creating and controlling opportunity for a business. But break-away new product creation is less certain and less likely, starting from pure research, than it is when starting with prior-developed basic knowledge and with applied research. I am writing here about business risk management, and the cost that is inherent in uncertainty, when an organization takes the risk and seeks the potential gains that research and development can bring.

• Pure research offers a less certain starting point than applied research does, where the basic knowledge that would be built from has already been developed and validated, and selected for its ultimate product development potential.
• And to complicate this, and expand on the differences that I make note of here, starting from pure research means longer and even much longer delays, in-house in the overall product development cycle, which also adds increased costs – and further risks to this endeavor, that a competitor for example might get there first.

I should indicate something of my own bias and perspective here. I started out doing pure research and then transitioned into applied research, and for a variety of reasons – but I continued to do at least some pure research for as long as I did research professionally, and I still see that as constituting an essential foundation point for any applied research or subsequent realized-product development. So for me, the question is not one of whether pure research makes sense in a business context; it is one of where it does and how conducting pure research can be made to make sense in an effectively run business context. And I at least began to answer that challenge with the immediately preceding paragraph here.

• The most effective way to make pure research work for a business, is to develop and follow operational and strategic approaches in managing it and in integrating its findings into what the business does,
• That are designed to capture any possible opportunity to bring its findings into an applied research and product development context.
• The more effectively a business can do this and the more agile and rapid that business is in identifying positive potential and bringing it to market, the less overall reserves it has to maintain in support of its research facilities and its research efforts.
• This means developing and maintaining and actively encouraging meaningful communications between researchers and product developers and production line experts, and with all parties listening as well as speaking.
• This means actively promoting and encouraging everyone in these systems to ask basic questions. What would I need to know to carry out my part of this at a next evolutionary stage? Where do I see potential areas for advancement and improvement, and where do I see weaknesses in what I produce, that next-step basic knowledge and insight might help me address? There, this would mean product developers thinking about possible gaps in what they have been offering that might be addressed by insight from applied researchers, and it means applied researchers thinking in terms of possible gaps in what they know, that they would want pure researchers to develop and test as experimental hypotheses.

I have, as noted above, been writing about more effectively bringing innovation into businesses, and about more effectively developing and capitalizing upon the innovations achieved, for years now. And in that regard and to offer more specific background references here, I cite:

• Keeping Innovation Fresh (as can be found at Business strategy and operations – 2 as postings 241 and following for its Parts 1-16), and
• Innovators, Innovation Teams and the Innovation Process (as can be found at that same directory page as postings 366 and loosely following for Parts 1-13, and that directory’s Page 3 continuation for its Parts 14-19.)

There are a number of other specific series and postings that I could cite here as specifically relevant to my approach to innovation and to effectively realizing it in a business, and I am certain to cite at least a few more of them as this series progresses. But for now at least, I expect that this is enough of a starting point for that, and certainly for purposes of this initial opening step in developing this narrative.

And this leads me to the core question that I have been leading up to here, in this opening note:

• What type of business, and business model would be best suited to conducting research, with that including both pure and applied elements, as an effectively managed, cost-effective foundation for its next generation product development?

The traditional answer to that as already noted above, is big businesses and corporations, and particularly I add when they are backed by government funding. I would argue that a smaller, leaner business that has an explicitly research and development-based business model, can also effectively compete and thrive in this arena. I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, where I will at least begin to discuss more traditional big business research, and leaner, more focused smaller business competition for this area of activity and for the markets that it can create.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

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