Most of us use the terms research and design, or science and technology, as synonyms. It would be useful to see the connections and also divergence between these.
Science is curiosity driven. The researcher could not be concerned about possible end applications. Kroemer, the Noble prize winner for developing semi-conductor hetrostructures in high speed electronics and opto-electronics later said. ‘ When was working on the hetrostructures, I did not intend to invent compact disc players. I could never have anticipated the tremendous impact of fibre optic communications.’
People who come up with applications think very differently from the scientists who must lay the foundation.
Ted Selker was an inventor, a technologist. When asked how he picked his projects, his answer was very different that that of Kroemer. He said, ‘ I do not consider a problem interesting or worth solving, unless I have a customer who wants it solved’.
While Kroemer was driven by ‘What is possible’, Ted was driven by ‘What is needed’. One was more research oriented while the other was more design oriented.
When the scientist hits a barrier he analyses the barrier itself, creating more knowledge and disciplines. When a technologist or an engineer hits a barrier, he simply looks for ways to go around it. He is focussed on the solution and has a problem solving attitude.
In real life, these two roles may well merge. Historically, they have. Einstein was a theory driven inventor, Mendel was data driven, Edison was need driven while Galileo was method driven. Pasteur famously moved between theory-driven and need-driven approaches. Individuals have their preferred thinking styles.
R&D directors must analyse the core of their projects in these terms. They also must analyse the thinking preferences of their top stars and assign them to projects suitably.
They must also be clear about S curves and Trends of technology. We shall cover these two inputs to R&D in future blogs.