- “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
- —Zora Neale Hurston
At any given time there are only a limited number of research projects or areas that can be undertaken. Several factors should be considered when determining what areas are the ones that should be explored. These include The key is to partner with the business to determine the parameters that surround strategic research.
- Alignment with strategic business goals. Research should be focused on an area that both the business and technology need to learn about in order to be able to move forward with a particular set of projects or areas that the business wants to pursue or invest in.
- Agreed-upon prioritization. Both technology and the business should agree that this area of research is needed, that the limited funding available for this type of research would be well spent, and that this is a high priority for both areas.
- Agreed-upon purpose. Both technology and the business should be in agreement about the purpose and desired outcomes of the research. Is it to determine the feasibility of pursuing a particular area? Is it to reduce the risk? Is it to help appropriately size the investment request? Is it to better understand the threat that this technology poses to the business? Is it to better understand the opportunities a particular area may offer? Are there legal and regulatory issues that need to be fleshed out?
- Agreed-upon time and resource allocation. Both technology and the business should agree upon a time box that this research will fit into. Ideally, this is measured in days. The goal should be to do the research in a cost-effective manner, and to the greatest degree possible limit the amount of time, money, and resources being used to pursue it. Are there other areas in the business with which you can share the cost of this research if it turns out to be a larger endeavor?
- Agreed-upon report-out mechanism. As the research is pursued, how will the progress and lessons learned be reported out to the business? Are there natural points at which these report-outs can help determine if this area of research is worth continuing to pursue? Are there other areas of the business that would be interested in the outcomes of the research? Can you post these findings in an internally accessible collaboration area to let others know how the research is progressing? If necessary, can you control who has access to the research findings, depending on the nature of the research?
Several different approaches to pursuing research can be taken, such as the following:
- Business unit driven. This research is done internally within a business unit. The resources working on it typically are not devoted 100% to research.
- R & D. This research is done by a dedicated research and development team. It is often staffed with resources who have Ph.D.s in specific areas of interest to the business. They also are typically actively involved in the broader academic research community.
- University partnership. This research is done in partnership with a university. It allows the university to get exposure to challenging business problems and information that is generally not publicly available, and the business gets access to professors and students who specialize in a particular area of interest.
- Open innovation challenges. This is a research challenge that typically is constructed in partnership with a company such as InnoCentive. Working with you and your team, they will help frame the research problem or question into a challenge. They will also handle any intellectual property treatments and any awards for the winners of the challenge. The challenge itself can be open to the public or open only to those within your business. A successful challenge typically results in a crowdsourced solution to a specific business problem.
- Corporate innovation labs. These are effectively start-up groups that are formed within the overall business. They focus on rapid experimentation and validated learning through interacting with real customers. They often employ A/B testing to help drive decisions about which alternative solution is working better.
The goal is to pick the approach or mix of approaches that makes the most sense for your business situation. The key is to find ways to inject new ideas and approaches into the business that will enable it to grow.