Alcaic Research and technology, not iambic verse.

24Oct/060

Fundamentalism



The previous installment might have been a bit dry to your taste (as descriptions are wont to be). You got the message: I have my new building (sorry, couldn't resist). Promises, promises... In any case, I hope to have give you some idea of my time and space allotment - what about the rest of the framework?

State of the system


To understand how I feel right now, you need to hear my take on the entire fundamental/basic/strategic/applied/industrial research situation. Short version: I think the impulse give by the different authorities has caused academic departments to overshoot the intended mark (welcome, mixed metaphoric friends).

Postulates


When I started at the VUB, I was passionate about two things: research and teaching. I had no clue at that time that there were "different" kinds of research (the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind):

  • fundamental
  • basic
  • strategic
  • basic strategic
  • applied
  • industrial

all in contrast to development. Notwithstanding all the subcategories, I have realized that this is true: either you are doing research or you are doing development. The big players in industry have understood this and it can be noticed in the subtle change in naming from R&D to R&I (innovation); development has been moved to were it belongs, the product groups, and innovation to the CTO (to understand the main reasons: read Christensen, Clayton M. (1997). The Innovator's Dilemma. Harvard Business School Press. ISBN 0-87584-585-1).

Unfortunately, only too often smaller companies (so called SMEs) do not make this distinction and their approach to research (pronounced [development]) is poisoning what I prefer to call Research (not pronounced [consulting]). Yes, apparently Europe wants it this way. With SMEs guiding the process. Wrong! What Europe wants is the transfer of (applicable) knowledge. Nowhere have I read that Research groups should mimic or try to behave like SMEs.

Funding organizations try to force the more basic aspects at a fundamental level by reducing the support for development a.k.a. research. Unfortunately this only causes the directors of research at academic institutions to redefine the meaning of "fundamental" and "basic". And since the experts that evaluate the proposals are often the very same that submit proposals, MUWAAAHAHAHAAAHAHAHAHA !!!

Now, I have become part of an R&I group. We do research (not Research, which is left to our academic partners) and R&D is another group, which is refreshingly and uncharacteristically honest for the private sector. If at times I stumble across something which is Research, all the better. At the very least I am not kidding myself, and nobody else is trying to kid me either. Simple litmus test:

  • development leads to products - to be sold
  • research leads to inventions - to be patented
  • Research leads do discoveries - to be celebrated

And there you have your axioms/postulates. Let me make one (1) thing clear: there are no value judgements here. But if your job is supposed to be about Research, then research is a close relative and development a distant neighbor.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

P.S. For the record: I do not believe that Research is only possible in an academic context.