R&D - welcome to the lab


I was reading Rod Dury's Blog this morning and found a lively discussion about Research & Development in the world of software. I left this note (I am too lazy to write anything new at the moment - I have been trying to think of an idea for a TV show and the best I can come up with is in the vein of Ghost Whisperer, Haunted (quite rightly buried in the crypt of midnight TV), The Medium and Six Feet Under - It is about a cranky old lady who dies and is annoyed by her children's indifference to her while she was alive. If they wouldn't pay attention in life then she will darned well make them realise the consequences of their choices from the other side. The working title is "I can still hear you!".)

Where was I? Ah, research and development....(spelling adjusted)

I wonder whether one of the problems with R&D in New Zealand is that we place a great deal of emphasis on ‘D’ and very little on the ‘R’.

Ideas arrive via serendipity and are forced into the pipeline on the assumption that they are good i.e. worth pursuing.

How much preparatory investigation goes into most software research to determine the size of the market for a product before the prototype is developed?

I once worked for an IT company that was bought by a publicly listed company (cheaper to own the business and make a profit from their services than to pay for them on an hourly basis). The firm got it into its head that their future lay in software development, rather than internet services - licensing IP was the way ahead. Good in theory but flawed in practice. They lost focus. The products the were so proud of were not unique and were worse than some which could be got for free in the web (email client and a CMS). What remained of the firm was sold off swiftly by their parent company who realised the mistake they had made before too long.

The story serves to illustrate my point though. Had the business spent time with real people in the market they may have realised that their development time was wasted and could never be recovered - busy work.

I often hear that ideas aren't worth anything until they get done.
The truth is that even when done most ideas aren’t worth anything.

If you are going to make a profit from your ideas they must serve an unmet need (equal emphasis on both terms). And don’t get me wrong - the market is mostly inarticulate - going out and simply asking them what they want won’t provide an innovation or insight that is going to make you rich. Who could have articulated their latent desire for an ipod when proto MP3 players were functional but uuuuugggggleeee (I call that imponderables - we can’t know what we don’t know).

So the issue of research is paradoxical. But, then, if it was easy…everyone would do it. If you want to excite worldwide interest then you might also have to go out into the world and have a look around at how people behave. You might be surprised to learn they’re not sitting around waiting for you.

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