How R&D lost its ampersand
The notion of corporate R&D is undergoing a radical transformation. Instead of viewing research and development as separate silos of an organization staffed by separate employees, companies are now working to fuse together R & D into a new innovation paradigm that places a premium on bringing products to market as quickly as possible. As The Economist explains, in the old days, companies like IBM, Xerox and AT&T created vast research organizations staffed by white-coated scientists, who in turn spent R&D lavish budgets in order to come up with The Next Big Thing. These massive R&D organizations are now a thing of the past:
"Now the big
corporate laboratories are either gone or a shadow of what they were.
Companies tinker with today's products rather than pay researchers to
think big thoughts. More often than not, firms hungry for innovation
look to mergers and acquisitions with their peers, partnerships with
universities and takeovers of venture-capital-backed start-ups. The
traditional separation of research and development... is rapidly disappearing, especially in the information-technology
However, this transformation does not mean that the glorious era of game-changing technological breakthroughs is over:
AT&T ran the telephone network, IBM
"The approach to R&D is
changing because long-term research was a luxury only a monopoly could
afford. In their heyday, the big firms dominated their markets.
dominated the mainframe-computer business and Xerox was a synonym for
photocopying. The companies themselves saw the cost of basic scientific
research as a small price to pay for such power.
R&D, none has any intention of filling the shoes left empty by Bell Labs or Xerox PARC. Research and development... are once again becoming entwined. Old-fashioned R&D is losing its ampersand."
technology firms are much less vertically integrated. They use networks
of outsourced suppliers and assemblers, which has led to the
splintering of research divisions. Even though big American firms still
spend billions of dollars on
The new paradigm involves integrating researchers into the everyday flow of the business. Instead of being given carte blanche to dream up new ideas, however, these researchers are typically assigned to commercially-viable projects and given specific time frames. As The Economist explains, the ultimate goal at companies like Microsoft, Google and IBM is to blur the distinction between "research" and "development," such that products emerge even faster from the research pipeline.
[image: AT&T Bell Labs from The Economist]
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- The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
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