Innovation – Working with Academics

There is famous advice; If you want to succeed, surround yourself with the best people. It seems logical that we would seek out those who teach what we wish to develop. So the academic world is where we go to gather the threads of future technologies and weave them into the fabric of innovative products. However working with these savants is not all plain sailing.

Ying and Yang

They can be clever, wilful, focussed and obscure in any and all combinations. Let’s compare these two worlds. In the world of science, a doctorate through research takes three or four years minimum and much longer in some countries. In commercial parlance that is about sixteen quarters. So we have an inherent timing disjoint of about an order of magnitude. This means that any commercial problem has to be clearly stated and the research monitored closely to garner early results and keep the investigation alive.

Academic research is often poorly funded, this can be an advantage to industrialists, because with money and relevant data, a project can move along really quickly. You have to remember because they are always looking for money, getting money can become a goal in itself. Our job is to ensure it is not the goal but the means to successful investigation.

Those who teach

Don’t forget, you have gone to those who teach, i.e. research is not their full time job. In fact it is a curricular hobby, where the academic is paid to teach but can only climb the promotion ladder by publishing research papers. Fortunately for us, but perhaps not for their students, they love to do research.

Five years ahead

Novel research would tend to be five plus years ahead of the commercial game. Five years is twenty quarters. Only the largest /oldest / most-visionary companies can afford that long game. This is where government steps in to sponsor research so as to ensure research groups have sufficient longevity to yield results. Government sponsorship of course comes with accountability to the tax-payer, so expect a certain amount of scrutiny and a serious conversation about intellectual property.

An hour can change your life

Once you engage, you find yourself impressed and mystified by the wealth of brain-power in this new environment. This sense of wonder often gives way to frustration as you try to channel this effervescent resource into short term goals. In time you learn a measured appreciation of who is listening to you and what can be done in the time frame. A year can leave you frustrated but an hour can change your life.

Quick wins

Often it comes down to team dynamics, you simply work better with one rather than another. In general the closer you are the more you learn, the more you learn the more you can transfer into your company. I don’t think it is a remote exercise, pass on a requirement and wait for a report, although some people do it that way. I think it takes time, dedication and effort, you have to invest to harvest. A few quick wins are always welcome but the general direction is always good. Certainly there are many opportunities to be amazed.

February 26, 2012

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