More than 200 years ago, just before the start of the Battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon Bonaparte guarded the most valuable thing in his expedition, enacting his famous order “Donkeys and scientists arise!” gave. Since then, this phrase has become catchy and best says that our lives depend on science and the ability to act. The scientists who accompanied Napoleon on the Egyptian expedition were completely useless to win the war. However, according to the French emperor, it was Fourier, Berthollet, Monge and others who discovered Egypt and influenced the Egyptians, giving meaning to the whole event.
The turbulent times we are in are forcing the technology entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists who together make up the R&D community (research and development) to work towards achieving technological dominance, which has become a condition of our freedom and independence. Turbulence inevitably leads to change. In our opinion, current events are accelerating the paradigm shift in research management.
The economics of the new normal compels us to seek answers to two interrelated questions that will determine the survival and future development of our research.
The first question is: What initiatives and projects do we continue to do but should not do due to changing circumstances? The answer to this question requires courage and clarity from researchers and managers. We all have projects we love, but unfortunately they were conceived in completely different circumstances in the past, perhaps forever.
Second question: Which initiatives and projects are we not implementing, but should we start right away, as they are critical to business and the country as a whole? Answering this question requires a deep dive into current business and technological dominance issues.
Emily St. The characters in John Mandel’s Station Eleven often say, “Because staying alive is not enough.” For them, life is more than just meeting basic needs and its meaning is creativity, the search for something new, the development of art and knowledge. However, even if we talk about survival in this way, the most important component is the future concern for ourselves, our children and our country. After all, new knowledge and technologies will determine the outlook of the country, the efficiency of the economy and the quality of life. Thus, “simple” survival in a reactive mode in a crisis is not sufficient for institutional science. Prospects for institutional science, applied research, and science in general will be determined by their leaders’ ability to see promising opportunities for better alignment than others. The visionary becomes the driving force that will take us to the future, not the subject of intellectual research.
In all companies, the planning horizon has been shortened and the risk appetite is much less. Does this mean that it is necessary to abandon promising projects with an implementation horizon of 3-5 years? Of course not. Major breakthroughs in promising fields such as quantum computing, microelectronics, and synthetic biology don’t happen in a year or two. As a result, whoever puts forward an idea that is well-founded but with a long-term perspective will have laid the foundations of the future in the paradigm of “survival is not enough”. In a situation where everyone around them lives one day, the winners will be smart and patient, able to think and plan for decades despite any pressure.
In answering the two questions on which our survival depends, we must remember projects that have brought together unique teams to achieve ambitious goals. Suppose today some past tasks are temporarily out of relevance. We need to give teams the opportunity to work on new ambitious challenges, not “release” people. A team vision is needed for our researchers – what, why, and what we build for. A big goal motivates all team members, allowing them to make their project a big, ambitious task and achieve great things. Perhaps it is time to combine the efforts of various corporate R&D teams, solving various problems for one large-scale goal – to achieve Russian technological dominance. Each team has its own strengths and expertise.
I will address the complex and confusing interplay of engineering development, exploratory research, and applied science. The history of science and technology provides several examples. Steam engines arose long before the laws of thermodynamics were known, but once the fundamental laws were discovered, the machines stopped exploding. The secret relationship between mass and energy was discovered theoretically, but this discovery only separated a few decades from practical engineering applications.
The deep interrelationship between science and technology is becoming the foundation of techno-science research, supporting promising fields such as quantum computing, microelectronics and artificial intelligence, energy innovation that addresses climate change, and synthetic biology and bioengineering solutions.
It is important to understand that the R&D process includes both scientific and technological components. And balance is important here, a clear and responsible understanding of purpose and goals. If, declaring the technological orientation of developments, actually deals with science with a high degree of abstraction, the connection between research and real work is lost. Or vice versa – speaking of higher science, directing the main efforts to demanded, but only momentary, applied improvements and improvements – the connection with the future, determined by new scientific knowledge, is lost.
In the research process, we work on both “question search” and “answer search”, regardless of search or applied. It should be noted that both aspects are equally relevant. It is important to seek answers to known questions. But future victories can only be based on seeking new questions. This is the hallmark of any breakthrough.
Searching for questions like the “surprise factor” can neither be planned nor “engineered”. Therefore, in the new reality ahead, we need to finance talented people and unique teams alongside the usual project funding. This approach will help provide R&D leaders with maximum freedom to retain talent. This is the basic principle of an effective R&D management model.
R&D initiatives aim for a breakthrough. But its effects are unpredictable: when it will happen or to whom it will benefit. Therefore, the research itself should not become a short-term “concrete” and local source of influence in a single company.
The proposed principles will allow us to direct applied research to the industries most critical problems, which will allow us to make a qualitative leap towards future breakthroughs and avoid the mistake of repeating old solutions.
The author expresses his personal opinion, which may not coincide with the editors’ position.