Innovation and R&D are two different things (actually three!)

Is this provocative?

Possibly a bit… but nonetheless true!

You can innovate without doing R&D… and you can do R&D without innovating much. So what is this about?

Let’s start with innovation. ‘In-novare’ literally means ‘renew the inside’, i.e. change the core. It is focused on designing a ‘new core’ for a user. It is user-centric by design: the only thing pre-existing is the user. Innovation requires listening skills, imagination, and willingness to experiment — not necessarily scale or massive resources. Innovation does not necessarily imply technology. Inventing a new recipe in your kitchen is innovation!

R&D is a very different animal, or animals we should say.

The ‘R’ part of it is meant to explore new scientific and/or technology areas. It is not necessarily user-centric, and it is not necessarily meant to deliver potential solutions. Just insights, that may or may not be practical.

The ‘D’ part of it is meant to develop a product or service once the concept has been defined. It is a delivery process in a project mode. The vast majority of products and services developed are renovations, not innovations, in the sense that they upgrade previous solutions without ‘changing the core’.

How the ‘R’ and ‘D’ got married in organizations is a mystery… considering how different they are. The only similarity is that they often both take place in Labs with guys wearing a white coat.

Also, aggregating ‘R’ and ‘D’ sometimes enables to hide how little we invest in ‘R’ vs ‘D’…

All this being said, what is the point we are trying to make?

- Don’t confuse Innovation with R and/or D.

- You don’t need plenty of resources to innovate. You may not even need technology.

- On the other end, it’s not because you do R and/or D that you will innovate.

- It is definitely worth trying to bring an innovative spirit into R and D… but this will not do the trick!

- If you focus talents on innovation, keep them independent from your R and D: they can propose things that may not require R and D, and also help brief R and D in a better way.

- If you are in Government, it is not because you create tax advantages for companies spending more in R&D that the entire country will innovate more… You may think of stimulating Universities and Incubators to foster an innovation-friendly environment for talents.

Your perspective is welcome!