function(core) Framework #2 — Research
The previous post of this series was a high-level overview of the different phases of our Moonshot Project Framework and went into detail about our Discovery Phase. This post focuses on the Research Phase and the importance of a solid knowledge foundation. I’ll be referencing three projects as case studies along the way:
· project Mercury is an ever-evolving AI-powered real-time public transit system that is the first leap towards fully autonomous public transit
· project Aggaros is a modular satellite infrastructure designed for advanced orbital retrofitting and services to accelerate the Cislunar economy
· project Oceanus is an ethical, high-transparency bank that incentivizes social spending and peer-to-peer micro-lending
Setting the Foundation
Research activities happen at all stages of the Project Framework. Starting with the Discovery Phase, where high-level research is needed to define the project scope, research activities become more detailed as the project advances. A research-only phase is necessary once the scope, stakeholders, and verticals are defined in Discovery. This two-week block of dedicated research is used to study the problem in depth, find potential disruption points, and the most effective places to begin ideating. We research as much as possible about where key players are, how they got there, and where they are headed. The Research Phase is key to understanding the target vertical for our Moonshot projects.
The aim of the Research phase is to provide:
· A clear picture of the present
· A clear understanding of the past and current trajectory
· A clear view of potential disruption
Our transdisciplinary team allows us to explore all possible sources of information: end users, clients, experts, technical reports, patent and market analysis, artistic interpretations, historical perspectives, scientific papers, media influences, etc.
Our Research Phase aims to follow the scientific method. It includes three steps: Clarify, Understand, and Analyze.
The first step of our Research Phase is to create a clear view of the state of the vertical we’re going to be working in. We clarify the forces at work in the vertical, including the players, activities, and technologies. This informs the foundation upon which the rest of our work is built.
Any vertical with disruption potential has incumbents that dominate the field. Their activities define the market, the barriers to entry, and in some cases, the regulatory environment. They can have a significant influence on a vertical through different means such as setting market prices or lobbying.
The vertical’s activities need to be understood well, since they outline the playing field in which all the key players operate. We define the main products, markets served, geographical areas, target customers, value chains, and suppliers.
Disruption happens when new technologies enter an existing vertical. It is important to be aware of which technologies enable key activities, and to monitor their development trends. Learning the technical needs of the vertical allows our transdisciplinary team to determine if technologies from other verticals can cause disruption in our target vertical.
Clarity in action
The clarity step of Research phase played a significant role in the development of project Oceanus. The development of the project Oceanus concept yielded many variations of features, infrastructure, and revenue models. Many of the available options were valid in any combination and the project could have taken any number of shapes. Analyzing every possible combination would have been an exercise in the law of diminishing return.
The ability to compare and contrast our options with that of key players, existing vertical activity and technologies allowed us to shape the concept in a way that would maximize impact while creating a unique value proposition.
The next step of Research is to understand the progression of the vertical and its related technologies. This step puts the “current state” of the clarify step in the context of time. The evolution, trends, and progression create a direction and velocity for the key players, activities, and technologies of the current state of the vertical.
It is critical to understand the driving forces in a vertical and identify if they are social, political, economic, or technological. Each of these forces will present diverse types of opportunities that should be exploited by new companies. We explore forces and events that cause new verticals to emerge, and we measure the impact that forces may have on recent business cycles of long-standing verticals. Knowing what led to the current state is important for avoiding past mistakes and better understanding the playing field.
The validity of current technology trends involves a lot of guesswork and speculation. Expert responses and excitement can help gauge them over a period of time. In any situation, these trends should be studied and given consideration, as many of them will fuel funding rounds and response from incumbents and new companies alike. These trends will end up impacting the market one way or another. Has the market grown and maintained a consistent value, or is it declining due to these trends?
Current trends provide us with information on past and present key players, activities, and technologies. We look at the direction where these elements will head in the next one-to-three years, knowing that the Futures Phase will be tasked with looking beyond that. We ask questions such as “what will the vertical look like in the next year or two? Are we looking at evolutionary improvements or revolutionary changes over one-to-three years? What are research institutions and university labs developing?” These questions are important to understanding where the current players are headed and where a new player will position themselves.
Understanding in action
It can be hard to convince partners and investors of the feasibility of Moonshot projects because of their large scale and lofty goals. project Mercury gained much of its momentum from the understand step of the Research Phase. The outcome of the understand step allowed us to guide partners and investors to our vision. The current status of the transportation and AI verticals were a starting point for stakeholders but didn’t leave them convinced of the feasibility or the market needs.
When those snapshots were placed in the context of time, we were able to validate the history and converging progressions of fields such as autonomous cars, machine learning, IoT, and big data cloud computing. These trends become more and more indicative of the need for autonomous decision-making infrastructures able to co-ordinate large resource pools. project Mercury developed into a blue ocean market opportunity based on that need.
We can begin to create conclusions after collecting knowledge about the vertical’s current status, history, trends, and direction of progression. The analyze step of Research is where we identify opportunities for disruption and maximum impact. This step provides all the different attack vectors that act as starting points for the Ideation Phase of our framework, such as the vertical’s pain points and goals.
Evaluate vertical’s goals
The trends and progressions researched in the understand step are steered by the vertical’s goals and values. The goals of a vertical can be monetary, social, political, environmental, or even artistic. It’s important to determine the main goals of the verticals to help define the time horizons that companies operate on. For example, verticals with political goals or funding may operate in similar time horizons to the local or national election cycles.
Identify key issues
Issues an industry faces day-to-day represent opportunities waiting to be solved. Many of these issues have existed unsolved over an extended period of time. These include pain points relating to technology, operations, sales, expansion, regulation, production, distribution, and manufacturing. We try to find practices or processes that may be slowing the vertical’s growth, as well as barriers to entry that might be stopping new companies from innovating. The issues a vertical faces are critical in developing successful disruptive ideas.
Find disruption potential
We examine two different paths to disruption and their level of impact. The first path is within the established vertical. We try to find any elements of the vertical that can be disrupted or augmented with new technologies. The reaction time of incumbents to new technologies can be delayed because of the costs associated with changing technical infrastructure or workflows. This means it may be possible to compete with the strongest incumbents by adopting new technologies that could multiply production outputs or decrease existing production costs.
The second path is to circumvent the established vertical and create or address an entirely new market. This path uses recent innovations and progressions in the vertical to try to find overlapping trends in other related verticals. These overlaps often end up converging and creating new markets or enabling business models that were previously not feasible. The number of different new markets that could be created are limitless and provide great fodder for the Ideation Phase that follows Research.
Analysis in action
project Aggaros is an example of analysis in the Cislunar space vertical. If you haven’t already read Carlos’ Cislunar Economy series, it is a digest of what the Research Phase of a Moonshot project looks like. It covers many of the topics mentioned so far, such as key players, activities, trends, and potential progressions. The sections on the activities that will form the verticals of the Cislunar economy became a focal point for our Ideation Phase. We used these verticals as a launch pad for creating concepts that would be highly disruptive.
The issues that repeatedly appeared in each of our concepts were the high barriers of entry due to one-off design and manufacturing costs, and the high risk stemming from the need for long asset lifetimes. These pointed more and more towards the need of an infrastructure around plug-and-play design processes, standard interfaces that favored mass-manufacturing, and in-orbit retrofit and repairs to reduced the need for extreme levels of reliability and costly developments. project Aggaros came into conception from this key issue in the Cislunar space vertical.
The research process itself is iterative, meaning that it can be performed again throughout the project in varying levels of detail as required. During Discovery, it is performed with enough detail to define the project scope and the stakeholders, while during Research, the process is performed with a higher level of detail. The Research Phase steps of clarify-understand-analyze create a solid foundation of knowledge for the team going into the Ideation Phase. It puts us in a position to decide where to go and what to focus on, and provides a number of positions to begin ideating from. The knowledge gained also serves to augment the Futures Phase that happens in parallel which I will cover in the next post.
If you like posts like this, check out our function(core) publication.