What Role Does Research Play in Innovation?

By: Rob Hoehn

A lot of innovation programs have naturally grown out of research and development groups, but most true innovation is a departure from what’s come before so what role does the “research” in “research and development” play in innovation?

Well, the answer is quite a lot. Research is an intrinsic aspect of the idea development process. Research helps guide numerous decisions that turn an idea into an innovation. So what are some of the crucial points in the idea lifecycle when you have to perform quality research?

Problem Development

Harvard Business Review asks “are you solving the right problem?” Before you start throwing out new ideas and testing solutions, it’s important that you thoroughly understand the problem you’re trying to solve so that you do more than address symptoms, but can instead respond to root causes.

Market Research

It’s important to see what your customers (and the rest of the world) care about. If you’re solving a problem that’s not relevant to a percentage of the population, then it’s unlikely that your innovation will take hold. So ask lots of questions, go for diversity, and identify some key trends to help guide your idea development.

Competitive Research

Don’t ignore the competition (maybe don’t spend all your time copying them either), but it’s important to know where you sit in the competitive landscape and where you can define your own value.

Feasibility & Requirements Research

Once you have an idea, start giving it some bones. Identify some experts to offer feedback and have them tell you what the idea will truly require. Outline your project requirements (of course they might change, but they’ll provide guideposts for successful project milestones). This research step (perhaps more than any of the other examples) is absolutely critical to implementation of a big idea.

And Beyond

Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) is an open, networked community that brings together science, data and information technology practitioners. Their mission is to foster connection between “the functional sectors of observation, research, application, education and use of Earth science.” So say you have a researcher who’s gathered a great deal of data for one of their experiments, they can then connect that research to a government agency who can use that data to inform policy. There are always new ways to connect and unpack the research.

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