Monday, June 22, 2009

R&D 2.0.

It's strange to hear that even R&D has a point-oh version. That shows how much social media is driving social changes which ultimately affects political and economic situations and pretty much everything else.

The following excerpt is from Harvard Business:

This global R&D 2.0 strategy calls for a talent recalibration in MNCs' R&D labs in emerging markets. I suggest that multinationals, besides employing technically-oriented engineers and scientists, begin to staff their R&D units in developing nations like India with two other types of experts, namely:

Anthropologists and ethnographers. By having anthropologists study and interact with end-customers in their natural settings, Western firms can learn to tailor their business models and offerings to match users' socio-economic and cultural context. For example, Intel's People and Practices Research (PaPR) employs sociologists and ethnographers who spend months in emerging markets embedded in grassroots communities to identify the latent needs of local consumers. Dr Genevieve Bell, one of PaPR's anthropologists, traveled extensively across China and India observing people in their homes to find out how they use and what they want from technology. Her ethnographic insights shaped Intel's groundbreaking pricing models and partnership strategies for Chinese consumer market.

Development economists. Since the 5 billion people who form the middle and the bottom of economic pyramid earn very low incomes, they can't afford the expensive goods and services designed for (upper) middle-class consumers. Multinationals are reacting to this market reality by having their local R&D engineers design trimmed-down, low-end versions of their high-end products. But that's not enough. To effectively lure low-income buyers into procuring their low-end goods and services, multinationals need the help of development economists who can concoct creative pricing and financing mechanisms, such as microcredit schemes. For instance, Whirlpool is working with development economists at RTI International and the University of North Carolina to create new microfinance models that will enable Whirlpool to cost-effectively commercialize its appliances to millions of low-income households within emerging markets like India and Mexico.

To effectively carry out their global R&D 2.0 strategy, CEOs of multinationals must give themselves a target of staffing at least 40% of their R&D labs in emerging markets with sociologists and micro-economists by 2015. To promptly achieve this goal, MNCs need to cast their recruitment net a bit wider. In India, for example, in addition to hiring the cream of engineering students from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), MNCs' local HR directors should also recruit bright graduates from reputed social sciences institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.

Goldman Sachs predicts that the bulk of the global economic growth over the next three decades will occur in emerging markets like India, China, and Brazil. But multinationals can't capture this explosive growth unless they first upgrade their technically-skewed innovation model to a multidisciplinary R&D approach.

*** end of excerpt ***

I think everything around us is built for us, which is why ethnography was and should always be part of the design discipline. Whether it is design design, or any other form of creation (product or service) which ultimately serves the people, research should be centered around them. But my question is how 'professional' should these researchers be? Would an undergraduate certificate prove someone to be more adept in observation and asking the right questions and therefore produce better and more analytical results than another? While, ethnography graduates may be trained in this field but it is understandable that they're quite a hefty investment and perhaps may not even take priority in the hiring hierachy. However, having said that, I do believe that individuals who are natural observers who can think in-between fields, can hold equal grounds with those who were nurtured from this stream.

While I think R&D 2.0 sounds really cool and brings research to a whole new level but I don't necessarily agree that it is one person's job nor an exclusive department. Every micro-system in place to serve the bigger operation should be consistently monitored and constantly improved on. Which is more important? The system that's in placed for the people, or the people who are manning the system? I think both are important. To perfect the system for the people manning it and for those who should benefit from it. This does call for some sort of ethnographic study, no? It is a very heavy investment. But the difference in deliverables is in the details of all these micro functions, no? Times are bad and perfectly understand that. So instead of hiring engineers and ethnographers, the engineers should learn ethnography, no? But hey, if you're the size of Intel or Nokia. Why not?

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