Home > For the lieutenants: Drive the innovation process > From ‘what if’ to ‘what is’ – The journey of ideas through R and D

From ‘what if’ to ‘what is’ – The journey of ideas through R and D

How best to describe the journey of an idea through R&D (Research & Development)?

A simple version of the journey sees Research taking the idea from ‘what could be’ to ‘what can be’, and Development taking it further to ‘what is’.

But in the most spectacular cases, the journey starts much earlier and proves more arduous that first meets the eye. It doesn’t start with possibilities but with what looks like an impossibility. Once upon a time, someone dreamt of eradicating diseases. Until Pasteur made his vaccination breakthrough, the idea was an impossibility, and yet, articulating it and taking it as a challenge was the first step of the journey. As the journey progresses, more possibilities get generated, more difficult choices have to be made.

Combining the three horizons of R&D with the Stage-Gate methodology, a longer but more accurate description of the journey might be:

  • Horizon-3 Research: from ‘what if’ to ‘where it could be (and for whom)’. Where could we look for, where could the idea find an application, a market, who are the customers that could be interested? 
  • H3 to H2 gate: from ‘where it could be (and for whom)’ to ‘what could be (and why)’. What would the product look like, why would customers buy it, what is the proposition?
  • Horizon-2 Research: from ‘what could be (and why)’ to ‘what can be (and how)’. How can we make it work, what is the prototype?
  • H2 to H1 gate: from ‘what can be (and how)’ to ‘what will be (and when)’. Shall we take the plunge and go all the way from prototype to market, are we committed, by when do we want to launch it?
  • Horizon-1 Development: from ‘what will be (and when)’ to ‘what is’.

At the end of it all, looking back to where we are and where we started, the journey in its simplest form boils down to a single-letter change: from ‘what if’ to ‘what is’.

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  1. July 19, 2011 at 11:20

    Although the path of this journey is ever changing my goal is still the same. I hope that when my journey ends that my children and grandchildren and those who have learned from what I have shared with them will carry on with the same goals.

  2. March 18, 2012 at 14:45

    Giving this a crazy equation:
    Innovation = what is – what if = where + who + what + why + how + when
    The process is therefore like how we are introduced to question words in English language: 5W + H.

    I started by saying it’s a crazy thought, but if you see merit, maybe you can put on your mathematical cap to figure out the logic behind this!

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