Monday, June 9, 2014

R&D – to look forward and discover

It was delightful to read a column about R&D, being about the spirit of discovery. R&D by definition is forward-looking. And government and leaders can point the way forward, and so indeed we need leadership . . . but also role models. “We need to boost our R&D activities in this country. We need to review R&D policies so that R&D allows human talents to flourish instead of merely being the end-all of academic institutions. We also need to guard against the politicization of R&D. Let us demand that our national, local, and educational leaders allocate enough funds to R&D.” [Advancing R&D in the Philippines, Liberty I. Nolasco, Business World, 28th May 2014]

But does it go back to Juan de la Cruz? Is he forward-looking or does it go against the grain? And which is why Rizal – having lived through the “Age of Enlightenment” while in Europe – had to create Padre Damaso? My Bulgarian friends embraced their introduction to R&D despite decades under Communist rule, or probably because of it. But first things first: Just like what the TQM (Total Quality Management) gurus from Japan and Deming preached, that quality is built into an enterprise’s undertaking . . . R&D is not imposed from the outside or from above.

But if the culture of an enterprise – or an economy or nation – is not forward-looking to begin with, then it has to be imposed? Like we have yet to do in the case of PHL? And, not surprisingly, just like with our economy, we are lagging the region R&D-wise. “We had very few R&D personnel and experts and local patents. Not all inventions of Filipinos had commercial value. Looking at the cross-country R&D statistics, one can find a lot of information on other Asian countries but hardly any on the Philippines.” [ibid.]

Why? Did we not preach against consumerism, for instance? We may be reading a lot of US media that unknowingly we are measuring ourselves against them – but we have the jeepney to show, and not much else in inventions with commercial value? Progress has its price but it doesn’t have to be all bad, i.e., it isn’t about absolutes either way? And it brings Francis to mind, holding no punches in revisiting the Vatican Curia’s long-held assumptions and beliefs? Put another way, if we could have the latest iPad or iPhone, consumerism can’t be that bad?

How could we be forward-looking and be R&D biased? We can’t, if normal to us is big business (i.e., reading too much US politics?) contributing (is it over half a billion pesos – or more in the next election cycle?) to politicians and ensuring they would get the next big infra project? That is not what forward-looking means in an honest-to-goodness free market – but it is in an oligopoly? Not surprisingly, we accept it matter-of-factly, if we don’t celebrate it like cheerleaders?

In a free enterprise, enterprises are committed to investment (not political contributions that feed into the vicious cycle of political patronage and oligopoly?) and technology and innovation as well as people, product and market development!

For example, eleven years ago, my Bulgarian friends went through the rigors of defining the business they were in and committed to develop the products in the core categories they scrupulously vetted for sustainability (meaning, each must generate a surplus that would create a virtuous circle or in simple business lingo, produce healthy margins) and that required satisfying the metrics of investment, technology, innovation and people and market development. And which then demanded organizing business units – where at the center the joint R&D and marketing disciplines work under one umbrella – and importing experts from the West to ensure they met global standards. 

One of the thrills I get wandering around their offices is how product ideas are routinely – and with dispatch – subjected to R&D chores in the same work area that is home to both marketers and scientists. Admittedly, the process is not as smooth as it sounds. For example, product ideas [and it applies to agribusiness as well; as this blog has raised before, the “mani” that I remember buying in our neighborhood “talipapa” with my late mother could be found in 5-star hotels and bars the world over as cocktail peanuts, and they even come in attractive packaging] don't come out of the blue but are generated from endless store visits in country after country, product architecture modeling and consumer insights. But that still doesn't make the exercise a cakewalk. Because there are perpetual debates notwithstanding the analytics that are part of the process. [Where analytics helps, for instance, is in doing “what if" analyses as in developing store-level programs to drive sales among the different products and variants and sizes.]

The outcome: the organization is confidently equipped to get to market, launch new products as planned and give the competition a run for their money in whichever country where it is focused. And it is not about submission to the corporate structure because only truly winning ideas with everyone pulling together would percolate and make it to the portfolio of products. There is no free lunch but persistence does pay! And so the mantra remains: “today's excellence is tomorrow's commonplace.”

And yes, by our definition as Pinoys, it’s consumerism – because it requires understanding the lifestyle of the consumer and figuring out what her needs would be, i.e., she may not be able to articulate her needs but she surely could speak endlessly to the lifestyle that she would cherish. And so in the case of the West, Edison, Gates and Jobs would epitomize modern R&D thinking. And as Edison, for instance, said: “I want to see a phonograph in every American home.”

R&D, at the end of the day, or the lack of it in PHL, is another manifestation of our failure to be forward-looking and to respond to the basics of democracy and free enterprise – i.e., a true commitment to good governance, the rapid pursuit of infrastructure development and the dismantling of oligopoly? We can cherish and perpetuate the culture – as in preserving the backwardness that Rizal fought against – we're proud of and continue to pay the price, if we haven't paid dearly yet? Thank God Francis is visiting . . . Where Rizal failed, will Francis succeed?

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