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An Open Letter to R&D: Focus on Reinvention

Research and development has played a crucial role in the evolution of human beings since the dawn of time. The human race has continued to change because of our innate curiosity and willingness to take calculated — not careless — risks.

Without research and development, we wouldn’t have innovative products from companies like 3M (who back brands such as Post-It, Scotch, and Command, just to name a few) and General Electric (a company that has brought us numerous life changing products such as incandescent lamps, the x-ray machine, and the electric fan).

But times have changed. There is a revolution going on in the research and development field, one which is turning invention into iteration. Rather than unveiling brand new discoveries and helpful tools, the job of researchers and developers is simply to re-do the old, perhaps in the hopes of doing it better. For example, let’s take a look at Hollywood and see what have been the top grossing movies of 2014 thus far:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Remake of comic
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Sequel and remake of comic
  • The Lego Movie – Parody of existing movies
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction – Sequel and remake of popular television series
  • Maleficient – Remake of fairy tale
  • X-men Days of Future Past – Sequel and remake of comic
  • Dawn of the Planet of Apes – Remake of movie
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Sequel and remake of comic
  • Godzilla – Remake
  • 22 Jump Street – Sequel
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Remake of movie and TV show
  • How to Train your Dragon 2 – Sequel
  • Divergent – Remake of book

See the trend? Every single one of these top thirteen movies was either:

  1. A sequel of an existing movie; or
  2. A remake of something that already existed

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, recreating or even rebranding what already exists can garner the attention of a new audience who may have been unfamiliar with the existing idea or product, or even result in vast improvements.

Let’s look at the iteration of credit cards over the past few years for example. Chips and tap technologies didn’t exist a decade ago, but thanks to “redoing” an old idea, we are treated to convenience and allegedly greater security. There are credit cards such as OnePass and LastPass which generate a unique number for your credit card for each merchant, again providing added security should your information be compromised at one merchant (this would have been helpful to anyone who shopped at Home Depot or Target and were part of the massive credit card information breach!).

Better yet, researchers and developers can now harness the power of social interactions to determine what ideas or products are “in demand” and which would be a waste of several months if not years of R&D’s time and resources. Take crowdsourcing, for example. Kickstarters are now turning credit cards into major devices; for example, Plasticard and Coin. Rather than carry around a wallet full of different cards, you only need one card that contains all of the data necessary for you to manage your array of credit cards.

The moral of the story: Reiteration isn’t such a bad thing, particularly when R&D utilizes social resources like crowdsourcing to determine which ideas are worth exploring. One innovation can build upon another and then another to match the burgeoning needs of our constantly changing world.

Harness the power of employee ideas.

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