Wednesday, April 2, 2008

1: I think, therefore I jump to conclusions

Between our ears are such wondrous things, I thinks we should all be as happy as kings. We ought to know more about the human brain than we do, but in any real sense we know practically nothing. It is after all the most sophisticated 'machine' in existence and it is hardly scarce, with more than 6 billion on the planet today working away 24/7/52/65 (ish) ... yet the vast majority remain un-noticed, un-appreciated and under-utilised by their owners.

I've got one here now ... It is fantastic, but perplexing. Perhaps most perplexing is its conscious and sub-conscious modes of operation. Its always out-there doing things without consulting 'me'; sub-consciously modelling in an instant environments and situations, then using them determines my future actions. Again sub-consciously synchronising and amending those models and their predictions by stimulating conscious observation of reality as it unfolds around me. Take vision as an example; It is a well established fact that we only see a small percentage of what we think we see, our sub-conscious mind makes-up the rest! In the late 1800's Hermann von Helmholtz described vision as a form of unconscious inference; "a matter of deriving a probable interpretation for incomplete data".

... This is a very logical way of minimising data-processing required by the conscious mind, so its is hardly surprising that our brains use this technique elsewhere as well. As a result, we are only aware of what we need to be aware of; and, scarily, are usually steered towards that by the prompting of our sub-conscious mind.

This modelling gives us humans a tremendous ability to leap to conclusions, which are appropriate for most of life's situations. We successfully over-take cars, catch dropped tools, throw rubbish into bins, etc.; solving in an instant computational and control problems insoluble by classic mathematical approaches. But it is also the reason why we keen to assume too much in engineering design situations! Readiness to start work on something without really understanding what it is, or what is involved, is a common problem here! It seems the so-called Scientific Method is actually a process to suppress intuition ... suppressing the sub-conscious mind's enthusiasm to deliver a rough-and-ready result.

Not surprising then, that we get into the situation that we think we know what something means; but when quizzed it transpires we do not! Whilst our understanding is perfectly good for a whole class of situations, it is frequently not for a new one. How's your understanding of, Science, Technology, Capability, Product, Research, Development, Component and System? We have a working understanding of what they mean individually, but it is difficult to resolve their relationships. Is a specific act Research or Development; or an object a Component or a System?

... Does it matter? Examine it with your conscious mind to find out! But I have found in any case of scientific optimisation it matters a great deal. Naturally the outcome of conscious examination frequently appears 'obvious' because our sub-conscious mind now follows the logic presented, even though it might not have leapt to that conclusion earlier.

So lets look at Science, Technology, Capability and Product to see how they relate ...

We know that a Products comprises a suite of things, which must all be in-place before it can be delivered. So the process of Developing a Product means creating all of those parts from the Know-How captured in the Corporate Capability Base at the time. Whilst technology may be one of the most challenging aspects of this, it is by no means the only consideration. Training, documentation, technical support, applications notes, development tools, market information, sales channels, etc ... even a way to accept money. It is fairly obvious then, that you should not start to develop a new Product if you don't Know-How to before hand ... If you do it is obvious that timescales and costs will be at significant risk. So establishing the necessary Corporate Capability (The collection of Know-How) ahead of Product Development is a no-brainer then!

Now we see that Corporate Research has a responsibility to establishment all necessary Know-How before it is needed for Product Development. So whilst this is traditionally thought of as a technical role, clearly there are non-technical aspects which will also need to be established. As our Product Roadmap becomes clear we can see what specific Know-How needs to be established and what needs tweaking; Some is already out there (New-To-You), and some needs to be created (New-To-Everybody).

... In a technical context, these are more familiarly known as Technology (Tools) and Science (Methods). Technology is 'ready to go Science', available but not yet installed in that particular Corporate Capability base; Science is 'demonstrated once' requiring rather more work before it is ready for mission critical use. Not surprising that Corporate Research starts from Technology if at all possible.

Of course Academic Research leads towards establishment of Science from basic principles/laws of physics. Science can be a very long way from Technology, and is even further from Capability. Misunderstanding of Corporate/Academic motives, and the difference between Science and Technology (the Gap of Expectation), is the root of most problems between these communities.

... Finally, not all Science presents a timely commercial opportunity (Remember the LASER) and even when it does the risk may be too great for commercial taste. In these circumstances it is left to Academic initiative (eg: Start-Ups) to carry the Science 'upward', to a point where Corporate Research becomes comfortable enough to 'reach down' and embrace it.

Academic Research and Commercial Exploitation are a symbiotic partnership, both needing the other to flourish. With a clearer understanding of the roles and needs of the other, the 'Gap of Expectation' should not be an obstacle to this.

... Of course my sub-conscious mind confirms that all this is rather obvious. But it would say that now, wouldn't it!