Ideas Point of view

When must innovation make compromises with reality?

Today I would like to talk about research and development and about how innovation is often willing to make compromises with reality. Follow my reasoning.
The best innovations in the field of industrial automation (and not only in that area) are generally the result of important economic investments in research and development. Well, so far, nothing new. The natural consequence is that

industry leaders are the companies that have the greatest economic capacity because if it is true that investments related to internal production technologies are generally commensurate with the size of the company itself (or at least with its production capacity) it is also true that the same cannot be said of those in R&D (not always at least).

When it becomes necessary to focus intensely on innovation in the company, there are two possibilities that lie ahead. Either is it possible to have that brilliant idea capable of initiating a solution that no-one had ever thought of before or considerable studies and research are needed, which ultimately translate into an infinite number of hours of professional work. And therefore, in other words, they translate into money to be invested into R&D, without having the absolute certainty that a satisfactory result can actually be achieved.

If this is the case, then it is unlikely that small businesses will be able to afford this path. With the direct consequence that, more often than not, industry leaders become large companies. Think, for example, of large German, American or Japanese groups. They are, ultimately, those who are competing for the bulk of the market.

Nevertheless, looking around me during the most recent editions of SPS and MECSPE, I noticed that

many Italian companies, even if small and with a more modest presence, have always experienced success in terms of technology and novelties presented.

The fact, however, is that – in whatever way you look at it – SMEs always end up being, to a certain degree, linked to their genius. I mean it may also be true that the R&D department of a smaller company may be able to produce an item, an idea or a patent which a large group with a more impressive and more structured research and development office has not managed to achieve. What is also true, thanks to that same innovation, is that the small company will be able to live on the consequent income for several years. But then?

Then either you will be able to have another brilliant idea that allows you to repeat the same virtuous path or you will be no better off. Which emphasises again the central importance of having a solid economic capacity to be able to invest in research and development.

Considering therefore that it is much easier for the big players to be able to access and benefit from state investment funds (thus becoming more able to excel in innovation), the solution that would allow us Italians to remain included could be, once again, that of the network of companies, understood as a need for survival. Or it could be something that no-one (neither we nor our politicians) has yet thought of.

What would you suggest?

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