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A textbook approach to research.

A Textbook Approach to Research

Some years ago, before he retired, AFS vice president of technology, Merv Rowley, gave me a copy of a 1975 "Ziggy" cartoon. I think the message of the cartoon is best appreciated by researchers, scientists and other technology types, but probably not wasted on management. It reads simply:

"Research is something we do to find out if we should have done what we did!"

Say it ain't so, Merv. Research dollars for the foundry industry are far too scarce to even consider investing dollars in trying to discover whether or not what was researched earlier was worth it. We need a plan. Maybe a textbook approach to research is what we need.

Peter Drucker, professor of social science at the Claremont Graduate School in California, covered "The 10 Rules of Effective Research" several months ago in an article in the Wall Street Journal. The first five rules deal with what to do, the second five with how to do it. Since space won't permit covering all ten on this page, let's look at his first half. The most intriguing examples offered by Drucker will be looked at afterward.

Rule #1: Every new product, process or service begins to become obsolete on the day it first breaks even.

Rule #2: Thus, your being the one who makes your product, process or service obsolete is the only way to prevent your competitor from doing so.

Rule #3: If research is to have results, the 19th century distinction between "pure" and "applied" research better be forgotten. It may still work in the university, but in industry it is meaningless, if not an impediment.

Rule #4: In effective research, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, economics and so on are not "disciplines." They are tools.

Rule #5: Research is not an effort; it is three things: improvement, management evolution and innovation. * According to Drucker, improvement aims at making the already successful better still. * Managed evolution is the use of a new product, process or service to spawn an even newer product, process or service. * Innovation is the systematic use of changes in society and the economy in demographics and in technology.

Now for Drucker's examples.

Sony, particularly in the area of managed evolution, has led the way. Systematically, Sony has evolved a dozen other products, including the Walkman, from the original tape recorder.

Even more fascinating, though, is the research strategy of Du Pont Co's development of nylon. According to Drucker, "When nylon came out 50 years ago, Du Pont immediately put chemists to work to invent new synthetic fibers to compete with nylon. It also began to cut nylon's price, making it less attractive for would-be competitors to find a way around Du Pont's patents. This explains why Du Pont's nylon is still in the market and profitably so."

But Drucker goes on to show how Du Pont didn't stop there: "[Du Pont] immediately started to improve nylon to pursue managed evolution. Nylon was developed for women's stockings. But soon it was modified to serve as automotive tire cord, probably the most profitable application for many years."

Is it fair applying such commercial-type "rules of research" to industrial applications like castings? Why not?

If we, as an industry, could take the dollars we invest in research today, and at the same time have a clear-cut plan on how the results can be used--in more than one way--research investments can become infinitely easier to swallow.

There's much to be learned from earlier examples.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kanichi, David P.
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:editorial
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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