Ideation in R&D: Where it all starts

An effective R&D strategy is reliant on a constant surge of ideas – but where do they come from and how do you maintain a steady flow?

As the technical team lead of an R&D facility in the Netherlands, I encourage my team to put lateral thinking into practice everyday. The result is a raft of patents published resulting in Catexel’s unrivalled intellectual property (IP) in the area of oxidation catalysis and a portfolio of catalysts and compounds used in industrial applications around the world.

It all starts with having an innate curiosity in the field in which you work. Wider reading on topics outside of your expertise, for example, could trigger that ‘lightbulb moment’ – as well as careful observation both inside and outside of your industry. We call this ‘read across’. An approach that has been key to technical commercialisation success at Catexel.

Without thinking differently about the suite of assets at our disposal we would never have got beyond using bleaching catalysts for detergent and cleaning applications. In our new video series we consider the top three things from a know-how perspective that have contributed to Catexel’s success along the way .

Ultimately, while having the right tools in place to take an idea from concept to commercialisation is part of the equation, this investment is void without having the right researchers to bring operationally viable ideas to fruition. Taking all the experience, objectivity and knowledge from a team and applying it in a structured way could lead to future ideas further down the line.

Having a varied group of people also provides ample chance for ideation and creativity. At Catexel, as well as the core technical team, we have interns from different universities and laboratories across the world. A mix of backgrounds and cultural influences creates new thoughts and insights, helping to look at new challenges objectively and from different perspectives.

But it’s not just having the ideas; it’s crucial from an R&D perspective that these ideas go on to succeed – and ultimately, translate into a commercial context.

Separating personal from commercial gain can be difficult for a detail-orientated research team – it’s about changing your mindset to see the bigger picture, even if it means stopping an idea.

For more information on how to come up with new ideas in research and development, watch chapter 2 in our ‘Fast track strategies for successful R&D outputs’ video series. Here we discuss with nu Angle’s founder, Dr. Steve Bone, what it takes to deal in ideation and how technical team leads can get the most from their teams.

Dr. Ronald Hage, CTO at Catexel

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