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Perspective: Questing for Blue Oceans - Science Careers - Biotech, Pharmaceutical, Faculty, Postdoc jobs on Science Careers

It may be useful to think about science's recent development -- from breakthroughs by individuals like Einstein, Curie, or Bohr to well-planned research programs involving teams of scientists -- as analogous to companies, which start out small and innovative. Something valuable and audacious is lost when they grow into billion-dollar megacorporations. As Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen explained in his book, The Innovator´s Dilemma, large companies tend to ignore disruptive innovations and focus on what they perceive as the demands of their current customers. They forget that real business value comes from creating new market opportunities. Henry Ford, who produced the first affordable automobile, is claimed to have said, "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better [or, in some versions, faster] horse." The quote may be apocryphal, but it helps to make this point: Rather than improving already existing products and services, disruptive innovators create demand for products and services that customers don't yet know they need. Such novel markets were dubbed "blue oceans" by INSEAD business school professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in their book Blue Ocean Strategy.

Coming up with disruptive ideas is a job great scientists do, too. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and Einstein's theories of relativity are examples of blue oceans opened up by disruptive scientists. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult for scientists to practice disruptive science. The academic career puts pressure on immediate results, continuous publication, and countless academic and administrative duties, especially early on. Meanwhile, there is little incentive for scientists to be ambitious. Increased specialization of scientific research, pressure to pursue mainstream topics, and the difficulty of obtaining grant money for the most audacious projects encourage scientists to focus on the incremental.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 02:58:44 PM EST
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