Business Week posted an article this week on General Electrics’ (GE) current financial woes and its attempts to regain its lofty perch as the company that “brings good things to life” through R&D investment.
There is a fascinating debate within the comments section of the article between at least one retired employee and some current members of GE’s R&D department. It conjures up once again the debate of where the innovation gap resides. Is “sandbox” basic research the way to go or is business-oriented research the solution? In either method getting beyond the next-quarter mentality for these businesses will be the key to real innovation and sustainable growth.
While the comments may have provided the fireworks for the article, it seemed pretty telling that the nanotechnology that is trotted out as GE’s big innovation that will help turnaround the multi-national into a growth business once again was a material coating for jet engines that keeps them from icing.
Really? That’s it? Seven years of Jeff Immelt’s pouring money into R&D and that’s the game changer they come up with in nanotechnology? I’m sure there must be others and some might argue that the work they are doing in OLEDs, which are also mentioned in the article, might come under the nanotech umbrella. But this is Business Week they are showing this stuff to, not some trade publication, maybe something a little more impressive might be in order.
I am no expert in GE’s business but don’t they make jet engines? So essentially they are developing a coating that they will use internally on the engines they manufacture. This is really going to grow their revenue stream?
Once again, even in their PR and media sensibility, a big multi-national wants to show something that is going to have an impact in the short term, preferably the next quarter, rather than looking a little further forward to see how they might change their business.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.