Classifying Innovation

I was reading someone's blog when I came across the term "Pasteur's Quadrant". When looking up what it is, I found that Donald Stokes, who coined the term in his book of the same name, used it in the context of classifying different types of research based on their motives and discoveries.

The Quadrants

Stokes devised a matrix with four quadrants. Three of the quadrants were assigned to different types of scientific research: purely basic research, which seeks fundamental understanding; purely applied research, which seeks to solve immediate problems; and basic applied research, which balances the two by both solving immediate problems and increasing fundamental understanding.

BohrPasteurEdisonN/A (Tinkering)
The rows get more basic as they go up and more applied as they go to the right.

Stokes named each quadrant after individuals in recent history that best represent the type of research. Niels Bohr, known for his advancements in physics, performed research that significantly increased our understanding of the atoms among other concepts. His research increased our fundamental understanding of matter and its interactions, but the knowledge didn't have much application outside of academia for years.

Louis Pasteur, known for his advancements in microbiology, performed research that significantly increased our understanding of bacteria and other microorganisms. His research not only increased our fundamental understanding of microorganisms, it also gave way to the creation of vaccination and pasteurization, which had immediate applications.

Thomas Edison, known for his many inventions, performed research that lead to the creation of the record player and motion camera, among many others. His research led to products that were almost immediately commercialized, but many of his creations didn't advance our fundamental understanding of a field.

The matrix is a pretty simple framework in which all forms of innovation can be classified. My only update would be to "blur" the lines dividing each quadrant, as not all types of innovation are as cut-and-dry as the examples above. There are instances, like many of Nikola Tesla's studies, where the motive for research was exclusively applied, but fundamental insights of the world were discovered. The inverse also holds true: there are instances where the motives of research were exclusively basic, but a solution to an immediate problem was found as a result.

Using Literature

An interesting result of Stokes' matrix is that you can also classify the types of innovation by the types of formal documents they can produce. Basic research often produces peer reviewed research papers, and applied research produces often produces patents. Of course, this means that basic applied research can produce both research papers and patents.

For example, Bohr published lots of papers but no patents . Louis Pasteur published several papers and several patents. Edison published numerous patents but no research papers.

You and I

If I were to put myself on the matrix, I'd say I'm in the bottom left quadrant right now, where I'm tinkering and it's not clear that I'm making or discovering anything new. But, I think I'm slowly moving into Edison's quadrant with some projects that I'm working on right now. Only time will tell, though!

Where do you lie on the matrix?