“Normally, when faced with this kind of problem, I would …”
This is an example of a statement that might be made by any experienced person, about a technical problem. Someone, that is, who actually knows what “normal” is, and who is experienced enough, and perceptive enough, to recognize that “this isn’t normal”.
Such a person, if prompted, can probably explain in concrete terms why, and in what way, a given situation is not normal. Even if the perception was at first the product of an informed intuition, our subject matter expert can probably rattle off a list of the routine or standard approaches that could be used, except in this instance, for whatever reasons. This recognition that one is “leaving normal” is at the very heart of what the SR&ED program calls “technological uncertainty”, and technological uncertainty is literally the beginning of SR&ED. (The end of technological uncertainty is also the end of the SR&ED, but that’s a subject for another day.)
You can’t claim SR&ED until you have first recognized the existence of at least one technological uncertainty that is associated with the work. At that point, having recognized a technological uncertainty, you have to be engaged in pursuing the answer or trying to solve that problem, or there is still no SR&ED work.
I have worked on projects in the past where the technical experts carefully identified the technological uncertainties, as though they were rocks in a harbour, and then spent the rest of the project just “steering around the rocks”, never once trying to overcome or address the problems they had identified. De-risking or de-scoping a project to deliver something on time may be a good business decision, but that’s not SR&ED.
Identifying technological uncertainty and pursuing SR&ED is not about mapping out and avoiding technical risks or unknown territory, like the legendary medieval maps that bore the warning “here be dragons” around the unknown edges. (It’s more like, “we’re planning to serve dragon-burgers for lunch”.)
The technological uncertainty lies in the awareness that you are “leaving normal” and that the path to the desired goal – the technological advancement, in SR&ED terms – means having to find a way to overcome that uncertainty, to solve the problem experimentally. SR&ED is about the pursuit of new knowledge, and it’s about the pursuit of a new normal, where you know just a tiny bit more than you did before you started.