Science And Technology Strategy In Troubled Times

June 29, 2009

Post by Martin Rees on the importance of investment in basic science in the UK, mentioning the role of the Technology Strategy Board and The Royal Society’s The Fruits of Curiosity initiative in clarifying areas for high-impact commercial returns:

Ever since the industrial revolution, science has driven the global economy. As a scientific nation, the UK is, by most indicators, second only to the US. But this is not fully reflected in our economic strength, so where have we gone wrong?

In these tough times, we are refocusing on how best to harness this strength to our national advantage. Political responsibility for nurturing our academic talent and for unlocking its economic benefit now rests with a single “super-ministry”: the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and particularly in the hands of Lords Mandelson and Drayson.

It seems clear in retrospect that this country was precariously overdependent on its financial sector; so the new ministry’s aim should be to ensure that our science and engineering strength enables us to emerge from the downturn with a more diversified economy. There should plainly be special boosts for sectors ripe for exploitation – via, for instance, the Technology Strategy Board. But is important that long-term prospects – and the strength and breadth of the UK’s academic base – should not be jeopardised.

It is in our interests to support excellence right across the board – and indeed it’s affordable even in these straitened times. The Royal Society has convened a group with wideranging expertise (it contains two former science ministers, two Nobel prizewinners, and others with commercial experience) to study the long-term value of science to the economy. Its report will be entitled The Fruits of Curiosity – a phrase that captures the value of science. Most great breakthroughs start with the curiosity of the scientist, but in science, engineering and medicine the payoff for research and development can take decades to appear rather than years.

In this particular context, interesting comments by The Guardian’s Tim Radford on the perils of trying to predict the future, including:

Ironically, bioengineering has been with us for more than two decades, but after 50 years of costly research, fusion power is as distant as ever. If you spread your bets on the future, you will certainly get some things right. But the Royal Society may be making an even cooler calculation than that: if you invest in science, in the enrichment of our understanding of the physical world, you cannot lose. Knowledge is power. Understanding is wealth. And somewhere along the line, some of this research will turn into jobs, economic growth and financial wealth too. It’s just a question of which.

Regarding forecasting the future, see also the views of futurist Paul Saffo.

Why Are Most Events Rubbish?

June 25, 2009


Really good post from Roland Harwood at NESTA on the difficulty in setting up and running truly productive meetings. His candid observations are:

I’ve attended, spoken at, or organised more than my fair share recently, and found myself mentally writing a list of do’s a don’ts as follows:
•    Presentation – I prefer bumbling enthusiastic honesty to a slick rehearsed presentation, everytime.
•    Visualisation – Please don’t read out your slides verbatim – Tell vivid stories, show pictures, convey your enthusiasm.
•    Contradiction – Give me a healthy disagreement any day of the week, rather than fawning consensus (alas I fear a very British trait).
•    Conversation – There is never enough time or space for conversation. The best bits, as the unconference crowd well know, are the coffee breaks – always.
•    Inspiration – Going to events for me is all about getting inspired and learning something new, even though things all too often conspire against this.
•    Connection – There is almost certainly someone in the room you really would want to/should speak to – the trick is how to find them.
•    Facilitation – Is a dark and underrated art but alas so frequently apparent by it’s absence.
•    Discussion – Panel sessions are often tedious and artificial unless superbly curated. And Q&A almost always feel tokenistic and seldom adds much value.
Unfortunately, most events I attend still get many of these things wrong. We really must stop meeting like this!

This is a topic that has fascinated me for ages. I’ve lost count of the number of conferences and meetings that have been disappointing, both in the presentations and in the networking pragmatics (I speak as a speaker, organiser and attendee).

This is not to particularly criticise the organisers, presenters or attendees as everyone is collectively responsible. Organisers ask for feedback and get none, presenters see the same old faces every time and don’t get shook up enough and attendees comment to themselves but rarely fully interact with the speakers. This just seems to get worse the bigger the meeting…

There is a dichotomy here of course. The real world is all about handling mess and complexity and partial truths and trying to get something done whilst most approaches focus on slickness, (the illusion of) simplicity and getting the point over in a short space of time. The need is to make the overlap between these two standpoints larger in an exciting and inspirational manner.

One step would be to get all three sides to better integrate the issues at hand whilst being more communally open, honest and constructive. I appreciate that that might be viewed as commercial or organisational suicide but hopefully that’s being unduly defeatist!

So, on this note, how about having a meeting to come up with ways to make meetings better 😉

Picture credit here.

New Insights On Radical Innovation?

June 6, 2009

Interesting post from Umair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab, on candidate rules for radical innovation culled from Twitter, briefly summarised as:

1. Ideals beat strategies.

2. Open beats closed.

3. Connection beats transaction.

4. Simplicity beats complexity.

5. Neighborhoods beat networks.

6. Circuits beat channels.

7. Laziness beats business.

8. Public beats private.

9. Messy beats clean.

10. Good beats evil.

As the author says, they’re nor the only ones or even necessarily the best ones but it may be worth thinking how some of these aspects can be applied to your business!