Some time with the Chief… Scientist

Professor Peter Andrews is Queensland’s Chief Scientist. Over a few hours on Tuesday evening, he reminded a few of us that biotechnology will be the key enabling technology for the coming generation… it will impact our food, our health and our energy supply. It was great to see John Kapaleris, Damian Hines and Ross Barnard there too – people that have had a big impact on my thinking in technology and innovation management. For example, check out the subject that I did with Damian (that John is now running), Biotech Venture Management

Prof Andrews pointed out that we’re likely to run into a severe skills shortage for scientists in the years ahead. Even now we’re trying to import talent from China and India, but as those economies develop there will be ever fewer of their best and brightest wanting to leave home. And to cultivate more scientists, we need not only to have more primary school teachers actually feel confident teaching maths and science, more students taking maths and science to senior, and more science graduates, we need more people feeling passionate about the scientific mindset. A brief profile appears on the Brisbane Institute page and in State Development.

Interestingly enough (at least for me) being a scientist has far more in common with being an artist than being in business. It is largely a mindset with enabling mental operations… here are a few differences that a study of Polymathy and Creativity found.

  • Artists and Scientists have diverse intellectual interests, while Business-types are intellectually narrow
  • Artists and Scientists have elaborate fantasies, while Business-types are more grounded and reality focused
  • Artists and Scientists are sensorily responsive and motivated to express their experiences, while Business-types tend to be disinterested in sensuality

Compared with Artists, Scientists were more willing to work in structured environments and less introspective about sex (why the ‘artist’ persona can be so seductive?). However, when compared across 50 personality dimensions, it was found that there were only two where Artists and Scientists differed, and 15 where Artists and Scientists differed (statistically significantly) from Business-types.

Another interesting implication from the study was that arts education is necessary for scientific innovation…

(It is ironic that just yesterday, Queensland Schools’ Scientific Assistants were on strike because the Education Department regards them as interchangable with administration officers. These are the very people who setup the experiments to teach our young people the value and excitement of science! I also found out that there is no role for Technology assistants within schools – at my old high school, the guys in charge of the computers are paid for by the P&C rather than by the Department. I would have thought that being serious about having a ‘Smart State’ would demand that serious attention be given to the lead indicators and contributing factors, rather than just lamenting that things aren’t better. But maybe it’s just me…)

Finally, while I greatly enjoyed the debate on privatising public education at Customs House (hosted by The Brisbane Institute) last Tuesday, the arguments against could have offered something more than laughing at the suggestion and saying “we just couldn’t”. Perhaps the more advanced arguments raised in other parts of the world could be instructive, such as those presented at FastCompany here. To me, the challenge lies in defining the educational outcomes that would be the key performance indicators used for assessing performance of the providers – though this is a problem today as much as it would be then…