At the MSU Plant Biotechnology Symposium this year, Richard Trethewey from BASF gave a talk on Innovation. Using a series of quotes from Louis Pasteur to Anna Wintour he outlined 5 Aspects of Innovation:
- Chance favors the prepared mind. (Louis Pasteur)
- Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way. (Tom Freston)
- It’s always about timing. If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten. (Anna Wintour)
- New combinations are, as a rule, embodied, as it were, in new firms which generally do not arise out of the old ones but start producing beside them; in general it is not the owner of stage-coaches who build new railways. (Joseph Schumpeter)
- Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it. (Steve Jobs)
Above all, innovation is driven by a precise definition of need.
While I found this talk to be quite inspirational, I do not really see myself as an “out of the box” kind of thinker. Those of you who know me know that I am a very analytical person and really love the small, itty bitty details that drive many people nuts. When it comes to trouble-shooting and writing protocols, this is quite advantageous. At other times, it can result in getting hung up on the minutia and losing sight of the Big Picture.
This is one of the reasons I started The Pub Club–I knew I needed constant interaction with other scientists to keep myself from getting lost in the muck of my own brain! I envisioned a group of people all coming together to challenge, inspire and help each other do better science. What are the big questions in our field? To what big themes in science does my specific research apply? If we never think big, we will never do big science. This was one of the messages I got from listening to the PRL alumni at the recent 50th anniversary celebration. Why am I a scientist? What does being a scientist mean to me? Do I still believe I can help solve the big problems, or have I resigned myself to the mediocrity of the little bit of the picture with which I work right now?
Heading into next semester, I would like to challenge us to start asking these questions as a group and seeing what kind of answers we find. The first step will be to generate a list of the “Big Questions” in our field, so start thinking and reading and talking to each other now to get prepared. Feel free to add your ideas to The Blackboard by using the comment function at the bottom of the page.