Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

WOW projects, TED talks, Cosmicomics and indirect reciprocity

33 finsbury squareWOW projects, TED talks, Cosmicomics and indirect reciprocity.  What do they have in common?  Well, each of them features in a new and rather different education programme that we are launching next month on the University of Liverpool’s campus at 33 Finsbury Square, London.  We are targetting mid-career engineers and scientists, working in research and development organisations, who want to develop their skills and advance their careers. I write ‘we’ because it is a joint effort by the School of Engineering at the University and the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory.  It has been something of an adventure for me putting the modules together and we hope they will form a voyage of discovery and adventure for our delegates.

In case you are wondering about WOW projects, TED talks, Cosmicomics and indirect reciprocity – they will feature in modules on Science Leadership & Ethics, Technical Communication, Technical Writing, and Technical Reputation respectively.  These four five-credit modules plus a work-based project form the programme that leads to a Post-graduate Award.  Each module involves a day on campus in London supported by reading and assignments before and afterwards; and we are running a module per month between now and Christmas.

If you’re curious to find out more then visit our website or watch our Youtube video.

A liberal engineering education

115-1547_IMGFredrik Sjoberg points out how the lives of Darwin and Linnaeus have become models for generations of natural scientists.  Youthful travels followed by years of patient, narrowly focussed research and finally the revolutionary ideas and great books.  Very many scientists have followed the first two steps but missed out on the last one, leaving them trapped in ‘the tunnel vision of specialised research’.  As our society and its accompanying technology has become more complex, more and more tunnels or silos of specialised knowledge and research have been created.  This has led specialists to focus on solving issues that they understand best and communicating little or not at all with others in related fields.  At the same time, our society and technologies are becoming more interconnected, making it more appropriate to cross the cultural divides between specialisms.

One of the pleasures of teaching my current MOOC is the diversity of learners in terms of gender, geography and educational background who are willing to cross the cultural divides.  We have people following the MOOC in places as diverse as Iceland, Mexico, Nigeria and Syria.  We have coffee bean growers, retired humanities academics, physical chemists and social historians.  In most of the western world, engineering is taught to male-dominated classes and this has remained a stubborn constant despite strenous efforts to bring about change.  So it is a pleasure to interact with such a diverse cohort of people seeking to liberate their minds from habit and convention.

The original meaning of the term ‘liberal studies’ was studies that liberated students’ minds from habit and convention.  Recently, Vinod Khosla has suggested that we should focus on teaching our students ‘liberal sciences’.     This seems to connect with the ’emotive traits’ that David Brooks has proposed will be required for success in the future, when machines can do most of what humans do now (see my post entitled ‘Smart Machines‘ on February 26th, 2014).  These emotive traits are a voracious lust of understanding, an enthusiasm for work, the ability to grasp the gist and an empathetic sensitivity for what will attract attention.   We don’t teach much of any of these in traditional engineering degrees which is perhaps why we can’t recruit a more diverse student population.  We need to incorporate them into our degree programmes, reduce much of the esoteric brain-twisting analysis and encourage our students to grapple with concepts and their broader implications.  This would become a liberal engineering education.


Fredrik Sjoberg, The Fly Trap, Penguin Books, 2015

Asish Ghosh, Dynamic Systems for Everyone: Understanding How Our World Works, Springer, 2015

Vinod Khosla, Is majoring in liberal arts a mistake for students? Medium, February 10th, 2016

David Brooks, What machines can’t do, New York Times, February 3rd, 2014



Converting wealth into knowledge and back to wealth

Some months ago I was invited to give the opening lecture at a workshop in China on connecting science and business in the field of experimental mechanics. ‘Connecting science and business’ was the sub-title of a book I wrote with Bob Handscombe some years ago and ‘experimental mechanics’ is a theme that runs deep through my research. So, I felt honored to be invited and confident that I had something relevant to say. However, probably the most succinct statement at the workshop was made by Professor Jian Lu from City University of Hong Kong quoting Geoffrey Nicholson, the inventor of Post-Its: ‘Research is the transformation of money into knowledge. Innovation is the transformation of knowledge back into money creating value.’

The central role that money plays in life is acknowledged in the saying ‘money makes the world go around’. However, the intertwining of money and knowledge is less widely recognised. Although we talk about a knowledge economy not many people understand what it means or how it functions. The diagram below is an attempt to show how research leads to the creation of private information which needs to be disseminated in order to become public information. Public information becomes public knowledge when it is incorporated into our structured, shared understanding through study and learning. Public knowledge is used in innovation processes to create new technology and wealth, which fuels further research, so that there is a feedback loop.  The diagram is modified from one by Max Tegmark‘s book ‘Our Mathematical Universe‘ and, of course is simplified, perhaps too much, but nevertheless illustrates the process of knowledge creation even if sometimes the whole process functions inside an organisation. In the later situation, the creation of knowledge and the benefits to society are likely to be impeded, at least temporarily.

Information triangle

Information triangle

Ideal employee

graduationSome years ago during a visit to South Korea, I listened to a speech by an Executive Vice-President of KEPCO, the Korea Electric Power Corporation.  He talked about the need to blend the desire of consumers who want to buy cheaper goods in a clean environment with the will of a company to make more money and to do this in the context of the world running in a ‘green race’ for survival.  He identified their employees as his company’s most valuable asset and went on to describe the ideal employee as having three key attributes:

A team player – cooperative and capable of growing together with their colleagues

A creativity-driven professional – flexible and globally competitive

A passionate executor – innovative and able to make things happen

He did not list these attributes in any order of importance but gave them equal weighting as nodes on a circle around which the ideal employee could move effortlessly.  Of course I am biased but this description sounds like an engineer!

If you are just starting a new course of education then perhaps these are the qualities that you should aim to acquire or cultivate.

If you are an employer and are lucky enough to hire one or even a group of these ‘ideal employees’ then your problems as a manager may only just be beginning.  They are likely to be what is known as ‘knowledge workers’ who will share certain characteristics, including being highly educated or experienced, hate being told what to do and reluctant to share knowledge with their managers.  So many employers resort to HSPALTA: Hire Smart People And Leave Them Alone.