Some vital contributions to successful innovation might be quite small; they might even be deemed mundane or boring. But that doesn’t diminish their importance. These contributions usually fall into Thomas Edison’s ‘99 per cent perspiration’ category of genius, whereas the one per cent inspiration bit gets the recognition.
Perhaps it’s because the perspiration part doesn’t get the fanfare it deserves that innovation can be overlooked during planning.
In planning workshops, I spend a lot of time getting participants to think of those future ‘head slapping’ moments that need to be avoided. These often relate to systems and policies — “of course, no-one can use it until it’s in the building code” or “of course, once the Council of Australian Governments has agreed, we can adopt it.”
These statements of the obvious don’t seem so obvious when R&D is initially planned. Nevertheless, they are invariably preceded by the phrase “of course” when they come up.
Now with 30 years of hindsight, I see the massive blind spot technical people have when it comes to so-called “softer” sciences. I don’t know the origin of calling them soft sciences; if we ignore them, we are just as royally stuffed as if we bet against one of Newton’s laws.
Billions of dollars of applied science funding have failed to meet their promise because the social or human aspects of the research were ignored or downplayed.
“If you build it, they will come” may have worked for Kevin Costner in his film, Field of Dreams, but it hasn’t worked so well for a lot of genetic modification research or certain methods of food production — or, arguably, nuclear power. Assuming that public attitudes, economics and the law will eventually catch up to the science is just asking to be proved wrong.
We technical people are getting better. We’ve started to invite a soft scientist or two to planning meetings. But building our machines and funding our experiments is super expensive and obviously needs to be done first. Inevitably, “human factors” will be “program four” (never “program one”), with details to be worked out later, followed by budgeting a bit later than that (“How much money can they need? A few surveys can’t cost much!”)
It’s time we started to see the human factor as a front-end consideration — rather than an afterthought tacked on a few steps before the finish line — and gave proper respect to the perspiration needed to get us there.
— Tony Peacock, CRC Association CEO
This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.