Tangential creativity

Quite a few people have pointed to John Naughton’s article: Lasers would never have shone if Mandelson had been in charge. Naughton challenges the government’s plans to restrict science funding to applicants that can show “demonstrable benefits to the economy society public policy, culture and quality of life” (the words of the Higher Education Funding Council for England). A lot will depend on the flexibility with which such a mandate is pursued, but I fear it will involve lots of rigid and simplistic tick boxes and score cards.

Naughton uses the examples of lasers, which play a vital role in heaps of current technology – but the people who first experimented with them could not have foreseen that. And presumably could not have got government funding under the proposed regime. Naugthon says

This bodes ill for any scientist or engineer interested in curiosity-driven research.

I like that phrase, curiosity-driven research. It suggests intrinsic motivation, a phenomenon easily underestimated by managerial convention, wedded as it is to the things that can be made explicit, and made explicit now.

Facilitators often come under pressure to get meetings to deliver definite outcomes on a fixed timescale. That approach comes with a hidden cost.

(For more of my thoughts on this, see this post on obliquity.)

1 thought on “Tangential creativity

  1. Ian Glendinning

    This is a pet hate of mine too … science research (funding) driven by business objectives. In fact givernment should concern itself with exactly the opposite – the curiosity driven creativity. (Business will look after its own “objectives” – in fact it’s really a clearer demarcation between R & D. As soon as R is not curiosity driven it is D by definition, say, if people really do want the explicit.)

    I like that tag / category of yours “tyranny of the explicit” Wish I’d coined it 😉


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