Science-Industry-Talk 2014: Spotting Talent(s)

Science-Industry-Talk 2014: Spotting Talent(s)IST Austria

Organized jointly by the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) and the Federation of Austrian Industries (IV), the Science-Industry-Talk series strengthens the relationship between industry and basic research. Taking place for the fourth time, this year’s talk on 3.6.2014 focuses on identifying and fostering talent. Moderator is Oliver Lehmann (Media Relations, IST Austria).

The specific coaching services which provides for top scientists and consultants is at the origin of my personal interest in this event. This blogpost provides a short overview over its contents together with critical personal remarks.

Bridging the gap between the spheres of science and business has become a frequently raised topic. But which kinds of personality and talent does it take to succeed in science and business? How can companies deal with the inherent unpredictability of basic research? How can scientists cope with the need for clear results and ease of implementation? What does it take to spot the talents and encourage out-of-the-box thinking that challenges conventional wisdom? What do excellent scientists and successful entrepreneurs have in common?

At the beginning of this Science-Industry-Talk, Georg Kapsch, President of the Federation of Austrian Industries (IV), presents his own view. He deplores that less than 20% of beginners study technical subjects and relates that to a lack of talents, without demonstrating how these two observations might actually be connected. The awareness of technology in Austria should be enhanced, the ongoing brain drain needs to be stopped. Unbiased political committment to a sustained support of individuals as well as companies is paramount.

The Austrian minister for Science, Research and Economy, Reinhold Mitterlehner, appreciates having both R&D and implementation within the scope of his ministery, without showing which advantages this offers, or might offer in future, for these three areas.

The kernel of this year’s Science-Industry-Talk is a panel discussion featuring Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff (AiCuris GmbH, DE), Maria Ringler (Ashoka, AT), Edward Astle (NED Intertek, GB), Falk Straschegg (Extorel GmbH, DE) and Friedrich Prinz (Stanford University, USA) as representatives for both science and industry.

panelists science industry talk 2014

Right from the beginning of the discussion there is unanimity that talents need to be spotted worldwide. The problem that actual selection conditions at universities and research institutions could possibly make insufficient use of the existing potential is not discussed at all, nor is the option to develop available talents towards higher performance. Nevertheless, starting from the initial question which talents the panel members themselves see als relevant for their own successes they produce a number of quite interesting statements which are repeated like headlines in what follows:

  • perfection is boring (Straschegg)
  • entrepreneurs are driven by their mission, not by money (Ringler)
  • changemaking skills are empathy, leadership and teamwork (Ringler)
  • main problem is not to spot talents, but to attract them [as a university or employer]; students look at rankings (Prinz)
  • a forgiving culture is essential to attract talented students (Prinz)
  • spotting talents is quite different from spotting business opportunities (Straschegg)
  • even starting up a company may need completely different talents as compared to running that same company (Straschegg)
  • talents may be hidden, because they have never been challenged – Coaching (sic!) may be great for unearthing them (Rübsamen-Schaeff)

The actual discussion falls noticably short of the questions asked right at the beginning (s. above). How to deal with the unpredictable, the unconventional or with completely new results is not even touched upon. Similarly, possible points of attac for a state-directed science and implementation supporting policy do not turn up in the discussion. On the other hand, there are practically useful hints toward practical essentials both for scientists as well as for universities and employers. It is left to their individual judgement to draw conclusions and to apply them. In any case,‘s brain-worker coaching may individually contribute significantly towards this aim.

A fairly detailed Q&A session with in part very personal references to the concerns of the questioners completes the Science-Industry-Talk 2014.

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