Sunday, February 24, 2008

Research And Classification of Research Activities

Anonymous said...
I have the idea that there are two categories of research positions (but I am not sure if it is right). People in the first position do the "hands-on" stuff (whatever the type of research it is, e.g. basic, strategic, applied etc). People in the second position are generally the more senior staff who lead projects or manages the companies. What are the differences in the challenges in two categories? What are the differences between the kind of skills required for each category?

My Reply ....

In general practice your observation that there are two distinct categories of research positions is correct. People who are “hands on” and those who lead projects and manage companies. What are the differences in the challenges in the two categories? The differences are in the background of the individuals involved and how they climbed up their corporate ladders. The most desirable and suitable persons in research are those who have experience, who can do both the hands on work as well as lead and manage the projects or companies at the same time. Most successful technopreneurs in the private business belong to this class. They possess some S & T background related to their work to start with whether it is from the Poly’s ,universities or even the craft courses. These people cannot stand too much bureaucracy, especially “arm chair” detectives who have little or no S & T knowledge of the research subject at all. Every country likes to have more such technopreneurs.
Large organizations, (Governments and big corporations) with modern “good” governance practice require the systems to separate policy making from executive and operational activities. The policy makers need not have hands on experience although it is an advantage if they have. Their priorities are to ensure that the Government or Companies’ policies are implemented. This process divides the responsibilities of the Ministers, Chairmen/Boards, at the policy level from CEO’s/COO’s, managerial. S & T officers who have to use their “research” capabilities to execute, plan and implement the policies. With this arrangement people have to work harmoniously together to get results especially research where there is so much uncertainties to start with. The people involved must have faith, trust and confidence in those they work with. Otherwise a lot of time and effort will have to be spent in convincing and monitoring each other and to decide the best approach to take. This process is commonly known as bureaucracy which hinders the important parties from working more closely together. It is usually quite a frustrating process for genuine researchers to have to follow. This is the modern corporate life that researchers have to live with.
Some believe that the policy makers are the most important people in any set up. They believe that all technology or technical know, which reside in humans, can be bought. I cannot say I can agree with this. Important research personnel, like the military personnel, should never be manned by foreign mercenaries whose loyalty has not been proven. It is not easy to get good foreign researches who love their work passionately and are at the same time also loyal to our country and companies unless they are made only to work on selected short term projects.
We must also not overlook the importance of providing the opportunities and encouragement for our own “research” workers to rise from the rank and file, from hands on work to become leaders of projects and management of companies, small though some of these may be. It is wonderful if we can make our “guppies” become whales. It is also necessary to support our “caterpillars” to become “butterflies” as a natural sequence of their metamorphosis process instead of allowing them to die prematurely to become somebody’s silk kimonos during economic restructuring.

It is ideal if more “hands on” researchers can be helped to be leaders of projects and management of companies and successful technopreneurs. This happens and is still happening in most of the developed countries. Their local industries play a very important part in the countries’ economic and national development. It is time we have a hard look at how our local industries can be helped. If we overemphasis on too unrealistic aims we will have to depend on miracles to happen to achieve what we want. Technologically impressive projects are good for the soul but it must not be a desperate attempt to impress as considerable resources, time, effort and even lives can be wasted in the process which could have been put to better use.

My wife has suggested that we should give some case studies and share our experiences in our effort in making research our careers. You can then decide whether such a career path is worth your effort or not to pursue or to continue.

Lee Kum Tatt

How To Attract People To Fight The Status Quo

During the colonial days and the war years there were few opportunities for the colonial subjects. There was no encouragement to have freedom of thought, speech and action. Without proper markers freedom of speech and action could easily land one in trouble. In the name of national security the majority, especially the employees/ workers, were not encouraged to question or challenge the status quo. If they do they may even lose whatever little they have. Many were made to accept their miserable survival and existence. Many lived under constant fear in a very stifling environment until the tide against colonialism set in after the war in 1945. Fighting the status quo of injustice is an important motivating factor that can attract like thinking people to work together.

It was under these changed conditions that many national independent movements were started. The more enlightened and brave souls wanted more political, social, economic and other freedoms to do what they like for a better life in line with their culture, traditions, principles, values and beliefs. Our multiracial and religious society can present many problems if not handled properly by all concerned. These conditions threw up many leaders in many fields besides politics. Countries which have succeeded in getting these leaders to work together prosper. Political leaders who cannot work with each other and with leaders in other fields find their people still suffering from poverty and diseases. They have not provided the jobs, housing, education, and personal freedom that their people need. The history of early Singapore is the story of how our leaders in the various fields attracted other like thinking, capable and passionate people to work together to build what has to be built. How did they use the resources within their reach to attract the ”needles in the haystack” ? What are the motivating factors that made these people work? How many of these are still useful and attractive in the present context?

With more emphasis on money as rewards, are the existing motivating factors still valid and sufficient to continue to attract the right people to do what has to be done?

Some specific surveys, specially made to address specific issues may have to be done to get the real reasons why people did what they did. We may not be able to get the true answers to the questions otherwise. We may end with the wrong conclusion that money is the only motivating factor that works. The next best thing is to have some case studies made with individuals who participated in the process and let us learn from them their experience and feelings.

W e need some true answers if we are to remain a viable and strong nation.

The Use of Magnets.

Magnets are often used to attract needles from the haystack. What type of magnets do we need to attract the right type of people to step forward? These decisions are best made by those who have the responsibilities to do what has to be done. Definitely it is not the use of money alone. The Magnets, made up of motivating factors, will vary from case to case. The common areas where passionate volunteers are required include Charity, Social and Community Service, “National” Service, Professional Services etc. Perhaps the volunteers who serve on the top policy making levels of these services should never be allowed to make these as careers. Our Nation, the authorities, the communities, the professional bodies etc should honour these people gratefully and sincerely for their contributions and give them whatever support necessary for their work. Money should never be the main motivating factor for such services? It will be very sad for many if it is.

The Magnet we used to attract volunteers to work with us include :

1. Challenges to fight Status Quo which hindered our progress
2. Help improve the lives of our citizens
3. Do something of interests that will make a difference
4. Widen one’s network connections to become more effective
5. Enhance the effectiveness of the individuals etc.

Will great emphasis on money making can the existing value system continue to attract passionate volunteers to do what has to be done?

Lee Kum Tatt

How To Make People Work in Harmony

We live in a globalize world where whatever one does some other people will be affected in one way or another. Some of the problems we face are so complex that we need more than just a few smart individuals to solve them. Furthermore we also have a multi-racial, multi-religious and multicultural society where progress depends on our ability to live in harmony and peace with each other. Consciously or unknowingly we have acquired some experience and wisdom on how to do that. We will not tolerate any attempts by anyone or groups to upset these arrangements. We will be happy to share our experiences giving case studies and anecdotes to those interested. My husband Dr. Lee Kum Tatt (LKT) has spent 60 years in learning, educating , promoting, building scientific institutions and movements, and helping local technopreneurs to develop. I myself have been involved in education and research and helped my husband in doing what has to be done in his work. We have persuaded LKT to share his experiences with us. Besides adopting the scientific approach LKT believes in applying teamwork, multidisciplinary approach, importance of principles, values, culture and tradition to problem solving. This is something that some have difficulties in doing. LKT has numerous scientific publications and delivered many key note and opening addresses in international and local conferences on the various things he had to do throughout his life. I will try to extract some of these, especially those which we consider still valid, relevant and useful to us today. LKT believes that interests and passion in one’s activities are more important than monetary rewards as is the modern trend. He shares with us how some motivating factors will attract people who are interested and passionate in what has to be done to work with us. Some of the important factors include personal and professional interests, desire to help others and courage to challenge the Status Quo especially during the earlier days.

Mrs. Engeline Lee

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Do Our Science -Trained Researchers Do?

When we talk of scientific research we invariably think of the Nobel Prize winners, great inventors, successful entrepreneurs and professors, policy makers in government or businesses. We admire and respect these people, make them our role models and even hero-worship them. When we talk about R & D we think of high technology and what their MNC’s do at home. Many of such activities are out of the reach of our people.

We tend to overlook and even look down on the large numbers of local people engaged in scientific work in our laboratories, factories, quality control systems, workshops and hospitals etc. These people provide important supporting scientific services like doing the routine work, problem solving and innovation which require scientific knowledge/skills. These people support the growth of our economy, provide the services required and the jobs we need. They also provide the important basic scientific infra structure for those involved in higher creative and basic research. They enhance the chances of research activities to become useful and meaningful to society, country and Mankind. Singapore has built up some of our S & T services in the past 50 years. We now have to build up our creative and basic research capabilities and quickly integrate them into what we already have to catch up for the years we have lost during the colonial days. Do not overlook our basic infrastructure in our quest for higher goals in S & T development. I have produce a simple chart (please see above) showing the Pyramid of Research Activities we can do and are involved in.

We know money is needed to acquire and generate knowledge and skills. Money is required to keep Science and our interest in it alive. Money is needed to keep our jobs and our businesses going. How many of our science trained personal know how to use their scientific knowledge to create wealth by themselves? Not many. This is because the creation of wealth involves many different parties to work together for a common cause.

The common complaint most scientists of developing countries make is insufficient funding for their research. The questions are:
a. Who are these people?
b. Who are the people responsible for solving this problem and
c. How are they to doing it now?

Since money is so important in many of the things we do in life, making money tend to become an end in itself instead of being a means to an end. R & D and many other things will suffer if the creation of wealth becomes the only goal in what we do.

Another answer to our problem is to produce more scientists who are also entrepreneurs, who dare to take risks and create the funds and opportunities they need. Pass the responsibilities to the science graduates and blame them if nothing happens. Be self sufficient is an ideal solution which is difficult to achieve in most cases. The authorities can step up the education program to produce more S & T personnel. To produce entrepreneurs out of these graduates is a different matter. The question is asked “Can entrepreneurs be trained or are they born? Entrepreneurs have special talents to know what to do. How does this talent come about? Entrepreneurs also need courage to do what they believe in. How can an individual acquire this courage? It must be recognized that it is too much to expect a person to be good scientifically and technologically, entrepreneurial and courageous at the same time. Those who can do all these by themselves deserve our respect for what they are. Our society will need these people more than they need us. The authorities must not stop only at indicating what has to be done i.e. do more R & D and be more entrepreneurial and creative. It must use its resources and authority to encourage active participation among the important parties.

Who are these “science research workers” and what can they do to get and produce what is needed? To get a better understanding of this universal problem I have produced a sketch (please see above) to show the type of people involved. In my profession and career I learned the importance of how to get these people to work together. A lot of work has to be done which may not show immediate results. Bridges have to be built for people to cross and meet each other. Barriers which inhibit important people/sectors from cooperating with each other have to be broken down.

I will share with you some of my own experience and that of my colleagues in articles describing anecdotes of events that happened related to this matter. I will try to describe the issues of the day, the priorities and strategies we set and the way we implemented our policies and plans in the articles in my Blog. The people, technologies and environment may have changed but the need for people to work together in order that R & D can create wealth, and also enhances our development, remains valid and essential.
How to do this remain a challenge to us and the generations to come.

Lee Kum Tatt