Monday, February 8, 2016

CSIRO Researchers Need Innovation Training

CSIRO and the former NICTA (now Data61) were certainly in need of reform, but I am not sure if the new CEO's cure is not worse than the malaise the organizations were suffering from.

A few years ago I spent a year as a visiting scientist in CSIRO's IT R&D area. There were world class researchers working on important problems. But the management of the organization did not appear to be paying much attention to this. there did not seem to be any overall direction for the organization. CSIRO was using "matrix" management, which seemed to be an admission that there really was no one running the place. Having spent 15 years associated with a university, I am used to the difficulties of a diverse research orientated organization, but CSRIO's problems were an order of magnitude worse.

The new CSIRO CEO, Larry Marshall, is attempting to apply Silicon Valley management techniques to what is a losse federation of scientists. CSIRO probably does need a shock like this to restart it. But the language used to communicate with the staff, I suggest, needs to be translated from start-up speak, into something resembling Australia English. Lucy Kellaway writes a column for the Financial Times where she ridicules management speak used by CEOs when they are announcing staff reductions. She would have plenty of material to work with in Marshall's announcement.

The former NICTA (now Data61) was also in need of a rethink. I was one of those who was consulted and advocated the multi-center model for the organization, with nodes in each state associated with a major university. However, this has not worked, with the organization not having a clear identity of its own.

One of the ways I suggest CSIRO, Data61 and its university counterparts could improve the R&D process is to train researchers in how innovation happens. CSIRO have announced the ON innovation and entrepreneurship program. The first part of this is an accelerator an program called AcceleratiON, with eight teams of CSIRO staff and outsiders spending three moths developing a venture. However, I suggest research CSIRO all need basic training in innovation.

Innovation is not about how to have a brilliant new idea, but how to translate that idea into a marketable product. This is not to say every researcher needs to become an entrepreneur, but they do need to understand the basics of how their work is turned into something useful. Too many researchers in white coats (yes, some do really wear white coats) have the idea that they are doing the hard bit and someone else in a pinstripe suit (or(back skivvy) then has an easy job to turn this into a product. A little training will teach them how important and hard this is. I have been designing on-line mobile deliverable innovation training modules to help with this.

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