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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"Designing the Future"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Congress of the Pennsylvania Nanotechnology Initiative
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

October 3, 2002

Good morning. Returning to the Pennsylvania community is always a pleasure. It's both my intellectual and personal home. Today, I'm particularly delighted to join you for what promises to be a very fruitful discussion on the exciting and evolving potential of nanoscale science, engineering and technology, or "nano" for short.

What makes this meeting remarkable is its mixture of differences within a commonality of purpose. If you turn around in your seat, you might encounter a scientist, the head of an economic development agency, an engineer, a venture capitalist, a state science advisor, an educator, a corporate officer, or maybe even whatever. I'm not sure if we have any reporters present, but if you are here, we want to work with you, too! These deliberations hold great potential for the future of the Commonwealth, and we need to get that message out.

We certainly are an eclectic mix of business and labor, community colleges and universities, and local, state and federal government. Each of us has a stake in the success of an initiative that crosses many different borders to bring us together in common territory. I hope you consider the National Science Foundation as a partner, too! We are delighted that we can play a role in this vital and innovative endeavor.

The success of the Pennsylvania Nanotechnology Initiative will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and innovation. Algorithmic handbooks for this sort of venture - and adventure - do not exist. No maps or charts can take us unerringly to our desired destination. While we may build on past experience, rich as it is in this great state, we must also design the new, transforming architecture of our future.

One of the great practitioners of American management theory, Peter Drucker, once remarked:

"The best way to predict the future is to create it."

As an engineer, I'm accustomed to thinking in terms of systems that are designed to meet desired ends. So I'll put a slight twist to Drucker's comment. I've titled my remarks "Designing the Future" to emphasize the significant part human intention plays in this enterprise. Nano promises to offer new options and enable choices never before open to us, most of which are as yet unimagined. So what is our intent here? Looking out across this new frontier and wondering what may be, the task in this Congress is to optimize our design for the future in ways that will revolutionize our economy and promote the well being of our citizens.

If I may borrow a phrase from Dean of Architecture William McDonough, design in this nano exercise is indeed "a manifestation of human intent."

A focus on human intention might have appealed to the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, writing in the mid-20th century. "Entrepreneurship," he said, "incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one."

According to Schumpeter, disruption is the normal state of a healthy, vibrant economy. Of course, such a state can cause losses in its path. In fact, the disruption caused by an innovation can sometimes be painful, while simultaneously creating new opportunities for growth. For Schumpeter, this "creative destruction" is the hallmark of technological innovation.

There's a trick to getting this transition right. We need a rational hand on the tiller and a capacity to perform no matter how the frontier may move! Continuous enhancement of the workforce in ways that prepare them for the unexpected is a fundamental requirement for success. Something new and exciting is happening in the 21st century that can help us foster this capability. The borders between discovery, learning, and innovation are blurring. Increasingly, scientists and engineers, educators, and entrepreneurs are working across many different disciplines and fields and in different sectors to make the connections that lead to deeper insights and more creative solutions. We look ahead to exquisite but practical improvements in everything from drug delivery systems to renewable energy resources. I like to think of this as "creative transformation" - the flip side of the "creative destruction" coin.

Focusing on creative transformation as our central vision can help us act intelligently as we move ahead. It can cultivate a benevolent approach to robust change.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the emerging field of nano. You would be hard pressed to find another field where the traffic between new knowledge and technological innovation is as intertwined - or where the variety of skills and talent is as broad - or where the links to other frontier breakers, like bioscience, terascale capabilities, and cognitive capacity, are so robust.

The concept of design is particularly apt here. Nano, with its three orders of magnitude tinier reach, and with its capacity to reveal novel phenomena and to permit the manipulation and automanipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular levels, offers fresh possibilities in many dimensions.

Returning to Peter Drucker, last fall the Economist magazine carried an essay by Drucker with the title "The Next Society." In a section headed "Knowledge is All" this is what he says:

"The next society will be a knowledge society. Knowledge will be its key resource, and knowledge workers will be the dominant group in its workforce."

Drucker believes that much of that "next society" is already here, or is rapidly emerging.

Whether or not we agree on the details of Drucker's particular vision of what will characterize the "next society," we can certainly agree that our society has already been transformed in unprecedented ways, and that new knowledge is at the core of change.

Drucker first coined the terms 'knowledge society' and 'knowledge worker' about 40 years ago. Speaking of these terms today, he says "Now everyone uses them, but as yet hardly anyone understands their implications for human values and human behaviour [sic], for managing people and making them productive, for economics and for politics."

Today, knowledge is both the source of inspiration and the object of aspirations worldwide. Increasingly, people everywhere in the world see the capacity to create and use knowledge as their best chance to promote economic prosperity and improve the quality of life. New knowledge is a key force driving technological innovation, which in turn creates new jobs and wealth, launches new industries, and grows economies.

We once envisioned the creation of new knowledge as a simple linear process - from research, to development, to market. That's no longer the case. We now realize that not only can scientific and engineering research drive technological innovation, but that it can also happen the other way around. Innovation can spur the search for new knowledge and create the context in which the next generation of research identifies new frontiers.

In the larger sense, innovation depends upon a mutual, synergistic set of interactions that includes not only science, engineering and technology, but social, political and economic interactions as well.

In the last ten years, the winds of change have literally swept across our institutions. They have reshaped the once familiar landscape of the economy and have forced us to clear new paths in business, in research, in science and engineering, and in education. Nano will multiply these changes, and create dramatic new ones.

We're all in this together! Our fate and fortune will depend upon our ability to pull the oars together.

Two critical components of our task are partnerships and education.

Partnerships are becoming increasingly important because discovery and innovation can only rarely get on without them. They bring to the table participants with different expertise and resources, and a diversity of perspectives. As our products, processes, problems and solutions continue to increase in complexity, our need for a diversity of combinations and partners will grow as well.

Collaboration among academe, government, labor and industry is also a powerful way to ensure that the two-way road between the academic research laboratory and the larger world stays open and engaged. That's one place where we welcome heavy traffic!

Of course, partnerships introduce an added level of complexity to any undertaking. This is true because the task is new and none of the partners has experience in accomplishing it.

Good partnerships always present new challenges. At the start, differences among the partners may seem like hurdles to overcome: differences in perspective, in experience, in institutional culture, and in goals. But as time passes and trust builds, the partners realize that linking the differences becomes the guarantor of success.

Something new happens in the process of integrating the different intellectual skills, experience, and perspectives of the partners. A singular or separate dynamic emerges from the interaction. You could say that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the part . . . ners!

Partnerships must also be responsive to innovation. Corporations have had to reinvent themselves - over and over again. Universities have begun moving to this mode. Partnerships must permute, reshape, and regenerate to stay fresh and responsive to the demands of new knowledge and innovation.

Scientists and engineers must be able to work across many different disciplines and fields, and yet maintain a deep understanding of their own specialties.

We will need new designs to prepare talent from all fields and sectors to move in and out of combinations as new challenges arise. That means encouraging flexibility, creativity, and agility, among other skills.

We need to nurture partnership skills and reward those who practice them. That means resolving an apparent dilemma. We are all encouraged to be our own person, and to succeed on our own merits. Yet in many situations, cooperation, pooling talent, knowledge and experience is what is needed.

We will need to discover how to embrace and reward both ways of working. A great baseball team knows how to do this: it values both its homerun hitters and the players who make the double plays. This is a critical aspect of producing a world-class science and engineering workforce.

We should always view these combinations as creative arrangements. They are not formulas to be automatically replicated but rather new patterns to be ingeniously enhanced each time we design the next combination. As one example, the very diverse set of NSF-funded Engineering Research Centers attest to this. The Pennsylvania Nanotechnology Initiative fits this pattern to a tee.

With today's powerful information and computer-communication technologies, innovation's reach is both deeper and broader than at any time in history. New knowledge is accessible anywhere in the world, and at nearly instantaneous speeds. The capacity to create and employ knowledge resides in an ever growing, globally linked community. Increasingly, our collaborations will reach across national borders.

Experimentation with new forms or organization, new partnerships, new learning environments is a critical part of our innovation enterprise. Advances in science and engineering, especially our new information technologies, have put us on the threshold of major advances in the social, cognitive and behavioral sciences. These in turn will provide the fodder for a new age of educational innovation. We will learn "how we learn" and that understanding will enable us to design more effective learning environments.

One of the most insightful and humorous descriptions of a learning environment is in Mark Twain's brilliant short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Let me share an educational passage.

"He ketched a frog one day and took him home and said he cal'klated to educate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump. And you bet he did learn him, too. He'd give him a little punch behind, and the next minute you'd see that frog whirling in the air like a doughnut . . . Smiley said all a frog wanted was education, and he could do most anything-and I believe him."

And, I believe him, too!

Today, we're not so far from Smiley's view of education. We often hear the claim that all our workers want is education, and they "can do most anything."

That makes sense if we consider the untapped talent that resides among all our young people. But it takes more than "a punch behind."

We need to look far enough ahead to anticipate the characteristics that are needed in a 21st century workforce and design an effective educational environment - from pre-K through high school, college, and life long learning. That's a formidable undertaking.

One of the single most important challenges we face is teaching today's students - at all levels -- how to innovate.

Can it be done? Of course it can. Students can learn the process of innovation, risk taking, and rule breaking from models taken from our collective experience. They need to form this habit long before they are sent out into the world.

Today's knowledge workers will need opportunities for a rich variety of learning experiences. These will likely occur in an increasing diversity of contexts that integrate learning with research and the work environment, as well as in a variety of modes - over the Internet, for example. All of our institutions must evolve to engender and promote these skills. Once-and-for-all schooling will not suffice in a 21st century world characterized by rapid change and increasing complexity.

Workers will have to learn throughout their lifetimes. Where we once thought of productivity in terms of work per laborer, we now increasingly must think of the productivity of knowledge and knowledge workers. That will be the 21st century's productivity.

The patterns that will characterize a learning environment for the 21st century are beginning to emerge. If rapid change is ubiquitous, then we need to enable a workforce that is flexible and agile in adapting to change. And if innovation is at the heart of progress, then we need to understand the skills that foster the capacity for risk taking, for imagination, and a tolerance for unfamiliar and uncertain territory. Here in Pennsylvania, these "creative transformations" are already well underway.

The idea is that universities and their science and engineering faculty and students coupled with their colleagues in K-12 and community colleges, and in partnership with industry and government, are critical resources that can make a valuable contribution to economic development in the 21st century - much the same way that agricultural, industrial and natural resources did in the 20th century. What we are accomplishing in the Pennsylvania Nanotechnology Initiative - in research, in education, in manufacturing and in business - is designing a new future that will do just that.

Of course, not all change is driven by innovation. As a nation and as individuals, we've been shaken by the exogenous event of September 11. It's too soon to understand fully how this will transform us, but it's certain that it will become a significant historical marker in our national life.

As we go about the business of getting back to business, we need to be alert to these changes. September 11th is now a touchstone or reference point against which to test ourselves to determine if we are still on a viable path toward future prosperity.

But our new national circumstances have not altered the basic framework of our larger aims. Quite the contrary. They highlight the need for vision and purpose - for freshly designed futures - as an antidote for the increasing complexity and uncertainly of our changing world.

That leads me to a final observation. It's entirely appropriate - and meaningful - with this group to borrow from the great statesman and scientist-engineer Benjamin Franklin, a long-time resident of our Commonwealth family. He was a master architect of ideas and their realization, and he helped to design the future of our nation. He certainly manifested his intent in the grandest of ways. He expressed a truth central to our own times when he wrote: "Ignorance is the friend of tyranny."

Franklin understood that a commonwealth must pay due regard to education in order to build a prosperous and well-meaning future. This can be the greatest manifestation of our intent!

You are the new architects the trusted partners - with the vision, the creativity, and the boldness to design a future that we can all embrace.



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