Sunday, December 15, 2013

Scientific Temper and Technological Perfection: The Driver of National Competitive Advantage

Organizations contribute to a nation’s wealth and national competitive advantage. India has recognized the importance of science and technology and created the department of science and technology. It is, however, a moot point if the fervor of science and technology truly pervades India, Inc; for, if it were, India would have been far less import dependent on products of high technology and far more export competitive in terms of India-made high technology products. Part of the reason is due to early digression of talent, focus and investments from the demanding aspects of science and technology to the glimmering aspects of management and administration. This blog post postulates that establishment scientific temper and technological perfection should be pursued as national core competencies to derive national competitive advantage.

Complex qualities
With decades of unrelenting publication of management thought, it is expected that members of an organization must possess all humanly possible qualities, referred to often as competencies, capabilities, skills, abilities, traits and attitudes. These are often classified into hard skills and soft skills, as well as into operating skills and strategic skills. The prescribed human qualities are several, to quote a few professional knowledge, conceptual skills, analytical skills, and interpersonal skills. As higher levels of organization are considered, other additional qualities are prescribed which include, for example, foresight, vision, integrity, ethics, intuition and charisma. A study, in fact, listed over 100 human qualities that a leader, and potential leaders, must possess. As a result of this trend (or fad), programs to develop these myriad qualities have burgeoned into a learning and development industry by itself!
A parallel phenomenon relates to professional specialization or functional specialization. This has, in fact, become the very organizational core of socio-economic and business-industrial infrastructure. The number of professions is no longer limited to a few; it has vastly expanded beyond the traditional research, procurement, manufacturing, quality, and selling domains to spawn additional domains, for example operations, logistics, legal, secretarial, marketing, information technology. In addition, the professionalization has got merged with product lines to include automobile engineers, oncologists, pharmacists, chemists and the like. The matrix of growing professions and product lines has led to an exponential proliferation of qualities which each of these specialist and generic professions must possess. Rather than myriad qualities, scientific temper and technological perfection are all that are required for national competitive advantage.
 Simple differentiators
For sustainable success and perpetual growth, organizations need to have high quality human resources. At one level, the more scientists and engineers an organization has the more likely would be its competitive advantage. This does not mean that organizations should have only scientists and engineers (or technologists) or that other professionals such as managers and accountants are not important. In fact, even more important than the numbers, is the organization-wide presence of certain mesmeric and differentiated qualities that science and technology stand for. These are scientific passion and technological perfection. These help organizations discover, design and deliver not merely products and services but new ways of doing any of the organizational or business processes. As much as the caliber and number of scientists, engineers and technologists in any organization, the extent of scientific fervor and technological perfection across the organization is the key differentiator.
Science and technology (or, engineering) are closely related and often have interdependent and overlapping functions. Science enables fundamental discoveries while engineering designs the equipment and products, and makes manufacturing and delivery possible. Science requires sophisticated engineering and technological infrastructure to deliver. Higgs Boson particle (God Particle) could be discovered only because of equipment made with unprecedented engineering and technological sophistication such as the Large Hadron Collidor of 27 kilometer length. Stem cell discoveries would not be of any avail without cryogenics and cryogenic equipment. By the same taken, without discoveries in materials science nanotechnology developments would not be feasible. Science and technology are so closely interrelated that it would be unnecessary to delineate the functions. What can be delineated, however, are the basic qualities of the two disciplines.
Scientific temper 
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India was the first to articulate the concept of scientific temper. In his landmark book The Discovery of India he advocated reliance on observed facts and not on pre-conceived notions, the search for truth and new knowledge, and a refusal to accept anything without testing and trial as some of the important characteristics of scientific temper. He proposed that scientific temper was required not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of many of its problems. The concept of scientific temper is critically required for organizations which most oftentimes get caught up in whirlpools of pre-conceived notions, convenient propositions and ad-hoc reactions. Scientific temper needs to be an individual and organizational way of thinking and acting that uses a scientific method, of observing physical reality and drawing conclusions or hypothesizing the abstract possibilities and validating potential outcomes.
Scientific temper is an attitude to life that integrates logic, discussion, debate and analysis to arrive at the best possible conclusions. Inherent to scientific temper is the ability to think and communicate. Organizations, schools and colleges or businesses and governments, should promote positive thoughtfulness and constructive expressiveness to institutionalize scientific temper. The economic benefits of scientific temper are many; but for Nehru’s scientific temper the Indian Institutes of Technology and national research laboratories would not have been set up, several heavy industries established and multiple dams constructed within a few years of Indian independence. Leaders with scientific temper would similarly institutionalize science and technology in their organizations. More than that, they will facilitate processes of scientific enquiry all through the organization leading to logical decision making, structured execution and objective monitoring of results.
Technological perfection
Compared to scientific temper, technological perfection is a moving concept; moving, of course, to higher levels of perfection every period of time. Perfection is defined as having everything that is necessary, and without faults or weaknesses; in one sense, the highest level of quality attainable at any point of time. The limits of perfection are set by the limits of technology available at any point of time, and given that scientific temper causes humans to push technology ever to newer limits, the limits of perfection also set to move continuously upwards. Whether it is the power to weight ratios and fuel efficiency and emission levels of automobiles or it is the imaging capabilities of scanners and surgical precision of radio-knifes and lasix lasers, technological perfection continuously pushes up the accomplishments of devices and equipment as well as man-machine systems.
Like scientific temper, technological perfection is an attitude to life that integrates aesthetics with performance, durability with reliability, and economy with efficiency. Technology tends more often to be continuously incremental and periodically breakthrough. Cost and affordability constitute the twin ballasts that stabilizes technological randomness. Scientific temper that triggers technological quest also governs the irrelevant technological perfection. The economic benefits of technological perfection are many. Without achieving better fits and tolerances as well as better finishes and efficiencies, Japanese automobiles would not have been world leaders. Higher levels of technology bring higher levels of service but also higher levels of profligate consumerism and adverse consumption. Scientific temper enables individuals and organizations to draw an appropriate balance between cost and consumption
There is a school of thought that clinical application of scientific temper and unrestrained quest for technological advancement affect, if not erode, human values. The school of thought argues that not everything in the world is rational or logical, and there needs to be a level of piety and spirituality related to religious beliefs and a level of emotion and empathy related to social equality and equity. In emerging economies, in particular, science and technology must be deployed to uplift the vast sections of the society. This requires a two-fold deployment of science and technology. At one level, the best of science and technology must be mastered to make India a globally competitive industrial power. At another level, science and technology must be optimized to serve the vast indigent sections of the society through universal access to better social infrastructure and public services; roads, schools and colleges, hospitals, public transport, power, housing, for example. The former would bring in economic power while the latter would usher in social equity for India. 
Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 15, 2013      




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