I got into science because I love knowledge. But even more, I deeply love the creative process of creating new knowledge.
Over the years I have become increasingly disenchanted and frustrated with the scientific system, because it seems less about that process and more about business.
I don’t like business. I think of business as a means to get money for money’s sake. And money does not motivate me. So over the past years, I have found it difficult to align my personal motivations with those of science.
To me science should not be about money. It should be about discovery, it should be about knowledge, it should be about transmitting that knowledge. (Students and post-docs should contribute to a lab, but they should also receive something from the lab to take with them. ) I cringe when I hear scientists choosing post-docs based on what they are going to ‘bring’ to the lab but not considering what the lab is going to do for ‘their’ careers. And I have been hearing this position much too often.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an intrinsic problem with science being commercialized. It is the ‘for money’s sake’ that does not engage me.
A bit over two years ago I met Nat Torkington. One of the many things I learned from him is to step outside of my comfort zone, do things that I would normally not do, and see what happens. This year, my walkabout took me to Webstock.
Webstock is, well, as the name suggests, a kind of web conference: a mixture of TED and a rock concert and with a unique energy about it. And it ticked my 3 boxes:
I had fun
I learned something new
I changed my mind about something.
I changed my mind about business.
Business can be fun, can be creative, and can be motivated by things other than just the money. Hearing the speakers made me realize that it is not business that I am not into: it is the traditional business models I don’t like and I don’t fit in. I heard and talked to many young creative people, working on successful open source and not so open source projects and startups and every time I thought ‘Wow, it must have been special to be a part of that’.
So what is [one of] my take-homes?
Why can’t I run my science this way? Why not think of my lab as an Instapaper, Twitter, Catalyst IT, Silverstripe? And what would I have to change to make that happen? What is it about the teams that made these projects successful? How did these projects decide what features to include or not? When to release? What to release?
So I had fun, and I learned. But I also changed my mind. I can like business. Just the right kind of business.
Which takes me back to the drawing table.
In the meantime, the room collectively took notes on google.docs, if you want to take a look at some great messages.