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Remarks

Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Biography

"Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow"
25th Anniversary Celebration
University of Pennsylvania Management & Technology Program
November 5, 2004

Thank you, Bill [William Hamilton], and good morning to all. I am honored and extremely pleased to participate in today's celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Penn's Management & Technology Program. And I am grateful to the M&T graduates who made this day possible. You have achieved so much, and we are immensely proud of you.

I was one of those privileged to be "present at the creation," together with Bill Hamilton, Matt Stephens (Vice Dean of Wharton), Arthur Humphrey (Dean of Engineering), and Don Carroll (Dean of Wharton). Those were early days, when thoughts about a fresh approach to preparing students to be leaders in the management of technological innovation first began to coalesce and take root.

I have watched, with great satisfaction, the subsequent growth and development of the crop that was planted. I join Bill in a special tribute to Dr. Ralph Landau and Jerome Fisher for their catalytic roles in this venture. And I extend greetings to Laurie Landau, Ralph's daughter, who is with us today.

Many others have provided forward-looking leadership -- not only in the early days of the program, but also in the years of constant evolution that have followed. And every student has brought something of significant value, through their experimentation, adaptation and transformation of the program to suit new needs and explore new horizons.

The program is a magnificent example of foresight and collaboration between the faculties of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and The Wharton School. You could say it was collaboration when collaboration wasn't as obviously "cool" as it is today." And the program has benefited enormously from its place within a larger university environment that blends the liberal arts and the professions, what Benjamin Franklin would call the "ornamental" and the "useful."

A good idea never fails to find friends. And sure enough, the conceptual innovations that characterize the Management and Technology Program spawned similar efforts in other areas of study at Penn and elsewhere.

An anniversary is a splendid time to take stock of where we are now, and how far we have come. As we pause to celebrate, we can feel pride in our accomplishments. Warmed by a genuine sense of satisfaction, we are also in a position to look toward the future and ask, "What next?"

My assignment today is to reflect on the next twenty-five years -- what challenges we will confront in managing the technology of the future.

Let me explain from the onset that I do not intend to read the technological tealeaves. The development of those future technologies will be an outgrowth of the framework of thinking, understanding, and imagining that I will explore with you today.

Following the sage advice of Shakespeare that "What is past is prologue,"1 I have titled my remarks "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." I will touch briefly on the past and the present to set the stage for the future. I want to emphasize that even if we cannot forecast the future, how adept we are in anticipating it and in shaping it to our ends will determine how well we are able to meet the novel, and as yet unknown challenges of the next 25 years and beyond.

YESTERDAY

Let's begin with a glance backward. Despite the fact that there is much to learn from the past, I will limit my attention to just two lessons.

The first is particularly relevant in the context of today's gathering. In 1886, Henry Robinson Towne, son of the benefactor of Penn's Towne Scientific School, and then acting president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, presented a paper entitled, "The Engineer as an Economist."

Towne proposed that "the organization of productive labor must be directed...by persons having not only good executive ability and...the practical familiarity of...an engineer with the goods produced and the processes employed," but having also a "practical knowledge" of all those aspects of business that today's managers take for granted.2 This may well be the first paper linking technology and management.

Towne's article appeared just a decade short of a century before the founding of Penn's Management and Technology Program. Was this an instance of Towne's anticipating the future? My own answer would be, yes, probably. So, the past often teaches us to be humble about the absolute originality of an idea -- even if it is the Penn Management and Technology Program.

Just a few years before the publication of Towne's paper, the ironmonger Joseph Wharton had founded, in 1881, the first university-level business school in the world here at Penn. Wharton was not only an entrepreneur and businessman. He was a metallurgist and technological innovator. His factory in Camden, New Jersey, for example, produced the first malleable nickel in the world.3

As you all know, in the decades that followed the founding of Wharton and Towne's observations, there was increasing specialization and division of labor, complemented by hierarchical organization in firms, in academe and in other institutions -- quite in contrast to Towne's more holistic perspective and Wharton's personal example. Today, we see the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction toward greater integration and the blurring of such boundaries.

So the second lesson to be learned from "yesterday" is that good ideas can go entirely unnoticed. Or, perhaps more to the point, good ideas can be crowded out by other good ideas. After all, the assembly line, the modern corporation, and the University system have been useful and highly successful. But once an idea or an institution has taken hold, it takes powerful forces to shake loose the shackles of convention to allow for the truly new and innovative.

One of the characteristics of the future will surely be a greater tolerance for diversity and experimentation in institutional arrangements, rather than a rigid, one-size-fits-all perspective. We can learn to embrace this diversity instead of resisting change.

But I have strayed into the future. Let's focus for a moment on "today."

TODAY

The present is the realm of action par excellence. Actions include learning, discovering, designing, choosing, deciding, planning, forecasting, implementing -- and managing -- among many others. You might say that the "present" plays the executive or CEO function on our time line.

If relentless, high-velocity change is the pervasive contextual feature of the present, then the mantra for action today -- the one most often recommended to CEOs -- is "innovate, innovate, innovate."

Several years ago, in a review article on innovation, the Economist said, "Innovators break all the rules. Trust them."4 But do those who talk the talk of innovation, really walk the walk?

In a recent interview in Fortune Magazine, management consultant Gary Hamel talks about "Innovation Do's and Don'ts." "Most large companies," he says, "have a change model that is essentially borrowed from poorly governed Third World dictatorships. The only way you can change them is with a coup."5

The clash between the ideal of continuous innovation -- with its focus on creative transformation -- and current practice is by no means found only in the private sector.

Here is what management consultant Peter Senge has to say about education. "Schools," he says, "may be the starkest example in modern society of an entire institution modeled after the assembly line."6 It goes without saying that government often suffers from the same discontinuity between established procedures and innovative practices.

Like any tribe, engineers, educators and managers can be bound by orthodoxies and view new ideas as unwelcome heresies.

The White Queen in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass is a shrewd propagator of just such tactics. To regulate the distribution and consumption of jam on tarts, she devises a very clever rule.

"Jam tomorrow and jam yesterday," she proclaims, "but never jam today."7

This command-and-control logic could not be more precise. Unfortunately, it robs us of any jam at all.

A variety of the White Queen's trickery is at work when we adhere to yesterday's strategies in the face of monstrous change. Conventions and rules mechanically replicated and inappropriately enshrined are like blinkers and hobbles. They narrow our vision and hamper our progress.

Devotion to lockstep educational practices is one example. Naïve or mechanical reliance on "best practices" is another. "Best" may be superlative, but it is also relative. There is no panacea. If we are not adept at redesigning or recombining, there is a real danger that we will be stuck with a "best" that is not good enough.

Consider some examples. Today, there are demands for more scientists, engineers and technologists, but these may not be accompanied by any rethinking about how students are educated and the attractiveness of the career opportunities open to them. Even when special programs that cross boundaries and integrate education and research have been established, the larger university environment may not support the organizational changes necessary for the programs to flourish and expand. One huge reason for the success of the M&T program has been openness to such experimentation at Penn.

In business and industry, innovation may be encouraged at the same time that traditional hierarchies and antiquated reward-structures persist. And in government, statutes and procedures that conflict or are no longer relevant may stifle avenues for considered risk taking.

Make no mistake. These are conundrums that have not yet been resolved. These tensions persist because breaking the chains of conventional wisdom and practice is very, very difficult.

But there are some robust and valuable trends. In the future, we will need to view academic and corporate structures and institutional combinations as we now view new technology, products and processes. They are creative arrangements, not formulas to be automatically replicated but rather new patterns to be ingeniously enhanced each time we design the next combination. Products, processes, organizations and institutions will permute, reshape, and regenerate to stay fresh and responsive to the opportunities new knowledge throws up and the demands of innovation.

This is what creative transformation is all about, and there is simply no stopping it. But we do have a choice. We can be swept along by radical change, or take a hand in shaping it to our own ends.

I have strayed into the future for the second time. Let's stick with the present a bit longer.

Many of you will recognize the architect Eero Saarinen as the designer of Dulles Airport, the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport -- and the Hill College House on the Penn campus. He was fond of quoting the advice of his father Eliel, also an architect of great distinction: "Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context -- a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan."8

Good design requires this holistic view. Integrating across scales gives us a window onto function that we simply can't achieve by focusing in greater depth on a single issue. We miss both a "good fit" with the details of current realities and the "big picture" that takes us to new insights and flights of imagination. This counsel holds for good management and stewardship of technology, which today cannot be easily separated from good design.

This exploration of "context" can be extended to the temporal dimension. We can imagine hindsight and foresight as stretching our innovation horizons, while also providing some common guideposts from the past.

The significance of context is also apparent in the societal dimension -- from individuals, to groups, to organizations, to institutions, to nations, to the globe. Information and computer-communication technologies played a huge role in the rapid integration of the global economy over the past several decades.

In the future, the capability to integrate across spatial and temporal scales and levels of organization will be a common feature of our intellectual toolkit and will guide our management practice.

TOMORROW

That's the third time I have strayed into the future. Now let's consider it in earnest.

But first, let me share a story of levity and learning about a very strict Zen monastery. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all, with one exception. Every ten years, the abbot permitted each monk to speak just two words. After his first ten years, a young monk was invited by the abbot to speak.

"Bed.....hard..." said the monk.
"Ahhhh, I see," replied the head monk.
Ten years later, the monk once again came before the abbot to speak his two words. "What do you have to say, my son?" asked the abbot.
"Food.....stinks..." said the monk.
"Ahhhh, I see," replied the abbot.
Another ten years passed and the monk once again sat before the abbot, who, asked, "What do you have to say, my son?"
"I.....quit!" said the monk.
"Well, that's no surprise," replied the abbot, "All you ever do is complain!"

Like any good tale, this one has multiple interpretations. All of us in this room can immediately think of quite a few -- including human difficulties with communication, and how much at odds different peoples perceptions of ends and the strategies to achieve them can be. But I want to focus on another: lack of imagination.

Einstein is often quoted as saying, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." I would be more generous about discovery, but one thing is certain. Without imagination, there is no innovation. And at today's pace of transformation, we can't afford to wait thirty years.

I've already mentioned Gary Hamel's comment about the difficulty of change. He also offers a prescription for effective innovation. "I think the real returns [to innovation] come from harnessing the imagination of every single employee every single day."9

If action is characteristic of the present, imagination is a defining feature of the future. Innovation depends intimately on our ability to discern patterns and sequences within turbulence.

A few years ago I began to compile a list of capabilities that engineers need to develop in order to meet contemporary and future challenges. Extending it to managers of technology more generally is an easy leap.

Today's engineers and managers must be holistic designers, astute makers, trusted innovators, harm avoiders, change agents, master integrators, enterprise enablers, knowledge handlers, and technology stewards. Take a minute to think about it, and I'm certain you can add to the list.

These are capabilities for all times, no matter how rapid the pace of change or how surprising the technological transformations may be. In today's churning world, these are imperatives.

Those in the private sector may find some familiar items missing from this selection. Two that come to mind are the ability to lead and an entrepreneurial bent. This was a prime focus of Ralph Landau and members of both the Engineering and Wharton Boards of Overseers at M&T's genesis.

In the future, it will be harder and harder for leaders and entrepreneurs to be visionaries and agents of change without most of these capabilities in their portfolios. The Penn Management and Technology Program is meant to develop all of them. Every one of these capabilities is forward looking, and so is about shaping the future.

WHAT'S AHEAD

I would be remiss if I left you with no concrete sense of what technologies are already on the horizon. Living at NSF and enjoying daily the chaos along the entire frontier of science and engineering, I could give you a long list of potentially transformational happenings across all boundaries. But let me try to cover the essence of them all with two examples.

The first is the confluence of nanoscale science and engineering with the growing tera and petascale potential of computer-communication and information advances. This marriage of the very, very small and the very, very quick and far-reaching -- orders of magnitude smaller, and faster, and broader -- will almost surely be the engine driving technological innovation in the years ahead.

Understanding and manipulating the very small will give us extraordinary power to cross entirely new frontiers. So when you hear the now-common word "nanotech," don't think of it as a new technology alone. Think of it as nature's template for all future technologies.

We are all heirs of previous revolutionary change -- electricity and its close companions, information and computer-communication technologies -- both of which had seminal beginnings here at this site. These have been the driving agents of change for nearly two hundred years. And we have had some time to adjust to the transformations. With nano, change is about to go ballistic.

These changes may well be unlike any that have come before. Nano already provides new knowledge that gives us the capability to design and build materials one atom or molecule at a time.

Nano is also the dimension where living and non-living worlds meet -- where molecules that form the basis of life interact with the physical environment to spin the complex threads linking life at all levels with the planet. The possibilities at this interface are staggering -- new ways to deliver drugs or repair DNA, and the development of artificial tissue, to name only a few. Understanding life and its interaction with the physical and cyber world at the nano level is likely to open vistas that we cannot even imagine today. Everyone who aspires to manage technological innovation must prepare for these transformations.

At first blush, my second example -- human and social dynamics -- may seem far removed from technology. Don't be tempted to think of this as the "soft" side of science, engineering and innovation. The potential for creative transformation is every bit as powerful here as with nano. Contemporary developments in cognitive and neurosciences, computer science, linguistics, mathematics, engineering, psychology, to name only a few -- are converging to open promising new vistas not only in the social sciences but within the physical and natural sciences and engineering as well.

Like nano, this newly found potential derives from the confluence of human and social dynamics with advances in information and computer-communication, but with a difference.

The long chain of pervasive transformations triggered by the Industrial Revolution has given us greater muscle power -- making and moving. Unleashing the human dimension will give us greater mind power -- learning, thinking, imagining, designing and creating.

How we learn, make decisions, assess risk and adapt to change; how institutions are shaped by us, and how we, in turn, are shaped by our decisions and institutions -- these are central questions that humans have been asking with unfailing persistence since we first began to ask questions. More than ever before, we have the opportunity for meaningful progress in answering them. Improved learning environments are only one example of where this research might take us.

Management guru Peter Drucker has a stark perspective on our need for more knowledge about human and social dynamics. "In a few hundred years," he says, "when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time - literally - substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it."10

We should not let this warning dismay us. Rather, it should inspire us. Certainly, change is neither easy nor straightforward. But we can learn to be agile and adept in shaping and directing it.

In the future, a complex and deeper understanding of human and social dynamics will help us manage technological innovation and direct creative transformation. Perhaps most importantly, it will help us improve learning environments for everyone. We can't forget that it is people who create new knowledge and generate technological innovation; people who use new technologies to improve their lives; and people who create diverse and vital teams, organizations and societies. But that's only a beginning. I'll leave it to you to imagine what might come next.

CONCLUSION

We need to embrace yesterday, today and tomorrow -- recognizing what is useful from the past, embracing what is promising in the present, and actively pursuing what is possible and desirable in the future. I have not mentioned global competition and the pursuit of leadership in technology development, but we all know how high the stakes are.

There are other reasons to move forward. Concerns about the unintended consequences of human actions and the deployment of new technologies have been with us for centuries. But technological change is now occurring so rapidly, is so complex -- and for many is so daunting -- that we have an intellectual responsibility to explore the human dimensions of our science, engineering and technology. At the same time, we have a responsibility to exploit the potential of new technology, while avoiding the pitfalls.

We know that the technology created 25 years ago still has not reached everyone around the globe. So, for many, our "yesterday" has not yet arrived, making "today" very bleak indeed.

Tomorrow can bring a brighter day. Taking decisive actions to anticipate change and steer it in a positive direction -- taking the reins and guiding the beast -- is what Penn's Management and Technology Program is all about. All the more reason to do it. It's a challenge and an opportunity.

I'll conclude with an accolade to yesterday -- to our University of Pennsylvania progenitors. We can look back into the past, beyond the contemporary and extremely valuable contributions of Ralph Landau and Jerome Fisher, to celebrate five seminal individuals with great vision.

Entrepreneurs all, they are: William Penn, political activist and founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Benjamin Franklin, engineer, statesman and founder of the University of Pennsylvania; John Henry Towne, railway magnate and engineer, who endowed The Towne Scientific School; Alfred Fitler Moore, industrial innovator, who endowed The Moore School; and Joseph Wharton, scientist, innovator and founder of The Wharton School. The bold and rational acts of these distinguished individuals set the stage for all that has followed.

Now I will give you a genuine forecast for the future. The women and men in the Penn Management and Technology Program -- both graduates and present students -- will continue to be at the forefront, leading and shaping a better future. They will lift this twenty-five-year-old program to the next dimension.


1 William Shakespeare, The Tempest; Antonio, Act 2, scene 1.
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2 Quoted in Fritz Hirschfeld, "Henry R. Towne, a Talent for Management,", Mechanical Engineering, vol. 102, April 1980, pp. 32-34.
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3 Joseph Wharton Family Papers, 1691-1955; online at http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/friends/ead/5162jowh.htm (last accessed November 3, 2004.)
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4 Economist Magazine, "Leaps of Faith," February 18, 1999.
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5 Gary Hamel, as quoted by David Kirkpatrick in "Innovation Do's and Don'ts," Forbes Magazine, September 6, 2004; p.240.
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6 Peter Senge, Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Parents, Educators, and Everyone Who Cares About Education (p.30); Peter Senge, Nelda Cambron-McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Bryan Smith, Janis Dutton, and Art Kleiner, Doubleday/Currency 2000.
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7 Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, "Wool and Water," 1872.
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8 Eliel Saarinen, as quoted by his son, Eero in Time Magazine, July 2, 1956
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9 Gary Hamel, as quoted by David Kirkpatrick in "Innovation Do's and Don'ts," Forbes Magazine, September 6, 2004; p.240.
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10 Peter F. Drucker, Managing Knowledge Means Managing Oneself. Leader to Leader, Vol. No 16, Spring 2000
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Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.

 

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