"Designing the Future"
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Congress of the Pennsylvania Nanotechnology Initiative
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
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
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.