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The crossroads of innovation and execution

Business from the perspective of a STEM student.

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The crossroads of innovation and execution

Trixie Gomez, Freelance Writer

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(This story was originally published in print on Feb. 14, 2019).

In Guangzhou, China, my second-grade substitute teacher taught us about the basic unit of life: the cell. I recall my amazement and wonder at such a small microscopic unit and its ability to gather in bundles to create a living organism. In the best and worst circumstances, an organism’s ability to flourish and to survive can all be traced back to the condition of its cells.

In the same manner, a business’s success in a growing and changing environment depends on the well-being of its employees and consumers. While understanding the importance of a cell’s conditions came naturally to me as a scientist, realizing the latter only came through engaging the field of business. My business experience taught me the relevance of its emphasis on interpersonal and communication skills in the scientific field due to science’s weighty ethical, practical and social implications.

GETTING OUTSIDE THE SCIENCE BUBBLE

While science and business share vigor and collaboration, the former field often fails to train its apprentices with the necessary relational tools to properly convey the “big picture.” Many scientists enter into the field with lofty ambitions of changing the world, but we often fail to reach our ideals. Science trains us to efficiently execute systematic technicalities in order to bring an idea to life. Like LEGO masters, we ace putting the pieces together, but sorely lack in the effective communication of the completed product’s importance outside of our own bubble. This issue became clear to me after a business friend invited me to join her in competing for the P&G CEO Challenge of 2019.

Melissa Sugeng, a philosophy major with a minor in business at Biola, proposed I join her and Thomas Ishikawa, a business major at Biola, for an entrepreneurial competition. As a scientist with a burgeoning interest in business, I eagerly joined the team, overly confident that I would contribute most to the partnership. Scientists are bred and raised to believe in the “inerrant objectivity and superiority” of the natural sciences. I thought that at most, I would learn the jargon and principles of business. However, in the end, my partnership with Melissa and Thomas taught me the importance of focusing on people.

BUSINESS GETS US OUTSIDE THE BUBBLE

In business, the first step to getting a product on the shelves is marketing. With every product comes the following questions of “who would be interested?” and “why would they be interested?” Once a target demographic is established, then, and only then, does the idea of a product become a primitive reality in the research and development department.

These questions forced me to realize that scientists are rarely, if at all, trained to recognize the significance of these questions in their field. At the core, these questions demand answers concerning grander ethical, practical and social implications of a product or idea. Without  clear answers to these questions, scientists allow themselves to be reduced to mere robots and the people they serve to mere objects. Like Pilate, we wipe our hands clean after feeding our consumers to the wolves of corporate business practices and indifferent company values.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM P&G CEO CHALLENGE

The P&G CEO Challenge provided me with two main insights on how business practice would make a difference in the scientific field. First, business practice would push scientists to empathize with those outside of their field of study when it comes to understanding science. As a whole, science trains the mind to deal with the empirical and numerical explanations of the world around us.

Sadly, a lack of interpersonal skills often accompanies this training style. As a result, scientists often struggle to offer a safe space of dialogue on scientific advancement and its social implications with their non-scientific peers without seeming apathetic or condescending.

Second, it would prepare scientists for future leadership positions that require ethical and social acuity. Generally, superior company positions require administrative skills rather than technical skills, regardless of the industry. As a result, scientists lucky enough to advance into these positions are often required by their employers to get a master’s degree in business. Business leaders know that their company’s ability to thrive ultimately lies on the shoulders of its employees and its customers. If a management superior does not have the tools to effectively manage his or her subordinates or maintain customer-company relations, the company fails. Sadly, these administrative skills often lack focus in the scientific field.

My short engagement with business through the P&G CEO Challenge pushed me to see the relevance of honing relational skills, even in the scientific field. While I struggled with the interpersonal aspect of the challenge the most, it ultimately pushed me to see how careers in science can benefit from this type of training. The relational principles of business effectively prepare scientists to engage in the ethical, practical and social implications of their field for any company position. In fact, these principles, I believe, are relevant to any field. However, science’s heavy influence in intellectual fields beyond its specialty speaks greatly of its need for business skills in order to successfully engage with its audiences.

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