Very few of us will get a shot at sculpting the destiny of millions of lives, particularly of those in captivity. Any Spiderman fan will tell you – “with great power comes great responsibility” (though Voltaire has first dibs on coining the phrase). Imagine if you will, ascending to command of the Ministry of Education.. dizzying power? responsibility? You are accorded the highest order, surely?
Perhaps not when a country requires predictable work.buy.display.repeat consumers, who vote without need to complicate with fact, as long as its entertaining. The bread and circus model still grinds on. It’s easy to assume that all people want is tabloid sensation and sweet, fatty, plastic meals – supersized of course. Brave New World and Idiocracy are wonderfully instructive on the vivid outcomes of playing to the lowest common denominator of our humanness. light sprinkling of brainiacs in a ratio of 1:4000 is really all you need to create new things for the rest to not collapse under the weight of its own density. Surely.
Do you believe that most of us would happily do away with the inconvenience of learning if there was an easier way to have our basic needs met? Do you believe that only a slim few ever want to do something difficult and dangerous, even if there isn’t a fat financial payout at the end of it?
Perhaps we’re not just about more stuff, more sex, more salacious scandal and slumping in front of an entertaining screen. Perhaps the Internet is not making us stupid and sociable. Perhaps it’s just the thing we need to avert the collapse of civilisation*.
Some governments have been a bit slow in realizing that luminous heads, not merely cheap hands, are the economic fuel of the 21st century, for developing nations in particular. Without ensuring that smart is the new sexy, the future slowly sputters as its bright sparks flit to where they’re warmly welcomed, and celebrated.
It’s difficult enough turning the culture of a company around, pity the Ministries that contemplate doing this for a country. Not easy, but not impossible. Just such changes have been effected in record time by countries like South Korea and Singapore – once cheap labour, now brainy heavyweights whose economies reap the rewards.
In celebration of Science Week here in South Africa, may I offer some simple (not easy) ways that may flip the migration of marvelous minds, and make ours a country that burns bright on economically potent genius. We aren’t in short supply of world-class potential, but those that emerge and shine are so desirable that they’re quickly snuggled to foreign shores and cultures that can support their research and creativity. I had the joy and honour of speaking at the Brightest Young Minds Summit a few weeks ago; Rhodes scholars, doctoral candidates and brave social entrepreneurs with bright minds, big hearts and clean hands. Hopeful and bent on making a difference here they were, but I could also feel the tidal tug of respect, culture and reward offered on other shores. Some will make it back home, many will be too deeply entangled socially and professionally to return.
In science, technology, maths and engineering we appear to be on the anorexic end of the scale. We’re no match for the muscly powerhouse countries who dominate the rankings in innovation and productivity. A healthy science sector will reward quickly and sustainably. I’d like to propose some non-obvious ideas that could get us back in the game.
1. Science (done well) is rowdier and riskier than rock&roll.
2. Remix and share to accelerate economic growth. Not just for artists and hippies.
3. Game the System. The most ancient & time-honoured way to do the impossible.
4. Get Good Taste in Problems. Why teach people to be calculators and computers?
5. Scientific Method FTW. Experiment like your life depends on it.
6. Xenophilia. Conversation with weirdoes works.
I’ll dive deeper into each of these 6 in separate posts with resources to hunt down to explore.
It’s simple in as much as losing weight is just eating less and exercising more, making money in the financial markets is buying low and selling high. Simple not easy, but not impossible. Care for the dare?
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.
Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.
Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare.
Impossible is potential.
Impossible is temporary.
Impossible is nothing.
- Jack Kerouac
Image Credit: Creative Commons licensed to FurryScalyMan on Flickr BY NC SA (thanks for sharing)