December 7, 2011

Sat sri akal Señor Fauja Singh. Sorry about lacking on the return dialogue for the last few months.  A one-way dialogue is not a conversation by any stretch of the imagination and it doesn’t help with shaping our sciences.

“Science,” the physicist Werner Heisenberg once wrote, “is rooted in conversations.” As he saw it, scientists are rarely solitary thinkers but people who constantly talk: about ideas, findings, research techniques, and unresolved problems.  Some of these conversations last for a few minutes or hours.  But others continue for years or decades, shaping careers, disciplines, and even institutions.

The Google Scholar effect you have pointed out is very interesting and a real manifestation of how technology changes the way we as humans work.  There’s something else you’re well-aware of that hasn’t happened as much yet in universities and other academic institutions, but is reshaping the industrial/corporate world: the virtual office, where everyone works remotely and communicates via telephone, email, instant messaging, video chat, etc.  Some people think that this will increase productivity (however one wants to define productivity), but I am not sure.  While all the tools of social business are great, I don’t think they’re an adequate substitute for conversations of “random, serendipitous encounters that always seem to happen” (if I may borrow the phrase you wrote in describing the 2006 LIDS Student Conference). 

The part that is missing is the randomness and serendipity.  If you use Google Scholar, you won’t randomly read the paper printed before or after the one you’re looking for.  If you use social business tools exclusively, you won’t randomly run into a colleague in the hallway.  (Expertise recommendation only works when you are looking for specific expertise.)  I know you are interested in studying how new, creative science is done — I wonder if there is an analogy to evolution.  For evolution to be successful, you need both the random mutation and the natural selection; you can’t have just one or the other.

Let’s see how my view on social business evolves during Lotusphere next month after random, serendipitous encounters that always seem to happen at conferences.


  1. […] Ashvins The Ultimate Machinists « Conversations An Operations Research Tragedy December 9, […]

  2. […] one of your recent posts, you had apologized for a lack of return dialogue, and by all rights, I should do the same.  […]

  3. […] masterful: the key idea is to be able to make serendipity work for you […]

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