YP REVIEW: Communication – The Art and Science of Engaging at the Highest Level
By Max Sheridan
For their latest evening event the Aberdeen PESGB YP’s were back at Spirit Energy’s offices.
The team – led by Nick Allan – were proud to host 50 guests, who braved the torrid weather to listen to three speakers, keen to impart their wealth of knowledge and experience.
The first talk, Communicating Science with the Public- The Power of the Media, was by Dee Lawlor, a freelance science writer and STEM ambassador. Dee chose a topic which is never far from the thoughts of the best scientists – how do we use the media as a tool to reach as many people as possible? She skilfully led the audience through a broad range studies tackling climate change, vaccine abolitionists, and GM crops.
The key take-home messages were that there is a) huge value in engaging the public, b) the media remains immensely powerful, c) mass appeal is needed to engage the mass market, and d) be excited and be passionate about your work.
A short question and answer session followed which revolved around the how YP’s can deal with entrenched public perceptions of the Oil and Gas industry. Strategies from the nuclear industry were also shared by a knowledgeable and diverse audience.
Angela Mathis CEO of ThinkTankMaths (TTMs) took to the stage and presented her extensive experience across Defence, Petrochemicals, and Oil and Gas. Angela has heard all the arguments against progress- ‘the cries of 40 years in the industry’, the sunk cost fallacies, and the fatal bias.
Her broad ranging talk took us through her career in business development from helping battle the ozone hole at ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries), to making $3m worth of Iomega zip drive sales in a single year.
Through TTM the focus is to tackle challenges with a level of complexity where established solutions and software, or even underlying rules of thumb, have become inadequate. The team is headquartered in Edinburgh and their algorithms will soon be heading into space as part of the launch sequence for the ArianeGroup 6 rocket.
Angela brought the discussion back to how we can ‘sell maths’ – perhaps the answer is to describe it as the language of the natural world. In essence, it remains our best way of understanding the increasingly complexity we interact with.
We were left with a strong sense of the joy for developing new technology. Perhaps an adjustment in our philosophy is needed and we should embrace new developments in AI and machine learning? We should view them as ripples in a pond – growing and having impacts downstream. And remain focused on how to monetize them for the public good.
Susan Morrice, CEO of Belize Natural Energy, dispensed with slides and proceeded with a passionate talk right from the heart.
Essentially, is was a classic tale of success against the odds. The power of communicating a vision to investors who had thrown almost everything they had into a venture half a world away. As Susan said, with a little help from the ‘man upstairs’, her team hit oil in June 2005.
The initial investment from Dublin and Belfast of $3m which would have paid for two wells- in fact they hit oil on the first well on the anniversary of Mike’s passing.
The world has taken notice, thanks not only to the material oil discovery, but the way Susan has led the team (97% Belizean) to revolutionise an economy of strategic importance. Her message of harnessing human potential and energy wherever it is found is something that we can all take on-
14 years on from the initial exploration well Mike Usher number 1 the team is now plotting well number 22 and the whole country of Belize is on the way to a brighter future.
In a closing statement Max addressed the challenges raised by the audience – media perceptions, economic headwinds, and accelerating technological change – with a call that decisive leadership is required. He suggested the YP’s pick up a copy of Steve Radcliffe’s Leadership Plain and Simple. And while there wasn’t time to read the whole essay on the night it is worth sharing a couple of paragraphs from Richard Feynman’s 1988 Value of Science essay with captured the buoyant speaker and guests alike.
“We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions and pass them on………..
……..It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generation’’
Look out for a recording of the event!