The Science of Innovation: Michelle Dickinson at Christchurch's Deloitte Private Club
Innovation and invention is nothing new to Michelle Dickinson. A researcher and prominent New Zealand nanotechnologist, her exciting Nanogirl live science shows inspire audiences every week and her trailblazing work in the world of science has seen her gain a dedicated fan following.
Dickinson brought her scientific mind and gift for inspiring others to the recent Deloitte Private Club in Christchurch. Starting with her observations from encouraging young kids to have experimental, engineering mindsets, she then applied that idea to the business world.
Here in New Zealand, she explained, we don’t embrace failure enough. Dickinson pointed out that the biggest inventions followed in the footsteps of many failed attempts, and would never have existed had the inventors not used the mistakes of the past. After all, taking a risk and trying something new is always going to be nerve-wracking, but Dickinson believes that creative thinking is a huge part of making a difference. It’s certainly a message that captured the Deloitte Private Club audience in a fascinating talk.
Before she took to the stage, our Bite-Size News team took a few minutes to ask her some questions about her career so far and the motto that she stands by every day…
How would you describe your career so far?
My career has been a real squiggly line, which is important, because we often get our kids to say what they're going to be when they're older, and they feel this pressure to meet that expectation. We should tell our kids that most of us have no idea what we wanted to be, and are probably not doing the job that we were going to do. It’s ok to chop and change!
When did you first get interested in science and by extension, nanotechnology?
I never knew about science until I was much older, but I was always interested in how things worked. I’d pulled apart the toaster, and bits and bobs, but I actually didn't get involved in nanotechnology until I was made redundant in my first job. I ate a lot of pizza while binge-watching science fiction movies and Star Trek, and that's where I found out about nanotechnology. I decided that I was going to be a sci-fi nerd in real life, and become a nanotechnologist!
To get there, I Netscaped Navigated (because that's how old it was!) all the people who were doing nanotechnology in the world. I found a professor in America who was about to build a nanotech lab, and I asked if I could work for him. He said yes, so there you go. All from Star Trek!
What are you currently working on?
I've just left academia and started a social enterprise, Nanogirl Labs, so we are currently growing that. We have just exported our education products to seven countries in seven languages, and this year we’ll be expanding even further overseas. We want to pass on the message that science is for everyone, in every language and background.
What barriers do you think there are when it comes to younger people getting involved in science?
I actually think there's a barrier for everyone, from young people to business people in New Zealand, and that is our fear of failure. The challenge with science in school is that you get rewarded for getting things it right, and you don't get rewarded for getting things wrong, when actually science is all about getting things wrong. If you look at some of the coolest inventions, it's because the people before had attempted them and screwed up, paving the way for new developments and discoveries.
So while fear of failure is really significant for kids and teens in science, fear of failure also applies in business circles. We don’t celebrate our entrepreneurs who fail in this country, and if you look at Americans, particularly in Silicon Valley, they do the opposite. Some of the best entrepreneurs there have failed many, many times before, but they’re still successful. Here in New Zealand, that fear of failure can hold us back.
Do you have a favourite motto or mantra?
My favourite motto is ‘Stop complaining, start changing!’ I have a rule that you're never allowed to complain about something more than once without wondering how you're going to change it!
If you’d like to attend future Deloitte Private Club events in your area, please register your interest here.
Felicity Clarke works in the Clients & Marketing team as a Market Development Manager.