I’m a guinea pig at your service – profoundly uncomfortable and enlightened




After writing my last blog on the NZ Association of Scientists I felt acutely aware of the barriers to collaboration – stereotypes, culture, language and values. Even though everyone was talking about collaboration, I got the sense that people are looking in different directions, focusing on different things and talking past each other. I could feel my own language, behaviour and even values shifting as I moved between cultures: from science to community; community to business; from business to green; and green to creative industries. I wondered how it might be possible to reconcile these different viewpoints, to overcome traditional suspicion between sectors and to find that sweet spot where we can all meet and develop solutions?

To shed some light on those questions I’ve been using myself as a guinea pig. This is my theory: To find the sweet spot between cultures I’ll first have to understand them really well – and not just in an intellectual way – I’ll need to know what it feels like to be immersed, to belong in that culture – I’ll have to put aside my own opinions and beliefs for a bit and let myself be ‘converted’. I’ll need to sit with the different viewpoints long enough for them to find a way to relate to each other inside me.

That’s what I’ve been doing over the last month. My work time has been divided between meetings, conferences, writing, workshops and interviews. I found myself in a constant state of adaptation –continually interchanging hats –swapping high heels for jandals, recording equipment for a wine glass, chirpy-cheekiness for professional demeanour and watching my language morph to suit the environment – one minute technical jargon and the next idealistic and philosophical.

The month began with a trip to Waiheke Island to meet James Samuel who, amongst many inspiring pursuits, is responsible for kick starting Transition Towns in New Zealand. We spoke about resilience, community capacity, collectives and social enterprise –inspiring in me all sorts of possibilities for science funding, idea and resource sourcing and collective research. A couple of days later I interviewed my uncle Digby Crompton who has just written a book on a tax model that he believes would encourage more enterprise, ingenuity and fairness. Next I got the flu and spent several days contemplating the pohutukawa tree outside of my bedroom window. My recovery time was cut short by a trip to Christchurch to meet electrical engineer and social innovator Susan Krumdieck. I attended the Signs of Change conference (which Susan organised) –A national e-conference “showcasing transition to sustainability” and interviewed several speakers for a film being made about the conference. From there, I took my nasally congested self across town to a High Tech Manufacturing networking event organised by UCONZ (University Commercialisation Offices) and BusinessNZ. I tried on a jet pack and flew around a simulated city; talked to researchers, business owners, and commercialisation experts about open source, industrial design, robotics and advanced materials. I left feeling charged with excitement – excited by the discovery that key people in major universities are starting to think that knowledge sharing and open source could be the way forward for New Zealand – that it’s not just a happy hippy dream but the logical and smart way for a small country to operate. This sense of optimism grew further when I attended the annual symposium for the MacDiarmid Institute a couple of days later. Principal investigators from all around the country brainstormed how they could combine their skills and resources to create four major collaborative projects. Last but not least, my tour of cultures concluded with the opening of “TakingStock” by artist Eve Armstrong, a stunning display of plastic waste that reflects the absurdity of consumer culture.

That’s what I’ve been doing over the last month and its been a profoundly uncomfortable and enlightening experience – feeling my internal frame of reference constantly rebuilding itself to reconcile different ideas and viewpoints. My body decided it was all a bit much and got the flu. But things are beginning to come clear. Man have I got some awesome ideas to share! I’m really looking forward to diving into some of the specifics and cross-pollinating between the cultures and sectors that I have infiltrated. I am Elizabeth Connor: Science writer, art appreciator, amateur economics enthusiast, tree hugger and guinea pig.
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