Learning from management outliers

ATLAS resources coordinator Markus Nordberg explains why the Strategic Management Society is holding a conference at CERN


Delegates of the SMS Lake Geneva Conference on Strategic Management at the Globe of Science and Innovation today (Image: CERN)

Those of you at CERN today may have spotted a camp of white tents next to the Globe of Science and Innovation. As I am writing this, I am actually in one of them, among 300 business management scholars and corporate managers. Why am I here? Well, the Strategic Management Society, the conference organizer, thinks the business world could learn something from us particle physicists. They think we form an unusual, "outlier" community of scientific discovery and eventual innovation, and that we are worth looking at. Very flattering but could they possibly have a point?

I guess I need to stick around in the tent to get a clear answer. It is true that a lot of companies are not that different from one another - with obvious exceptions such like Google or the current market-darling, Apple - nor are their products or market advantages. So nothing close to the amazing things we do here at CERN and other particle physics labs around the world. But we produce new particles and fundamental knowledge, not phones or PCs.

But that exactly is the point, my fellow participants are telling me. It's about the knowledge economy, stupid. How to create, share it and add value to it? So they think collaborations such as the LHC experiments here are doing just that, albeit with a grain of higher level of abstraction and patience. The loose way we are organized, open (no messing around with IP), consensus-seeking and fractal in structure (dislike for managers) seem to be appealing. Technologies we use and develop in clever ways for fundamental science is the ultimate engine of innovation, I am told. But problem is, they say, that business organization are designed to do the very opposite so how can one then manage them like CMS or ATLAS?

Good they don't ask me because I would not be able to respond. But I am glad they are asking these types of questions from themselves because for sure I'd like to see the type of better products I know can be produced. Perhaps that could happen with a little help from their new friends.

More about the conference