Library & Resources

Differences between science and commerce

Article originally written by Peter Haydon for Australian Pork Newspaper

Last time I was involved as part of a team of technical experts was over 18 years ago, and it was with about 70 food technologists. So, I called a mentor of mine and asked him whether I might have forgotten anything about working with technical experts. His answer was annoyingly concise: “They are people, Pete, treat them like people”.

So, in the first four weeks in Research and Innovation, that’s what I’ve been doing. We had some honest conversations, and we’ve agreed and are actively working together to remove barriers and improve processes in order to deliver outcomes in a timely manner.

In commerce, we’re primarily interested in the effect an action has on profitability, or cash flow, or both. I don’t know why a 5% price-promotion affects around 40% of consumers to change the brand they buy, just that it does. People probably each have their own reason for changing their behaviour. But the same action regularly causes a reaction of similar magnitude, and in my experience, this is the case in most categories.

My understanding of research was that it is primarily interested in why things happen. The Oxford English dictionary defines science as “knowledge about the structure and behaviour of the natural and physical world, based on facts that you can prove”.

So, maybe commerce is more outcome driven and science is more cause driven?

Or, maybe not; in our first week together, the Research and Innovation (R&I) team told me that what they want is both the cause and the outcome.  So, I was wrong.

So, if we are all focussed on outcomes what do we need to do more of? It seems to me that that there are four clear areas. If Newton was right and actions cause reactions, then what actions should we undertake now to be successful?

I’m still learning and understand that this is possibly “the enthusiasm that comes with a new goal”, but my top four right now are:

  1. Accountability and authority. We employ smart people, and if they are going to be accountable for delivering outcomes, then they also (within reason) need to have decision-making authority over how they’re going to make those outcomes happen.
  2. Streamlining. It seems that if technology is evolving faster, then we also need to be faster. Therefore, we need to work towards  achieving high quality outcomes in a quicker way.
  3. Responsibility for delivery. In most arenas where a person with money agrees for someone else with a skill to deliver a service, it is the service provider’s responsibility to provide that service, to the agreed quality by the agreed date. Currently, if things go off-track the responsibility seems lay more with APL than with research providers. We need to take a look at  that.
  4. Measuring outcomes. We can improve how we measure outcomes, and we should. We make a guess at what the outcome of an experiment will be before we do it, then do the experiment (in a controlled way) to try to achieve that research outcome. Then we don’t measure who uses those outcomes for benefit in-industry and who does not.

Now, clearly we aren’t going to change these things overnight, but we are, actively working on them.

Producers, understandably are triple-checking, due to COVID-19, all of the biosecurity plans that they double-checked in the “Keep ASF out of Australia” activity of late 2019. A positive is that the results of a 2019 survey found that over three quarters of producer respondents (who cover just under 90% of pigs) take measures to minimise visitor biosecurity risks on farm. Not only are these measures key to reducing the risk to the health of pigs, but in our current climate, those same measures are also providing protection to staff, by reducing their potential exposure to COVID-19.

Recent events have seen the APL marketers pivot their focus towards more in-home help with recipes and “how to cook” outcomes. Likewise, our APL regulatory teammates are working to find ways to continue to export Australian pork. COVID-19 has caused numerous project delays in R&I, but many are still on schedule and so the research team continue to focus on finding ways to reduce production costs, keep our farms safe, and improve our license to operate.

Until next time, stay safe and let’s continue delivering nutritious, fresh food to Australia and beyond.

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