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Five Things CSIRO’s Dr Alex Zelinsky Has Learned About Leading in Science and Innovation

Dr Alex Zelinsky, director of the CSIRO’s ICT Centre, shares his insights on managing cutting-edge projects, keeping knowledge-based workers happy and why there’s a “global war for talent” going on in science, technology and innovation.

Dr Alex Zelinsky, director of the CSIRO’s Information and Communication Technologies Centre

Dr Alex Zelinsky, director of the CSIRO’s Information and Communication Technologies Centre

Dr Alex Zelinsky is the CSIRO’s group executive, Information and Communication Sciences and Technologies, as well as director of the Australian scientific research organisation’s Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Centre.

Starting out his career as a systems engineer with BHP Steel in 1978, Dr Zelinsky joined the CSIRO in July 2004 and is currently charged with leading the organisation’s efforts to develop innovative technology platforms in such areas as sensor networks, computational and simulation science. As part of that role, he is also responsible for building the ICT Centre’s research capabilities to address Australia’s national challenges and to commercialise technology developed by the CSIRO. The results of these efforts are currently being applied to cross-disciplinary research throughout the CSIRO, particularly in the areas of energy, health, agriculture, manufacturing and the environment.

Capture the imagination of your people and their hearts and minds won't be far behind

Dr Alex Zelinsky

Before joining the CSIRO, Dr Zelinsky was chief executive officer and co-founder of Seeing Machines, an Australian technology company dedicated to developing state-of-the-art computer vision systems. Prior to founding Seeing Machines Dr Zelinsky was Professor of Systems Engineering at the Australian National University, Canberra. He has also worked as a research scientist in the AIST Electrotechnical Laboratory in Japan, conducting groundbreaking research into robotics and computer vision.

An internationally recognised scientists for his research in robotics and real-time computer vision systems for human-machine interfaces, Dr Zelinsky has published over 120 refereed papers and served on the editorial boards of some of the top journals and magazines in his field. He also has won several awards in Australia and internationally, including the Australian Engineering Excellence Awards (1999 and 2001), Discover Magazine’s Top 100 Innovations of 2001 Award and the Australian Eureka Science Prize 2002. He was named a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Below, Dr Zelinsky shares what he’s learned during the course of his distinguished career as an IT scientist and academic, as well management techniques he’s acquired during his tenure as head of the CSIRO’s hub for creating innovative information and communication technologies.

1. Create a compelling and focused vision.
To quote Lewis Carol and Alice in Wonderland “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” A knowledge-based workforce typically needs to believe in and embrace an organisation’s mission and objectives. Scientists are attracted to work for CSIRO, the national science agency, by our organisation’s focus on addressing national challenges -- in areas as climate, water, environment and creating high technology products and services.

Along with a core purpose it is also important to create a "buzz" -- people enjoy working somewhere that is exciting and dynamic, where they feel they make a difference and can see their ideas blossom. Capture the imagination of your people and their hearts and minds won't be far behind. A key element is keeping the problem grand while making the steps to the solution small. We have found that having researchers plodding towards a far-off goal will be initially well motivated by its scope but may become discouraged by its distance unless smaller goals are met along the way.

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