Kudos for Creativity

Article excerpt

On March 25, Unocal's Science & Technology Division (S&T) kicked off its second annual Creativity Week to focus on long-range issues and recognize the creative efforts of the division's research scientists. Activities included panel discussions, award ceremonies, research seminars, and the unveiling of an S&T "Inventors Wall of Fame" in the administration building.

"It's extremely important that the company encourage and reward excellence among its employees," says Steve Lipman, president of S&T. "Creativity Week provides a vehicle for recognizing the best achievements of our people here at the research center."

By honoring the creative efforts of its personnel with companywide recognition, S&T hopes to stimulate increased innovation in the work of the division. Those employees recognized receive cash and a plaque to commemorate their work, and one winner is given a grand prize.

Neeta Kurani, an applied scientist honored for her work on new computer software to help paleontologists find oil and gas, says recognition plays an important role in supporting creative work. "When management acknowledges the efforts of its staff, there's more incentive for employees to put in extra effort," she says. "The Creativity Week program will help S&T find technical solutions to support the future needs of the company."

The primary work of the Research Center focuses on assisting Unocal's operating divisions find and develop crude oil, natural gas and geothermal energy resources, and convert them into useful products, such as fuels, lubricants and electricity. S&T also conducts chemicals research, designs environmental protection systems, and develops processes to convert basic products such as coke and sulfur into high value products like needle coke and popcorn sulfur. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the division.

"Creativity is the name of the game here at the Research Center," says Don Fenton, manager of new technology development at S&T, who coordinated this year's Creativity Week events. "Though there are no simple guidelines for encouraging inventive thinking, we've tried to design our program to foster creativity by recognizing and rewarding work efforts that show a high level of ingenuity. This year's award winners all achieved measurable results for Unocal in such areas as energy production, development of cost-efficient technology, and environmental protection.

But Creativity Week encompasses a broader purpose than merely honoring past achievements. The first event of the program, called Issues Day, provided an opportunity for S&T staff and guests to discuss the future with nationally acknowledged experts in scientific fields. Divided into four subject areas--energy, transportation, the environment, and communication--the panelists at this year's seminars presented the future as seen from the perspectives of government, academia and private industry.

Held in the Research Center's auditorium, the discussions buzzed back and forth between the speakers and the attending scientists. One panelist thought it likely that oil would remain the nation's main transportation fuel well into the 21st century.

"Oil is so cheap and plentiful that transportation will continue to depend on it," said Richard Bilas, a member of the California Energy Commission. Dr. Hillard Huntington of Stanford University, and a member of the Energy Modeling Forum, predicted "an increase in oil consumption, coupled with falling domestic production by the year 2000."

The questions from the audience came fast. "How do you reconcile increased domestic oil consumption, while at the same time restricting drilling offshore California?" one person asked the panel. "What are the economic mechanisms that might keep the price of oil rising so that alternative fuels will be viable," asked another.

The ensuing exchange of ideas demonstrated the concept behind Issues Day. …