The Simula Culture

This article describes the Simula culture; as it should be, if not exactly as is.

Simula culture - in short

CORE VALUES - “This is what matters most.”

We have four core values at Simula: respect, ambition, curiosity and excellence. These values underpin how Simula is and should be - they inform how we prioritize, decide, and act. They are constant over time.

Respect - we thrive when everyone thrives
Ambition - we tackle hard problems that matter to society
Curiosity - we never stop learning
Excellence - we strive for the highest quality, in everything we do

CULTURE - “This is how we do things here.”

Our culture stems from these core values. Although Simula’s culture, and subcultures, will naturally adapt and change over time, they should always reflect these values.

Simula strives to be a good place to work for all employees. Everyone at Simula has a shared responsibility for creating this working environment, characterised by inclusion, recognition, and respect. Diversity is a powerful asset and employees at Simula are reminded that we recruit well-educated, hard-working and gifted individuals from around the world. Traditional academic ideals regarding free debate and vigorous discussion are valued and welcomed. Every employee and every student is important and will, without exception, be treated as such. Simula thrives when everyone thrives.

Simula has high ambitions in a few selected fields. We have chosen to concentrate our efforts and resources, so that when we set challenging targets, we can achieve them. We do not pursue strictly curiosity-driven projects, but rather those whose solutions are likely to be applicable and useful for society as well as scientific progress. Within the framework of these selected areas, Simula strives to provide the maximum freedom to work in the most effective and rewarding way possible. We also recognize the importance of genuine, high-quality mentoring and teaching. At Simula, supervisors will be accessible to their research fellows and ensure that supervision is an integrated component of the research. Wherever possible, Simula’s expertise is translated into direct benefit for society through outreach and educational activities.

Every effort is made to provide reliable and simple procedures through a lean and efficient administration, allowing both time and money to be diverted from bureaucracy to Simula’s activities. At every step, we embrace our mission to benefit society by solving important problems of science, educating the next generation, and developing profitable tech enterprises. We do this by staying true to our core values and culture.

Simula culture - in detail

THE BASIS

The culture is founded on these four core values: respect, ambition, curiosity and excellence.

These values remind of what matters most in the decisions we make and actions we take every day. They remind us that we treat one another well, both inside and outside of Simula; that we can learn from our differences. They encourage us to strive for and achieve things we thought were impossible; things that make a difference to real people. They celebrate the inquisitive nature of science and the drive to figure things out. And they push us to do our best, and then to do a little better the next time.

THE SIMULA CULTURE

People work best and achieve the most when working together towards common goals; they thrive when they belong and know how to contribute. In light of this, our culture is the framework for collective and individual success at Simula - it tells us “This is how we do things.” It establishes ground rules for how we act in the research community and interact with society in general. It also helps ensure that the name Simula is synonymous with quality, honesty and efficiency.

Developing a company culture is no easy task. Neither is communicating it to others. Nor is living up to it every day. It is important that we all share the same ideas about the sort of culture we want to have, what the culture means and how it can be sustained in the future. As Simula grows, it is paramount that all newcomers get the feel of how we relate to each other, our tasks and the world around us.

What are the key characteristics of Simula? What is it that sets us apart? What is a good work atmosphere, and how can we achieve that? By reading and relating to this article, we hope all employees will understand and find guidance as to how things are done at Simula. For other readers, we hope the article can provide ideas for improvements or at least be a source of thought and discussion about how to organise and run a research lab. Below you can read in more detail how the culture interacts the various components that make up Simula.

THE WORKPLACE

Simula strives to be a good place to work for all its employees, be it an employee that has just had a baby, one who is ready to retire, or a 30-year-old researcher hungry to conquer the world of science. It should certainly be a good place to work when everything is going well - a place where employees can realise their ambitions – but also be a good place to work when things are not going so well, professionally or personally. Consideration for colleagues and recognition that all employees are unique with individual needs should be dominant features of the work environment. You know that you work at the right place if you feel a strong urge to help colleagues in need and to celebrate the success of others. One day you may be the one in need, and another day you may be the hero that we all celebrate.

Simula recruits employees from both international and national academic environments. At Simula we make sure that new colleagues are introduced to the workplace, and we help with the practical issues associated with relocation. Colleagues should make an effort to show newcomers around and help them get started with the process of finding friends and a place to live. People work best together when they have strong working relationships. To help people get to know each other and develop these relationships, we invest in a wide range of optional and inclusive social events; we can have fun together both in and outside the office.

Simula strives to create a work environment that is stimulating and creative, and where people can be happy. Such a working environment does not develop by itself; everyone at Simula should feel a sense of shared responsibility for creating a good working environment. Employees at Simula should appreciate each other's efforts across disciplinary divides. Everyone must accept and respect the fact that Simula thrives when everyone thrives, and for that to happen, everyone must feel that their efforts are valued by Simula as a whole.

At Simula there is no room for condescending attitudes to colleagues or to other vocational groups. All of Simula’s employees should feel that their jobs are important, where they understand why they do their jobs and why their jobs are important. Embracing diversity enhances an organisation's range of experience, ideas and creativity. Simula encourages all employees to recognise and respect the diversity1 of their colleagues. All employees, students, summer interns, guests, employees in start-up companies, members of the Simula-garage and so forth, are important and will, without exception, be treated as such.

THE WORK

The area of ambitions equals the width multiplied by the height. All else being equal, the area of ambitions is constant; we may have broad ambitions that are not particularly high, or we may have narrow ambitions that are extremely high, but we must never believe that we can have high ambitions across a wide range of fields. In this respect, Simula has made its choice: we have high ambitions in a few select fields. That is why the five subject areas we have chosen remain constant, and we will not spread ourselves too thinly even within these fields. All our research efforts will be devoted to these carefully chosen areas. In these areas we will make every effort to succeed. We will participate internationally at the elite level; we aim to be invited to speak at professional events; we aim to be sought-after partners; we want to be a natural destination for visiting researchers the world over; we want to educate hardworking and talented PhD students; we want to be attractive partners for Norwegian industry; and we want to develop companies based on our research in these areas. If we are to achieve all of this, we must concentrate our efforts and resources.

The aim of basic research is rarely to be of use in the short term; indeed, it is widely acknowledged that deep knowledge ultimately is useful but that the path from science to application may be long. At Simula we address research questions whose solutions are likely to be applicable; that is, we do not pursue strictly curiosity-driven projects. Generally speaking, we carry out directed basic research that addresses problems of an applied nature. We set challenging targets and work hard to achieve them. To this end, we must have a common understanding of what we are trying to achieve, the problems we intend to solve and how we intend to solve them. This places some restrictions on the freedom of the individual. However, the freedom of a group is considerable, the freedom of a department is even greater and the freedom enjoyed by Simula is extremely large.

At Simula, freedom divided by responsibility is constant. Researchers have considerable freedom, and with that the responsibility to conduct valuable research and deliver valuable results, and to carry out that research in accordance with the Simula culture. It is important that the researchers continuously take part in discussions about how the research should proceed. Traditional academic ideals regarding free debate and vigorous discussion are key components of the Simula culture. Good initiatives are welcome, and they need to be followed up and developed; employees must be able to support their ideas and be prepared to work hard to put into place any necessary measures. We ensure that new initiatives align with our long-term goals.

Our research focuses on issues that are important and relevant, rather than those that are the most easily publishable. We aim to publish scientific results in the leading professional journals, in books and/or in good conference proceedings. Important publications are given clear priority over less significant observations; we should publish when an important problem has been solved or new insight has been gained, not simply to boost our number of publications. At international gatherings of researchers, Simula researchers will take the floor when they have something new to tell the community. Of course, publishing research findings is vital for researchers to establish their careers, as well as for Simula during evaluations. But in acknowledging this, we should not lose sight of our ideal - to provide new and valuable insight into important issues.

Our work is valuable because it enhances insight into complex problems, contributes to the education of qualified people and leads to new solutions; this is a big part of why taxpayers fund our work and pay our salaries. However, our research has implications for the society and should be shared. Communication is important and researchers at Simula should be available to the media when appropriate, and even contact the media when they have significant scientific findings to communicate. Simula employees are of course free to express their opinions in the media; however, they should be very clear when they are giving an opinion as a private individual or as a Simula employee. Making a statement as a Simula employee puts Simula's reputation is at stake. Careless work and inaccuracy must be avoided and employees should be careful to not appear as experts on a topic they themselves are not actually researching. In cases concerning Simula as an institution, only the Managing Director or someone they delegate will respond to questions from the media.

One thing that researchers around the world have in common is too little time for research. There are a number of reasons for this; researchers must apply for grants to fund for their activities, they have teaching duties and must mark papers and theses, they serve on committees, and they have to support the work of the research councils. A lot of experienced researchers find that their days are spent on activities related to research, but not on research itself. At Simula, we make every effort to shield skilled researchers from unnecessary research-related activities and to revive the concept of the full-time researcher. This is one ambition that is extremely difficult to achieve. We cannot redesign the realities of research policy and the need for funding. However, we do work constantly and deliberately to reduce the administrative burdens placed on researchers, to free up more time for research. How do we do this? We do not ask for information that is not strictly necessary. We do not impose demands for plans and reports that are not strictly necessary. We trust that researchers spend their time well and we endeavour to protect the uninterrupted time that is crucial for people to really think. It is our scientific staff that is our productive force; but all employees at Simula contribute to creating the best possible conditions for conducting important research.

A large proportion of the employees at Simula are research fellows, both doctoral and postdoctoral. Just as scarcity of time for conducting research is a recurring topic in discussions among experienced researchers, the scarcity of genuine academic supervision is a recurring theme among research fellows. At Simula, supervisors shall be accessible to their research fellows and facilitate in-depth discussion and feedback, important components of both research and mentorship. As far as possible, supervision should be an integrated component of research and the research fellows' projects should be central to supervisor’s own research.

Excellent research needs excellent support. Quality, stability, and efficiency are key attributes of the research support system at Simula. Operational decisions should always favour solutions that allow for increased resources (time, money, attention) to be allocated to the research, education and innovation activities at Simula. Bureaucracy should be kept to a functional minimum; procedures should be sensible, simple, and efficient. All employees must be aware of and respect the relevant procedures. The intranet should always provide up-to-date and accessible information, and employees should consult the available information on the intranet when questions arise. Across the board, efforts should be made not to waste other people’s time.

At Simula, the department heads and management must always bear in mind that Simula employs extremely well-educated, hard-working and highly-gifted individuals. Strategic plans and initiatives are anchored throughout the organisation. All employees have the opportunity to express their opinions; all leaders should be accessible and open to discussion about everything that takes place at Simula. Ultimately decisions are taken by a leader, who is then accountable for his or her decision. This mode of operation presents great challenges to the leaders at Simula and requires specific skills. Simula invests heavily in leadership training, including both internally arranged seminars and external courses.

DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS

Simula2 is a research laboratory - not a university - organised as a limited company and has no elected positions. This comes with valuable freedoms, like the flexibility to headhunt talent or to start a collaborative research centre. It also comes with financial obligations; we must always meet payroll and rent. The Simula model explains some of the ways in which Simula is different, and how this impacts the way we work.

At Simula, it is expected that the subsidiaries, departments, and individual employees work in accordance with the plans that are drawn up. To this end, they shall have as much freedom and responsibility as possible; decisions are not to be left hanging. If an employee finds that his or her immediate manager is too slow to make a decision, or where the decision made is obviously inappropriate or motivated by personal interests, the employee can bypass their immediate manager and go to the next level of authority. The aim is to promote efficiency throughout Simula. We will give rapid, clear answers; queries directed to Simula should receive a response within one working day. We will have short meetings. We will have few committees and those we have will be small. We will not write reports that no one will read. We will not ask for information no one needs. We will know our goals and work with determination to reach them.

Simula's reputation depends on its credibility with the Norwegian IT industry, authorities and other partners. Credibility demands that we behave professionally with regard to agreements and deliveries; we anonymise results from industrial studies, unless otherwise agreed; we demonstrate considerable caution in what we say and write about our partners in presentations and at meetings; and we maintain a continuous focus on good research ethics in our studies. Simula makes its living from the truth. We faithfully communicate our findings to other scientists and to the public at large. In all research communities, this calls for reliability and honesty. Simula will go further than this: integrity is paramount in everything we do. We will act fairly towards students, partners, vendors, authorities, the media and each other. We will give praise and recognition based on merit and not on position. Whenever the Simula name is used, the information given should be reliable and accurate. Our web pages will include up-to-date, accurate information. Our annual reports will be accurate. Our surveys of publications, patents, enterprises, etc. will be truthful and always completely verifiable. Simula will never tweak numbers or reports to make them look better than they really are; nor will Simula ever present its research as better, or more important, than it really is.

And last, but certainly not least, is quality. Quality is key in everything we do. All our publications and applications will go through a thorough quality control. Everything Simula buys must be high quality, prioritizing environmentally friendly purchases, and we will not sacrifice quality for a bargain. Anyone representing Simula should behave professionally. Appropriate dress and punctuality are important in showing respect to others, and visitors should all receive a warm welcome. Meetings should be well arranged; presentations of our activities should be well prepared, all technical equipment checked, meeting rooms and refreshments booked in advance. New employees at Simula should be received by their immediate manager, and introduced to colleagues and procedures, as well as their rights as Simula employees. Employees should always confirm receipt of an assignment and indicate when it will be done. Everyone should be on the lookout for improvements, suggest them to the responsible person, and follow up. What can be done better, should be done better.

 

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1 - Diversity includes, but is not limited to, the following: gender, ethnicity, religion, belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age or combinations of these factors. “Ethnicity” includes national origin, descent, skin colour and language. This list is from the Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act.

2 - Simula is a group of 6 companies that are specialized in research, education, and innovation in ICT. These companies are: Simula Research Laboratory, Simula Metropolitan Center for Digital Engineering, Simula UiB, Simula School of Research and Innovation, Simula Innovation, and Simula Consulting. Read more here: www.simula.no/about/organisation