Sunday 31 October, 9.45am until 10.30am, Student Union Breakfast Banter
‘Blue-skies thinking’ has long been lampooned as management cliché, but in today’s climate of austerity, such fanciful talk can even be deemed downright irresponsible. In government, business, even in science, everyone seems obsessed with tangible outcomes, practical solutions and ideas grounded in reality. Despite universities minister David Willetts’ talk of ‘curiosity-driven research’, academics are constantly under pressure to leave their ivory towers and prove the ‘impact’ of their research. R&D has become short-termist and risk averse. Economic planning is confined to getting through the worst. Few seem interested in re-writing the future. Being too imaginative, ambitious or creative can lead to accusations of wasting precious time and resources, of being unrealistic and self-indulgent.
But might society in fact need more rather than less blue-skies thinking? As Buckminster Fuller, the twentieth century American architect and futurist who popularised the construction of Space Age geodesic domes, once said ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete’. People like Fuller knew blue-skies thinking played an important role in inspiring future generations: it helped turn young dreamers into tomorrow’s scientists, designers, entrepreneurs and writers, and inspired many others who wanted to change the world.
If no-one is prepared to conjure up our own versions of yesterday’s flying cars, teleportation and space travel, how can we ever expect to achieve the unthinkable if we can’t even imagine it? Sceptics argue ideas are cheap and what matters is how you turn them into reality. But if we cannot let our imaginations run riot, then what we develop in the future will probably be no better than what we already know. Is the problem perhaps that too much innovation is focused on practical problem-solvers and instead we should look to the natural dreamers in the arts, to the imaginative skills of creatives? Where will our big ideas come from? Or should we postpone flights of fancy about tomorrow until we have solved today’s pressing challenges?
Listen to session audio:
visiting professor, London South Bank University
|Professor Anthony Dunne|
head, Design Interactions Department, Royal College of Art
communications consultant; vice-president, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce; former communications and public affairs board director, Jaguar Land Rover
|Dr Ken Arnold|
head of public programmes, Wellcome Trust; author, Cabinets for the Curious
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
Sir James Dyson ratcheted up the pressure on the Government to improve tax breaks for commercial research and development last night as he warned that Britain facedRichard Tyler, Daily Telegraph, 12 October 2010
The Lib-Con coalition is more concerned with controlling behaviour than forging a brave, hi-tech future.James Woudhuysen, spiked, 7 October 2010
Investing in science and research is a critical part of that. I cannot prejudge the outcome but I know that my colleagues, including at the Treasury, value the contribution of UK science.Vince Cable, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 9 September 2010
In his maiden keynote speech as universities and science minister, David Willetts backs curiosity-driven research…and ‘competition from new providers’John Morgan, Times Higher Education, 21 May 2010
We live in a society obsessed with cultivating the creative mind: on this view, the mental attitude is all that matters, regardless of what end product it actually creates.Munira Mirza, Culture Wars, 14 April 2008
Science policy in the UK has given growing support for short-term goal-oriented scientific research projects, with pressure being applied on researchers to demonstrate the future application of their work. These policies carry the risk of restricting freedom, curbing research direction, and stifling rather than stimulating the creativity needed for scientific discovery.Belinda Linden, Journal of Biomedical Discovery and Collaboration, 1 March 2008
The 'blue skies' thinking for UK transport is…find more and more ways to stop people from driving.Austin Williams, spiked, 28 November 2002