I love ideas. I suppose it’s one of the fundamental things which attracted me to working for the RSA and which sustains my time as a Fellow and member of staff. My inbox is invariably filled with emails starting “I have an idea I wanted to discuss”, a tantalising opportunity to explore something new, usually over a cup of coffee or four (when asked what I did for a living, my son once explained that “Daddy drinks coffee”).
Of course not all the ideas are achievable or in line with the RSA’s objectives and Change Aims. This is something that is becoming ever more the case as we progress with the strategic review, and the clarity of purpose which it is bringing to our work. We had gone through a period of letting “a thousand flowers bloom” which definitely had its benefits for re-energising the wider Fellowship, however a more focused approach will allow us to bring maximum support to key projects.
This focus doesn’t mean a shortage of ideas though, as my recent travels have reinforced. When I was over in Belfast to attend the first RSA Ideas event that we held over there. Located in the famous Lyric theatre, this was a chance for Fellows and guests to come together to listen to six projects pitch their ideas and bid for their support. The projects themselves covered a very diverse range of opportunities, each stimulating in its own right – from peer support groups for people suffering from mental health challenges in Dublin to Community Journalism in Northern Ireland, with two projects being voted the winners on the night – one was a project providing employment support for people with autism with getting into the job market; and the other an innovative project developing mountain bikes for people with mobility issues. In reality any of the six projects could have won due to the impact they intended to make upon their respective communities and clients – in true RSA style, the diversity of attendees was such that expertise and connections were picked up by all the projects over the course of the evening.
This focus doesn’t mean a shortage of ideas though, as my recent travels have reinforced
The second example was when I went up to speak to the large number of Fellows who are based at the University of Dundee. Having recently supported a project which came out of there through Catalyst and the RSA Scotland Venture Fund, it was a great chance to discuss the Power to Create and its relevance to the work that the uni is doing. Again, I was struck by the diversity of ideas and expertise in the room. Staff from a number of different specialities were present, and opportunities were explored around design, art and organisational reform. Dundee is a pretty exciting city just now, with its recent announcement as the UK’s first UNESCO City of Design and the forthcoming opening of the new V&A museum helping to drive a re-imagining of the city’s place in the world, particularly from a design perspective. There is a vibrancy to the city which I haven’t experienced before and which makes it a thriving hub of ideas – exactly the kind of place which the RSA itself flourishes in.
The key feature of both these events was that of collaboration. Even if the ideas in the first place had been individual concepts, their strength and development came about through the diversity of support and refinement which others brought to them. When people bring their ideas to me, it is precisely in order to access that collaboration which the RSA embodies – I get to play the happy role of facilitator, channelling the ideas through to the people who can best support and contribute to them. It’s an exciting position to be in – when I think of projects which I’ve seen succeed over the past four and a half years working at the RSA it is a strong testament to the vibrancy of our Fellowship. I think there is always more we can do, and our re-focusing of our activity through the Change Aims and the Power to Create will be a key part of improving this; but fundamentally the RSA needs you to bring your ideas, or to add your support to those that others have. With the launch in early 2015 of the new online platform at the RSA, Fellows will be in a better position to connect directly with other Fellows and to share the ideas they have, offering a great chance to really live out the ambition that the RSA is the best place to have an idea.
So bring your ideas, share your expertise and harness your power to create
So bring your ideas, share your expertise and harness your power to create. We are all part of a Fellowship which stretches across the globe and back through years of innovation and creativity, from Shipley and Franklin to those changing the world today. It is a proud history to be a part of and a proud Fellowship to contribute to – here’s to the next raft of ideas which will continue the story.