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I have actually had several conversations like the ones I am about to describe...

My friend

How’s that new job going?

Me

Great thanks. People very nice. Carpeting very green.

My friend

Remind me, what does the RSA do exactly. Insurance right?

Me

No. that’s the RSA. We are the RSA. Very different. We do cool things.

My friend

Like?

Me

We kind of invented the brush for sweeping chimneys sometime in the 1800s.

My friend

Chim-chimmeny, chim-chimmeny-

Me

Chim-Chim-cheroo!  And I think we kind of invented the public examinations system, plus offered rewards for the reduction of smoke emissions as early as 1770.

My friend

So what does RSA do then?

Me

Kind of a think tank.

My friend

Like IPPR?

Me

Hmmm, sort of, but with 27,000 Fellows.

My friend

Oh right, so you’re more like a small Avaaz then, or Amnesty?

Me

Not really, no. Er, we have a great building and do cool videos.

My friend

Ah, so you’re a members’ club, like Soho House?

Me

No. Hmmm. Look, you’ve obviously heard of the City Growth Commission, right?

My friend

No. But anyway, cool job mate.

 

That’s genuinely inspired by several conversations that I’ve had over the past few weeks. When I talked about things that the RSA has done in the past - chimneys and tree planting etc - I found that everyone could relate to them (although I didn’t muddy the waters by calling them ‘Premiums’).  But I found that drawing together all the more modern things was much more tricky. I realised I had to find a new way of describing it. I did, and so now conversations go a little like this:

My friend

I heard that you got a job at the Royal Society – awesome!

Me

No, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

My friend

Manufacturing.

Me

No, Manufactures. As in ‘Prithee good sir, dost thou work in the manufactures?’

My friend

Er… So what does the RSA do then?

Me

(Proudly)

Aha! Think of it like a festival.

(Pause)

My friend

Glastonbury, or Hay-on-Wye?

Me

Hey?

My friend

Burning Man, or Edinburgh Fringe?

Me

This is an analogy, OK? At its early stages. Just think of a festival.

My friend

Ok. Glastonbury-

Me

Whatever. Look, what is a festival? It’s a whole load of different but cool things brought together in one experience, with a buzz about it. There’s a main stage; multiple other stages; side events; people milling around; meeting others, dancing, doing their own thing.

My friend

Yeah, I can see that. So what about the Fellows then?

Me

Sure. It wouldn’t be a festival without them. They might come along; they might be running one of the stages; or be on the stages; or dancing or whatever. Or maybe they watch the festival from their comfy chair at home. The point of it is to give people an experience – no one tells people how to dance or what to wear or who to speak to. The Festival plays the bangin’ tunes and the rest just happens

My friend

-I never thought I’d hear you say “Bangin’ tunes”-

Me

Yeah, and I’ll say it twice. We put on bangin’ tunes that, no matter how complex, always have a melody that makes people want to dance: a melody that they’ll still be humming after the festival, that they’ll think of when they get back to work, that they might share with their friends, do a cover version of, or remember snippets of when they write more music of their own.

My friend

OK, you’re starting to stretch this analogy now

Me

OK, I’ll stop

My friend

Anyway. Cool job mate.

 

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