Welcome to BIG POTATOES: Join the debate!

SOME TIME BACK, the authors of this Manifesto came together in London to write 10 case studies on innovation in 20th century recessions. We found ourselves impressed by some of the innovations of the Great Depression, pioneered by companies that have since proved durable – companies including Nestlé, Penguin Books, General Electric and Texas Instruments.

But we also noted how times have changed. Despite sitting on the precipice of another global economic depression we could not see much evidence for any appetite for groundbreaking risk-taking innovation that became apparent during and after the Depression of the twentieth century. Instead, we noted how contemporary society shuns innovation while paying it lip-service.

Talk: Martyn Perks: Can design save healthcare?

Can design save healthcare? from Norsk Form on Vimeo.

28 April, at DogA (the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture), Oslo, Norway. The event was sponsored by Norsk Form and the British Council in Norway

Many countries are cutting back on expensive healthcare provision. In the UK all political parties want to cut bureaucracy and target the public’s health in order to reduce demand. The recession has put preventative healthcare high on the agenda, targeting people’s ‘unhealthy’ behaviour as an unnecessary burden on limited resources.

In response many designers believe they can help reform the National Health Service. On one hand they want to redesign services around patient needs, emphasising satisfaction and service. On the other hand, they believe design can change our behaviour bringing about healthier outcomes, getting us to eat, drink or smoke less. Design ideas include the re-design of food labelling, buildings that keep us fit, or using behavioural psychology techniques to influence how we make choices.
But should design help make cutbacks that target people’s behaviour, or should it be more concerned with advances in science, technology and services that can liberate us from health problems altogether? This debate will question why governments use design, and whether all of this will end up providing us better healthcare provision?

Speakers were:

Martin Bontoft: Design strategist and researcher on user needs in design. Has previously worked for, ideo (Head of Human Factors), Design Council, National Health Service (NHS) and has long experience of service design.
Alastair Donald: Urban planner, researcher and writer with experience in public and private sectors, including as an advisor to Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) in the development of master plans.
Lavrans Løvlie: pioneer in service design since the start of live|work 2001 and director of the Nordic office in Oslo. Lavrans has developed solutions for the Orange, ONE North East and Sony Ericsson is a driving force to make use of service design in the public service development.
John-Arne Røttingen: Head of Knowledge Center, Norwegian Knowledge Centre for Health Services, a government health agency, measuring the quality of health services and helps to develop and improve the quality of health care.

Talk: Martyn Perks: Can design change the world (and should it try)?

Thursday 13 May: Speech to BA Hons Graphic Design students, Bristol Faculty of Creative Arts, University of the West of England.

Designers are influencing change everywhere. We are told that ‘creative industries’ are a major boost to the economy; that ‘design-thinking’ is reforming the NHS; that better design can reduce consumption and protect the environment; that design research techniques can help the third world make better use of limited resources.

While it is good that designers have ambition and want to change the world, are any of these ideas big enough? Or is the influence of design rather a coincidental symptom of society’s acceptance of limits, where few leaders (or anyone else for that matter) openly argue for innovation, risk-taking and progress? Instead the prevailing trend seems to be about making do, reusing what we already have, cutting back and shunning experimentation. So any such design-led innovation appears to be less about radical change, and more about helping cutback and scale down solutions.

Is it irresponsible to want design that is radical, experimental, is risky and that can challenge the brief? Or if not, then what is design for? And why does any of this matter?

Article: Martyn Perks interviews David Hansson of 37Signals

In an ever-changing industry and uncertain economic times, is it really wise to invest so much time, money and effort into long-term business plans? David Hansson, partner of 37Signals and Basecamp supremo certainly doesn’t think so, and his new book ReWork has been hailed as an anti-management manifesto that sees short term cutbacks as the way forward. Martyn Perks met up with him to discuss whether corporate culture is stifling industry growth. “Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy” Hansson told him. Martyn’s reflections appear in his column in NetImperative.

Event: Blue-skies thinking is dead: long live blue-skies thinking?

Sunday 31 October, Battle of Ideas festival, Royal College of Art, London

‘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 geodisc 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?

James Woudhuysen professor of forecasting and innovation, De Montfort University; co-author, Big Potatoes, Energise! A future for energy innovation and Why is Construction So Backward?

Professor Anthony Dunne head, Design Interactions Department, Royal College of Art

Simon Warr communications consultant; vice-president, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce

Chair: Martyn Perks director, Thinking Apart; speaker and writer on design, technology and innovation; co-author Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

In association with Jaguar Land Rover and the Royal College of Art Student Union.

Big Potatoes are the session partner.

Potatoes speaking at Future City debates, 7 and 8 October (London)

Story of London Festival logoTwo of the BIG POTATOES authors, Norman Lewis and James Woudhuysen, are taking part in the forthcoming Future City keynote debates, which are the core of the Mayor’s Story of London Festival and take place at the British Library Conference Centre 4–8 October. The Story of London Festival takes place 1–10 October and is on the theme ‘London, Innovation and the Future’, focusing on London as a site of innovation and the value of innovation to the future of the city.

Norman Lewis is taking part in the Future City debate Is London missing out on the potential of new technologies? on the evening of Thursday 7 October. The other speakers are Iain Gray, chief executive, Technology Strategy Board; Adam Hart-Davis, writer and broadcaster; Dr Hermann Hauser, co-founder, Amadeus Capital Partners; and Oliver Morton, Energy and Environment Editor, The Economist and author of Eating the Sun. The debate will be chaired by David Rowan, editor, Wired UK. (See event details below.)

James Woudhuysen is taking part in the Future City debate London and the future: Will we still be a major player in the world in 2050? on the evening of Friday 8 October. The other speakers are Professor Lisa Jardine, Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary, University of London; Jude Kelly, artistic director, Southbank Centre; Julie Meyer, founder and chief executive, Ariadne Capital; and Peter York, social commentator, writer and broadcaster. The debate will be chaired by Simon Fanshawe, broadcaster and writer. (See event details below.)

Full information these debates follows. Other debates in the series are Bankers and Bonuses: What has the City ever done for London? on 4 October; Is London growing too big too fast?, 5 October; and London and the Olympics: Predicting the legacy of the twenty-first century on  6 October. Speakers and chairs include Billy BraggLuke JohnsonFT columnist and chairman of Risk Capital Partners; Economist editor-in-chief John Micklethwait; BBC Newsnight economics editor Paul MasonSir Terry FarrellChris Luebkeman, head of Foresight, Incubation and Innovation at Arup; James HeartfieldThe Times design and architecture writer Stephen Bayley; and Ricky Burdett, head of the LSE Cities Programme.

We hope BIG POTATOES supporters will be able to take part in the Future City debates and discussions, which should be very engaging and offer a chance to develop many of the themes of the Manifesto in the context of the city and urbanism. Please also help us promote the debates in which we are taking part by sharing this post or re-Tweeting the announcement on our Twitter feed.

Future City: Is London missing out on the potential of new technologies? Thursday 7 October 2010 from 18:30 to 20:00 (British Library Conference Centre)

London has historically been the home of great innovations, and now the potential is even greater than ever with the development of digital technology. But can we recognise the real innovations hidden around us or are we distracted and dazzled by the short-term allure of shiny new technologies? Does London have the ambition and vision to use innovation to transform the city or will we stick with the status quo?

Event page and booking at the British Library Story of London page Future City: London and the future: Will we still be a major player in the world in 2050? Friday 8 October 2010 from 18:30 to 20:00 (British Library Conference Centre)

At the turn of the twentieth century, London was the largest and most influential city in the world. Now there are many other big players: Shanghai, Tokyo, New York to name a few. Are other cities doing better in developing education, arts and science? How will London’s ability to innovate fare in a time of spending cuts and increasing regulation? Will London get left behind or is there something special about it that will keep it racing ahead?

Event page and booking at the British Library Story of London page

Article: Is there any value in blue-skies thinking?

Author: Martyn Perks

Now that many public sector bodies, charities and businesses are faced with the prospect of severe cutbacks in light of the government’s spending review, managers everywhere will be brainstorming to find their own ways of resolving the mess they’re in. However many of those tasked with conjuring up solutions to the mess will find it hard to break out of the constrained circumstances with any genuinely innovative ideas, especially if their only motive is to reduce waste, downsize and make cutbacks.

So is there any value in “blue-skies thinking”, which can open up new possibilities by ignoring limits and self-imposed constraints, especially in an era of austerity like now? Or is blue-skies thinking just a management cliché and an irresponsible indulgence?

Read on: Independent Blogs > Battle of Ideas

This article is promoting the debate “Blue-skies thinking is dead: long live blue-skies thinking?” at the Battle of Ideas festival on Sunday 31 October.

Article: Yuri Gagarin’s brave, brilliant leap into the dark — James Woudhuysen

On the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight, James Woudhuysen praises Gagarin’s daring – and says we need more of it today.

Read on at spiked

Event: Droning on: life in the Internet of Things, 30 September 2014

The debate on automation and robotics has come to the fore again – after first being aired in the 1970s – this time based on the developments in digital and network technologies, and pioneering work at institutions such as Imperial College London. Agile robots were one of the 10 New Breakthrough Technologies of 2014 according to MIT Technology Review, and are being used not only to make cars by Tesla, but drive them as well – with all the worries associated with that, according to Wired. Home automation is also becoming a reality, lead by Apple and some of it alumni, closely followed by established electronics players and feisty startups. And academics such as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have provoked with The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, which has been problematised further by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times and excoriated by James Woudhuysen in spiked.

In the run-up to the Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas 2014 conference Norman Lewis is taking part in a UK Satellite Event in London, to discuss the impact of the connected world on how we behave; whether machines are our liberators; if the Internet of Things mark a radical change in the relationship between humans and technology; and whether the concept of fully networked living will remain unfulfilled.

Droning on: life in the Internet of Things

Tuesday 30 September, 18:30–20:00, Foyles, 107 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DT [Map]

Tickets £7.50 / £5.00 Concessions

Further information on the Battle of Ideas event page

We are also hosting debates at the Battle of Ideas which are convened by Martyn Perks, and Paul Reeves, principal software designer at Dassault Systèmes-SolidWorks R&D, at the Battle of Ideas, which takes place 18-19 October at the Barbican Arts Centre in London, and offers two days of high-level, thought-provoking, public debate organised by the Institute of Ideas. The sessions are:

Another session which may be of interest is From bullet trains to driverless cars: where is transport going? on Saturday 18 October, 16.00 until 17.15, convened by Austin Williams of the Future Cities Project.