Friday, June 22, 2007


About a year or so ago I was talking about innovation and creativity to Paul Wellings, the Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University, and Cary Cooper, one of his professors. They were asking me how I could help at Lancaster - already one of the premier universities in the UK with a top notch business school. Imagination@Lancaster was born and we enticed Cary’s wife, Rachel, from her design professorship in Salford to head up the effort. A couple of weeks back, we had our inaugural dinner at Paul’s house where he gathered together ex-alumni from Lancaster representing creativity, academia and the government. We had Brian Collins, the Chief Scientific Adviser of the Department of Transport; David Shackleton, the Vice President of Sony BMG Records; Duncan Rycroft, the head of regional programming at Granada TV; Richard Murray, Creative Director at William Murray Hamm, and several other notables. Three hours (fuelled by great food and wine) were spent discussing how we could re-imagine the way universities interact with industry and government, and the impact we could all have by pooling resources in one university. It was a terrific evening; one that happens too rarely. I have been a firm believer in bringing business and academia together whenever possible and it was terrific to see it at this forum, with imagination and creativity at the hub, not one agenda, one function. We are meeting again in Lancaster in July to lay out the dream and purpose for Imagination@Lancaster. Watch this space.


Kempton said...

Hello Kevin,

Wonderful stuff. Since you guys are re-imagining things. May I plant a seed in the advisory group's mind? Have you guys thought of adopting models similar to the MIT Open Course Ware approach and make the course materials available for the world to freely download and used? Here is a link to MIT OCW.

In my humble opinion, the OCW style of university instruction is the way of the future. And it will be great if Lancaster can be at the cutting edge of future trends. Of course, with Open Course Ware, I can hope to pick up a few great ideas and learn along too. Just a thought.


Susan956 said...

Coming from an education/academic background, and yet having a strong interest and current commitment to working in the commercial sector, I have a lot of responses to this article. I am pleased to see it and yet I have fearful reactions.

The fear is based, in part, on observing so many commercial/academic enterprises that completely failed to both access elements of the heart/spirit of academe and to afford academic rigour and knowledge the merit it deserved (the business component has completely snowballed the academic).

A number of projects have wound up weakening scholarship and in the medium to long term this is highly problematic and greatly disservices the institution.

Notwithstanding these comments I feel that the rich transferability possible from academic-to-marketplace has only just begun to be recognised. About time!

I have been amazed..simply amazed..when applying for positions recently to receive some of the responses that I have to my academic background. To be told by one marketing person for example that I would not know how to pre and post test shampoo. I have two full research degrees and yet, because I have not worked for a marketing company, I am deemed as not 'knowing'. I had another person tell me I had never worked in research. I asked her what she thought a university was.

It is time that creative academics were afforded opportunity in the commercial marketplace.

It is also time that a wealth of research that sits gathering archival dust received an airing. I was roaming net sites recently and saw several where people were promoting 'new' social ideas and schemata; the same schemata that academics were publishing 15 years ago - they just didn't know how to translate to the marketplace and have never been encouraged to do so.

Amid my response mix I feel a certain joy in reading this article and my mind runs to an academic I know who pioneered a world class water cleansing system (using completely environmentally safe mechanisms to cleanse yellow water etc) and yet who struggled to be heard and to propel his 'invention' even though several countries were utilising the same.

I also smiled at the mention of someone in television as I happen to count an exec producer I know as one of my best benchmarks and lateral thinkers. I'd have him along in a heartbeat on any Australian project similar to Lancaster. :)

Well done Kevin! Exciting times. There's hope for me yet!

Susan956 said...

Kempton... Interesting as I read the article a little differently. There are a number of institutions offering free course material (tho some lack credibility and are 'pay for degree' programs - to be avoided in my view!)

MIT OCW appears prima facie to be almost a form of open curriculum sharing. There isn't any degree outcome or access to staff is there?? However, it is an excellent sharing of curriculum material and I think falls perhaps into something like the Open University category (UK) although OU does lead to degree and certificate programs.

I read Kevin's article from a different perspective of potentials. For example, I observe many positions vacant for people to run educational programs in the financial sector and yet financial knowledge and background is the only requirement. There is no requirement to have a teaching component OR someone to advise/consult on teaching methodologies.

I perceive that Imagination@Lancaster will work to uncover and address such shortfalls and potentials. There is SIGNIFICANT room in the commercial sector for a bringing together of people from various skill backgrounds into one power team.

As another example I know a few people breaking new ground and completing visual PhD's - large film components et al. I can think of several mechanisms where such work could be used in the media industry and also transferability into other fields.

Susan956 said...

Kevin... A last thought for may consider in Imagination@L offering a new model for practicum or work experience. I wrote such a model for a Uni here in Oz but the original concept heart came from yet another institution who I had liaised with. It's about providing experiences out of the usual mould and providing a compelling rationale for the same. I may contact you independently on this at your web address or you are welcome to contact (if you read this site).

Dr David Atkinson said...

I am heartended by such creative possibilities! May I, as both entreprenuer and academic - having completed a part-time PhD at Lancaster only in December last year - offer an excerpt from my thesis (which is due to be published in November this year).

"...Therefore this book ends with a beginning – with the Bauhaus idea. To paraphrase an excerpt from the official Bauhaus web-site we have a utopian definition: "The building of the future". Could it be envisaged, within a paradigm of management art, that an Institute might be formed to combine all of a management art’s potential in an ideal unity? This suggests a new type of manager-artist beyond academic specialization, for whom such an “Institute” would offer a new form of management education. In order to reach this goal, as with the Bauhaus and its founder (Walter Gropius) such an Institute would need to acknowledge a necessity to develop new teaching methods. Building on the Bauhaus idea however, the Institute could conceive that the base for any “art of…” is a conjunction of craft skills, innovation and mimetic learning. The Institute would seek to provide an environment within which all three elements could be brought to bear on the education of future managers and leaders. Indeed, artists, craft experts, innovators and visionaries would all act together to direct and produce classes for students of this utopian ideal. Key to such an Institute’s agenda would be the notion, developed from both the thinking of Ruskin and Merleau-Ponty, of the manager-artist’s twin responsibilities: a responsibility to the artist’s integrity and a responsibility to his or her audience. The philosophy of such an Institute would be to provide the executive student with a peer-level forum within which the conceptual thinking required to manage this otherwise negative conflict can be fostered in the furtherance of future Management Art."

I cannot claim to have originated the concept of a Management Bauhaus - yet my feeling is that there is now both a sufficient wealth of practical and academic knowledge, and the determination amongst those that have the interest and power, to begin to achieve some real progress in the creative space between business and academia.

I await developments with real interest.

Susan956 said...

Dr David,

Several of your comments echoe my own, albeit yours were written in a more scholarly fashion as one may expect from a more traditional oriented thesis :)

I also agree, absolutely, that the bringing together of different fields [of skills] and merging them is both important and is going to be one of the key innovations in academe in the future.

This said, I believe specific field knowledge important and, in the same sense the French guard their language with keen eye, I believe we need to also look to understanding why specialists in fields are important. To an extent this is a little horses for courses and I never believe in throwing the proverbial out with the bathwater just because it appears nouveau to do so. Culture, society and learning turn regular circles and if you chose to drop specialist skill base and expertise altogether (for the same of amalgam) I can bet you that in ten years there will be a new socio/academic movement back to specialisation. Cycles are predictable so why not account for them pro-actively?

For all these arguments (and others) I believe the bringing together of people from various fields exciting as per Lancaster. I believe the world of advertising itself could be enriched by drawing on academics and others.

I would question, ever so slightly, the concept of mimetic learning given the context of the discussion. However, this comment is cautious because I would need to know more of how you define this. My concern is that innovation and mimetic can be rivals and can generate tensions that require resolve. An interesting discussion.

Dr Sue :)

Dr David Atkinson said...

Dr Sue,

I am conscious that there is a risk we could monopolise this particular blog-spot with an extension of this "interesting discussion". I would seek guidance from our moderator here (cue comment from Kevin?) but am either happy to continue in this forum, or offline. (I will supply an email address on request.)

That said - to return to the subject matter - it is the very fact that specialisations exist that requires us to be all-embracing of them! Fill the bath with screaming babies I say! If you are then brave enough to pull the plug none will fall out!

My own (over generalised) views are that, from a social perspective, the "adopted" role of the rational academic is the deconstruction of a society of (creative?) practioners; the role of the creative is (re)construction - nothing is new yet everything is. We also have the richness of the creative academic and the narrowness of the deconstructive practioner (but I venture that we can live with the later - society has done for years). It does, after all, take all-sorts.

I believe a valid premiss to your argument on creative academics may actually be that we suffer from a dearth of them (present company excepted) – or at least the public (and academic) visibility of them. To return to my point on artistic (creative) responsibility, “creatives” are, after all, (academically) non-compliant. But for a creative’s work to be accepted by their audience (academe) their responsibility to their “lived environment” (the university) does not make for an easy translation into another environment (business). To present work of a non-compliant nature risks breaking the bonds with the lived situation. In my own work I cite the case of Ruskin as champion of Turner. One either “translates” (or has translated – the champion again) or moves into a world where no-translation is necessary.

The institutionalisation of a deconstructive mentality does not champion creativity on the grounds that it lacks academic rigour. Creative (shall we say plausible) knowledge is an individualistic proposition. It cannot be subjected to deconstruction since it has no "social" basis in truth (dare I say acquired capital value?) – it is merely plausible in the eyes of the creative!

We need our champions of art! For it is only when the individuality of a plausible view of this world becomes socially acceptable, that the full weight of academic interest can be brought to bear in further developing (deconstructing) it! By the same token we need champions of the creative academic to allow their knowledge to transcend academe (or at least provide the impression of such transcendence) so that the public can assess their own value of such knowledge. My argument is that knowledge as a basis for social action need only be plausible!

I see the real potential of Kevin’s gang of “however-many” is the creation of the “Tate Modern” of the business-academic space. But in my own humble opinion, this is not just a space where “power” enables us to “…re-imagine the way universities interact with industry and government…” but the creation of a space where we also re-imagine the way industry and government interact with universities. We (as academics) are our own worst enemy! We hold on to the “myth” that our reified, deconstructed knowledge holds the key to practice. But we (as practioners now) also know that to survive in business we cannot wait for answers when we simply do not yet fully understand the questions – yet we know we need to act. If we are to explore the truly creative space between both business and academe then there can be no pre-conceived flow. It is truly a space for play, were we all learn by negotiated alternatives.

Finally, as a footnote on mimesis, you are right in that innovation and mimesis might be seen to be in conflict. Certainly Plato’s mimetic artist was the antithesis of creativity. We do need to keep the “mirrors on society” out of the “space for play”. My own (Aristotelian) view of mimesis is a learning experience that reveals the residual “absent other” of our understanding. This is a more powerful concept that embraces the fact we learn about what we do not yet know through play. A return to childhood perhaps, where Picasso noted “…every child is an artist.” The problem is how to remain an artist once we are in adult-hood. We would not wish to keep children out of an idealized nation state.

:) and apologies for the length of this riposte!

David A.

Susan956 said...

David.. As a quick comment..I am unsure why people are so hesitant to talk here and tend to assume its taking a space over. When I first came here the articles were largely sitting here untouched with a bare comment or two. Isn't life better here than a desert? This of course is MY view and may not be universally shared. I would tend to agree that if we cuddled into a corner on a single topic and discussion was ongoing that yes, we might be better taking it elsewhere. At the same time I think the software here lousy for discussion and I'd prefer a format than allowed a discussion thread to branch off. People could then choose to bypass if they wanted or be observers and (potentially) enjoy as equally.

I also have no belief as such Kevin looks at this space often. I bet ya there are people putting up posts etc for him. He probably looks in but it's all rather a mystery.

I would trust, and I said this to Kempton in a similar discussion, that if Kevin wanted things to be different or felt comments were too long or discussions too much etc that he would step in and say so. I don't know Kevin but from what I see he's not a shy flower in terms of stepping up and speaking :)

Be that as it may, our individual web pages here are a contact point and we are already playing about with a thesis oriented, conundrum minded, ontologically oriented manner. :)

I will come back and move the topic on after coffee.

Susan956 said...

David.. I SO smile at your writing. You write very very well however in some ways you remind me of the Dolittle "push me/pull you" character because you use academic jargon and construction to try and argue and champion the breaking of traditional ties and in the doing of that I suspect you are retreating behind traditional lines more than you realise. Your comment "No social basis in truth" smacks more of positivism than say post post modernism or even constructivism doesn't it?

I should tell you that my PhD was in autoethnography where I had no interest per se in any social 'truth' as such beyond what I experienced and felt and what the research respondents told me they experienced and felt. My work dropped away traditional academic determinants of rigour and instead looked to "credibility", "believability, "aesthetics" and so on.

In the end, choosing something SO different has been my partial undoing in terms of employment. I'm almost literally sitting in a no-man's land - not in academe, not recognised as worthy by agencies - and I think that a shame.

Moving back to your post, albeit I tend to agree that certain academics hold the view of having *the* knowledge, I've seen some classic recent examples of business/institution melds where the academic perspective is considered more than wanting. It's difficult for me to argue this without breaking confidences however let's say a Uni contracts aspects of it's work externally and to a business that has no knowledge of academe at all. This latter industry is totally geared to benchmarking and seeing benchmarks from a particular perspective. They believe the uni is failing to move with the times. Many uni staff feel the business is failing to listen to them. Tensions are building. The business voices it has no particular interest in understanding the academic culture and to discourse through the issues. Many uni staff feel this is yet another example of commercial links that fail to respect what was in place and that are merely geared to attend to both govt policy (and attendant funding of course) and the dollar. And this end issue triggers all manner of concerns and upsets (because it keys into significant funding backtracks that have transpired in the past several years).

I think it was in another article on this blog that I spoke of all sides coming to the table with a broad willingness to accept that each party or group of parties brings it's own expertise and that a successful amalgamation of these will lead to new processes, practices and true innovation. It's about bringing apples, and flour and cinnamon and butter and making something different than traditional apple turnovers! (Since we like to use analogies).

My fear about the mimetic artist in academe David is that said artist may adopt the guru view and may require all who come after to obey and adopt. I've seen that happen.

I was a lucky gal when I did my first degree. I had a couple of academics who KNEW what academic knowledge was all about and who would give me wonderful grades no matter what perspective I took just so long as I referenced well and showed scholarship. In the past decade I have seen more and more academics only giving the better grades to students willing to parrot the strong views said academic espouses. I deplore that more than I can say. That is not scholarship; it's abuse of knowledge, of creativity and of the system of learning.

Now I'm all fired up and my feathers are ruffled :) in any field should claim THE one and true way even while they should be proud and affirmed about what they believe to be right. My view.

I'd sit on a panel with you any day would translate me to the more traditional academics and I would translate you to the people outside of academe (and hold your hand in Redfern). Maybe. *grin*

J said...

Hi everyone,

A former Saatchi & Saatchi employee here!

Actually make that work experience employee.

Just to introduce myself, because this topic Imagination@Lancaster has touched on something I’m deeply interested and involved in, and am launching a project connected to it.

I’m a former Saatchi’s work experience placement and one of the things that I’ve always taken with me from that time in the London office was the sentiment engraved on the entrance doorsteps: Nothing Is Impossible.

One of the frustrations of my generation is the seeming disconnect between university and the ‘real world’, the problem (real or perceived) being that they don’t often connect in any meaningful way. Fortunately I’ve managed to build on my university experiences and am now in a great position within my marketing career at a big British brand, working as an online marketing specialist.

However, this is certainly not the reality of many of my contemporaries.

Why aren’t businesses connecting with university leavers? How can university leavers connect with businesses?

I’m launching a project which will hopefully try and address this ‘disconnect’ problem and inspire university leavers to make the most of their experience and new careers in order to progress and progress.

I’d be absolutely delighted if there were any way I could intend the next Imagination@Lancaster event in July maybe to introduce my project and get some input and feedback about it, and also to share ideas.

My email is

king-edwards AT hotmail co uk

Thank you very much for reading this.

Susan956 said...

j.. If I could be persuaded to get on a plane I'll like to go to! Mind you, maybe one day such a project will transpire in Australia. One can hope.

The disconnection you speak of used to be expressed along the lines of:

You really only get the knowledge you need when you actually do the job.

In many programs, extensive and appropriate (and well executed) work experience and practicums resolve much of this. Factor in academics who have very recent experience in workplace environments or who at least keep in regular contact and, once again, you have much resolved.

I know one person teaching an education program who, 30+ years on, has never (and I mean never) taught in a classroom. Doesn't quite gel for me.

I would urge you to remember that some knowledge that might not seem appropriate now for a workplace does make for a more well rounded and renaissance type individual than not - and across a lifetime this will count.

J said...

Hi Susan,

Thanks for your comments.

Yes, that is one of the areas that my project will work on: promoting quality work experience opportunities for undergraduates and graduates in order to boost their "employability".

My only slight frustration about my project is the slight dismissiveness I get from employers I am trying to work with on this project as soon as they know that I, and therefore my project's office base is in Liverpool (North England and nowhere near London!).

Near to Lancaster though, so hoping in to finding a way to attend the Imagination event, if possible.

Oh well! I will get there regardless. Thanks for your comments, this is a great and important subject!

If anyone has any suggestions and would like to get in touch, (or has information on how to attend the next Imagination event in Lancaster) please email me:

king-edwards AT hotmail co uk

(king 'dash' edwards is all one phrase)

Susan956 said...


Since you are in the UK already I would simply look up the two academics Kevin listed in his article. Look them up on their uni website. Make a phone call to them or their department and ask for their secretary (if they have one). Then leave it a few days and if you don't hear send a fax or letter.

Google the conference name as there may be an organising secretary.

I had the same problem being based in a rural area and so recently moved but to me you need a London based contact and that may be easy to organise. You could let people know the advantages of you being situated in Liverpool. Off the top of my head it could be that rentals and costs are cheaper there and thus service delivery costs are cheaper for the client.