Transfusion Conference speech

Here’s my opening speech to the transfusion conference, 4th December, 2013. It was a great opportunity for me to bring together many speakers and educational activists working in the field of combining STEM, Art and Enterprise for a new generation of learners. The day-long event was held at London’s Royal Society of the Arts.

courtesy of London Knowledge Lab

“In 1754 a group of what we’d know call entrepreneurs met in Rawthmells Coffee House in Henrietta St, Covent Garden about a mile away from here.

One of Great Britain’s main industries at the time was being held back by a lack of what we’d now call innovation. This group of artists, part-time inventors, businessmen and scientists had been brought together by drawing teacher and amateur inventor William Shipley.

William Shipley by W. Hinks

William Shipley by W. Hinks

Steam power had revolutionised the making of cloth, but dying was being held back by the lack of an indigenous source of bright red pigment, and there was a monopoly or stranglehold of so-called ‘Turkey Red’, sent across Europe via Flanders. In short, Britain was losing an industry.

The group who met formed a society to address this problem. They knew they had to solve this through arts, manufacturing and science. Their idea was they would seed fund and incentivise creative individuals to come up with homegrown solutions to issues like this. They would advertise and give out challenges to the creative population, and ‘premiums’ or financial incentives would be offered. Initially two challenges were what we’d now call crowdsourced

Firstly a reward for the discovery and the mining of substantial amounts of blue cobalt ore,

….and a Second reward for the cultivation of Madder plants capable of making red dye on an industrial scale.

This group essentially funded Great Britain’s capacity to dye cloth RED and BLUE and over a period of 20 years saved the British textiles and associated manufacturing industries.

At the time the group called themselves the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce in Great Britain, but we now know them as the Royal Society of the Arts or RSA.

They were the kickstarter of their age.

In the space of 20 years there was no longer a need to import, and further innovations blossomed. Even our military started to wear the bright red that this new technology created.

And so a mix of Entrepreneurship, Art/Creativity and the Science of the day, came together to create a new industry.

Transfusion conference 2013

Transfusion conference 2013

You can see the connection to today. Today, the challenges may not be so clear cut- (we have computers capable of 16.7 million colours and don’t need any more thank you)!

However, there is a new issue that we need to address that is hampering today’s industries, both digital and manufacturing.

All we’ve done is named it Fusion. It’s not as simple as crowdsourcing a new colour, but we think today the collective knowledge and experience in this room can help come up with a description of how we might address this intermix of STEM, Art and enterprise, -or whatever you call those three elements from your perspective.

We know that a substantial part of the answer to how we engage with the issue of Fusion will come from Higher Education which is why we wanted this conversation with you today- through a series of workshops and talks that’ll hopefully fire your imagination, and get us all talking and sharing.

There is no doubt that our industries need these fused individuals who can converse, work and thrive between the worlds of science, art and business. The answer isn’t as simple as propagating plants or mining cobalt ore, but the crowdsourcing and sharing of knowledge is the key, just like in 1754.

Today, just like then, is really an experiment- so we make no apologies for the eclectic mix of stimuli you’ll discover- both right and left brained stuff!

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the 16th century, and Fusion is really about the future. It’s increasingly difficult to trace trajectories over a 5 year time span, never mind the span of a 3 year degree!

But let’s try- I couldn’t think of a more thought-provoking video to take us out of the present to ONE near future than Superflux’s “Design for the new normal” talk at Next 2013 in Berlin, and we’re grateful to Anab Jain from Superflux for allowing us to show it. We hope there’ll be a lot more future talk later today, but this time from YOUR perspective.

Thank you all for coming, we hope you appreciate the video”.

Projectionist, please run the clip!banner_molecules_fusion2


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