Unplugged

I’ve been invited to Germany to be on a conference panel about new markets for the creative industries. We’ll be having a separate meeting about our new transnational project ‘European Creative Residencies’ tomorrow which is the real reason I’m here, but today it’s the conference. It has been organised by Ruhr 2010 to examine the impact locally of their year of being the Capital of Culture. Being local (as opposed to being in Brussels where everything is in English!), this event is entirely in German, of which I know only profanities. (I was taught them 40 years ago when I worked in London with German violin makers from Mittenwald, who contrasted the sheer delicacy of their craft with a pretty robust attitude to life!). However, not many profanities in evidence today so, having sat through two presentations that I would genuinely love to have understood but didn’t, I have come out to get the last of the summer sun in the midst of this mediaeval tent village erected in the park especially for this event.

Browsing through today’s e-newsletter from Harvard Business Review (essential reading!), I come across articles about this being the summer we are all demonstrating our independence by disconnecting our PCs, our phones, our IPads etc – the Digital Fast, it’s called apparently – funny thing: the very idea gives me claustrophobia! One of the consequences of writing these occasional pieces is that, in a peculiar way, I learn more about me from than I would ever have imagined. I start them sometimes out of duty (everyone says you have to have blog), sometimes to record something momentous to me (as when Jack died) and sometimes because I’m genuinely provoked by something and want to sound off (like my piece about Universities recently, stimulated by David Willett’s recent interview). Then, half the time at least, I find that, as I write, ideas cohere and often take me in a direction I hadn’t planned at all.

I guess the two things that seem to be preoccupying me right now, as I write this, is, firstly, how can we really move towards creating new markets across Europe if we don’t address the languages issue? And secondly, the fact that an academic has apparently ‘complained’ to a Board member about my Universities piece! Apart from being astonished that he even reads it, my principal reaction is: Why doesn’t he respond to it? Or talk to me?

My criticism of academia is hardly original – to my certain knowledge through the work I do, employers are complaining the world over about the disconnect between academia and real life! I thought my suggested solution was pretty supportive – let’s not pretend that Universities know anything about the real world of work but let’s focus and value them for what they do know about, the world of the mind……..let’s get them to get us thinking properly. Thinking may be, as John Howkins recently wrote, a real job but it is firstly a real and essential skill that few people have (outside academia, ‘natch!) and yet it’s one that everyone, yes everyone, needs. How controversial is that?

When I was chatting to someone about this, she said ‘Yes but Anamaria – what about people like me? I’m not academic; I never wanted to go to University; I started learning when I saw the need for it – then I did Open University, Cranfield, Ashridge – but only then…’ (She is now a very senior player in the creative sector.) But really she exemplifies what I am talking about – never mind ‘gap years’: people should take time out to learn the Thinking Competencies, as I call them, and leave topic specific stuff, academic or vocational, to one side whilst they learn how to think and relearn how to use their own quintessential creativity to see the world and their own role in it.

Aha, the conference is taking a break and disturbing my peace. I’m on next – speaking English of course whilst, humiliatingly, my German and Dutch co-panellists will be sufficiently fluent to be able to present, discuss AND translate for me – Saw an interesting statistic the other day that says whilst foreign language teaching is declining in schools, take up of courses by people in business has been growing exponentially – a clear sign! We need a polyglot philanthropist to do a Jamie Oliver on foreign languages and drag kids kicking and screaming to the headphones………ah well……..

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