I had the pleasure last month of having a conversation with Professor Andrew Pickering from Exeter University, on the subject of “where do good ideas come from?

The conversation was the latest in a range of interviews at Imperica, a smart new project by the renowed Paul Squires which “tracks a number of disciplines, wraps them all together, finds the interesting angles, then talks to the people behind them.”

The conversation began with a discussion of how accesible ideas are today, which made me say that I think ideas are harder to actualise because of the false confidence that an abundance of them creates, and ended up touching on many things including education. Here’s an extract:

Are we seeing a shift from intellectual rigour to the more technical display of “doing things”?

AP: During my lifetime, the number of young people that go through university has increased enormously. When I was an undergraduate, it was 10% of the population. Now, the target is 50%. That change implies a change in what university education, is. So, if you pick the cleverest 10% and tell them to sit around for three years, they can very probably go deeply into something. I studied Physics. If you just pick half of the population and say that “We’ll give you an education”, then education is going to be something else. The ratio of students to teaching is much higher, so you can’t give people that kind of personal attention and engagement.

Education itself has been reconceived since Mrs. Thatcher’s day. Now, it is seen as a way to fit people into the economy – to produce useful cogs for the industrial machine. Learning for itself is not a priority of the Government. So, higher education becomes industrialised, and produces an industrial product.

SG: The irony in that, is that we’re a knowledge economy – we’re not even in an industrial economy. And, yet, you’re right, the industrialised approach, turning out people who then become knowledge workers…

AP: It’s an industrialised conception of knowledge… not for its own sake, but “useful knowledge”. Physics isn’t all that useful, but engineering is. I don’t think that’s anything to do with the Internet, but the Internet feeds into this trend that already exists. The same goes for research; funding is made increasingly conditional on producing useful knowledge. How are “users” going to benefit from this knowledge?

Read the whole interview between Andrew and I here.

Your Leading Thoughts

  • Are ideas more accessible today, in your option? And if so, what are the repercussions of that?

Archived Comments

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    What do you mean, ‘more accessible’?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Robin my friend!

    Information is more accessible – it is easier to get hold of the information that you need – and ideas are easier to get than before. You can watch TED videos and get inspired in 20 minutes, etc etc

    The article is quite good – although I realise how poor my sentence structures were!


  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Excellent. Thank you for unfolding that just a little.

    Information is plentiful. Ideas abound. There are oceans of ideas getting larger by the minute.

    This can be a trap. Which ideas do you say ‘yes’ to – ‘no’ to. How do we evaluate these ideas? Do we implement or wait for an even better idea?

    Ideas without clear strategic boundaries are just noise. And the world is getting noisier.

    I’ve met many TEDucated people – all pumped up and inspired by the rich flow of ideas, but have yet to see these same people deliver returns on the ideas.


  • http://www.jenniferfrahm.com Jennifer Frahm

    Good post. I’ve been thinking about the growing trend towards ‘knowledge wombling”, which maps with this (eg picking up free ideas / education via free webinars, e-books, blog posts etc etc. The consequence is dire. Knowledge is not valued. Being able to discern between quality information and sources is difficult and hence tarnishes what is out there. There is something about the importance of trust as a market mechanism in the knowledge economy to manage the oversupply, but I’m going to have to think some more on that!

  • / Scott Gould

    Robin I love this – TEDucated.

    This phrase skilfully describes how people who are smart (TED viewers) are becoming more smart, yet still falling into the trap of un-actualising ideas.

    I used to think it was one thing when naive people were over educated and arrogant about what they knew but didn’t do anything. However now it is those who are acquainted with work and effort who also fall into the trap.

    The TEDucated are elitist thinkers – the hold the value of an idea up high, the more ideas you have, the higher up the rank you climb.

    I think the resolution must be in having relationships like ours where we reign each other in and put the emphasis on actualisation and moving the bottom line.

    If it wasn’t for our relationship, for instance, I’d easily be buzzing with inspriation without any actualisation.


  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Yes, this is the power of community based on regular, honest communication.

    There can be nothing more frustrating than being bloated full of ideas, with ever more ideas pouring in everyday, and having nothing to show for it. In an economy replete with ideas, surely the advantage goes to those who can actualize them – profitably!

  • / Scott Gould

    Agreed Robin. Of course, we can’t really talk more about that much more either – people just need to go and do it!!!

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Jennifer

    I agree – knowledge is not valued at all. This is what the interview was all about, and Andrew and Paul both agreed. Ideas are easy, making them happen is not – and the result is that knowledge is no longer valued. Content, as I say, is a commodity.

    What do you think can be done about this?


  • Jennifer Frahm

    Aaagh. I just get my thoughts together on it and you challenge to do something more useful. Thank you: – )

    OK. So knowledge is not valued? An education campaign? A hold-the-fort mentality eg premium pricing model. A closed community. It sounds like the making of a revolution to me…having worked as an academic, and having marked more than my share of wikepedia referenced essays I have often thought the solution lies in making education / knowledge very expensive and/or accessible only to the very bright…It’s not a popular idea. But then I also think, it doesnt matter where you get it (knowledge), its that you get it it. And even if you are in the shallow end of the pool, its better than being bone dry. Sorry, not too useful hey? Going to have to think some more…