Sunday, 12 July 2009

Ponderings on Jeff Saperstein's RSA Thursday Lecture

I attended this week's "RSA Thursday" lecture entitled "Vision Matters: Defining Identity - how visionaries can help us not only survive but thrive" by the wonderful Jeff Saperstein who I was Twittering in favour of throughout his afternoon session at Reboot Britain.

His lecture got, and kept, me thinking so my interpretations and resultant ponderings follow for your (hopeful!) interest. I do, however, encourage you to experience the 'pure' version by viewing the slides and listening to the full audio in order to judge for yourself!

Jeff outlined how we, as individuals, need to 'define'. We draw up definitions and boundaries of ourselves, each other, our environment and our roles, in order to interpret, understand and react to the world. If our definitions of ourselves are narrow they function to restrict us, e.g:
I am a marketing person <--> I do marketing things
This is not a marketing thing <--> I won't do this thing
If our definitions are wider, however, they seek to rightly distinguish us by skill and not restrict by implementation, e.g:
I am a person who facilitates communication --> I could be a journalist, telecommunications engineer, graphic designer, language translator, therapist (!), bar tender (!!) and so on..
The particular problem with restrictive definitions he was proposing (as clearly there are varied and significant problems that can be identified with labeling people in this manner) was that it stifles innovation.

As a collection of people restricted by our labels, be it a community, company, government or NGO, we loose out on a great deal of collected skill & talent as people aren't rising up to the challenge of taking on tasks which they could perfectly well complete. This is because they fall outside of the definitions they have established for themselves (or have been established for them.. yet there is so much to say on that facet I shant even begin!)

In this way, our restrictive definitions stifle our ability to try new things, to challenge and to innovate.

Innovation, he goes on to say, is the only path to increasing productivity and there are no limits to its progress. Clearly I agree, you will never become more productive by doing the same things, the same way you always have, with the same people you always did them with.

He rounds off this domino effect saying that productivity increases wealth and wealth is still the great divider between those that 'survive' and those that 'thrive' as illustrated by discussions of geographic, digital, socioeconomic and educational divides.

The interesting tie in, for me, was the assertion that the most important and effective innovation is the way in which we work together. This links further to messages I took from his "Reboot Britain" session around the common features of highly successful technology clusters being partly a 'respect for knowledge' but hugely weighted towards the concept of an open and flexible working culture where people are encouraged to collaborate with those unlike themselves.

When brought to bare bones it is a somewhat obvious but fantastically empowering message:
By not restricting myself in terms of the way I allow myself to be defined, by working flexibly and openly with people who are culturally/experientially different from myself, and by learning from these people, I can achieve great and unexpected things. Thus adding more to my community/workplace/family and becoming a productive and instrumental force in driving positive change.

(BTW, I'll also be at the Sustainability Project panel on Mon 13th 6:30pm - so shout if you're going :)

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