Monday, 8 October 2012

An Enlightening Greek Conference


Now, where was I? Oh yes, the relevance of history to policy. Well, if I've been a bit quiet of late, it's because I was trying to get some of that stuff done - rather than just writing about it.

I've been in a warm and sunny Athens (above) talking to corporate movers and shakers about 'creativity and innovation' - in my case, about urbanity and the city's role as a historic cluster of energy, innovation and creativity. 

What did I get out of it? Well, it was fascinating to see how many corporate structures force people to think tactically and (for those of us with an economics training) at the 'micro' level - rather than strategically and at the 'macro' level.

The audience was full, for the most part, of Human Resources professionals. What they wanted to know was: how can we get people to perform with more vim and vigour? What are the roots of creativity and innovation? How can we encourage those traits? Can we listen more effectively to their needs and desires, and would that help us free our employees' potential?

And lots of the academic and business professionals speaking responded: let's look at the whole picture. What about the one-offs such as William Blake, brave enough even to be despised and pitied in their time? What about the business environment in your sector - drowing in 'red water', where everyone cuts each other up, or 'blue water', a calmer and more co-operative environment? What about the insights of psychology and the types of people you're dealing with?

In my case, the insight was perhaps this: what about the energy limitations that we're going to face in the next thirty years, overcome in the nineteenth century of course by massive inputs of coal? What about trying to locate somewhere desirable at a time when we're going to face a huge drought of young people? What about links to government and the third sector, when growth is going to perhaps come from 'softer' or less expected places?

Yes, the Government's much-derided impact agenda (encouraging universities to work with business and civil society) is cramped, short-sighted, even absurd. But history - that history for which historians have suffered and struggled, that history that can open our eyes and enrich our minds - that's not so easily dismissed.

That's what I learned in Greece.

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