Note: This post first featured on “The Art of…” blog, under my name: David Atkinson http://davidsartof.blogspot.com/
On June 19th I attended the launch of the Northern Leadership Academy. My motivation for this visit was a mixture of my “alumni” connection with Lancaster University and a natural curiosity over what the NLA is to be about.
“The north is lagging behind economically and needs more, and better, leadership at entry level to help close this multi-billion pound productivity gap”.
I believe that what is missing from this statement of need is the word “discuss”.
If the academic world – into which the NLA is set – is to help provide answers to this statement of need, is it best to take the traditional approach of academic research and set about investigating – in some empiric detail – the economic activity of the North of England? From such a standpoint, or basis of objective knowledge, action plans might well be suggested to change… what exactly? The North is not the South. Apples are not Pears and Men are not the same as Women. This is not to suggest that the NLA is not going to be a very interesting, very innovative and very valuable resource for the North – I truly believe it is. But there is the word “discuss”.
What if we now say “The north is lagging behind economically and needs more, and better, leadership at entry level to help close this multi-billion pound productivity gap; discuss.” We are presented with creative opportunity. The essay is not empiric research, its principle aim is not the deconstruction of a situation; an essay invites the constructive possibilities of developing ideas that might, just, hint at developing a greater engagement with the very social strata the NLA is concerned with: “entry level” leadership. Here is an idea! What about a joint NLA/Industry sponsorship of a schools essay competition? As Picasso said, “…all children are artists…”. We might encourage that (we might also employ them young while they still know everything!!! – but that is another subject). The wealth of plausible knowledge that exists in the young – unfettered as they are with too many preconceived notions of social truths – provides a rich ground for the exploration of ideas as candidates for new institutionalised narratives. New forms of knowledge might emerge.
As Kevin Roberts (Saatchi & Saatchi) notes in his blog, we might begin to “re-imagine the way universities interact with industry and government”. But this also requires, I argue, an equal share of re-imagining the way industry and government interacts with universities. There is no sense in which I see anybody, including myself, argue that the traditional form of academic-business relationship has no future – I, at least, am not so evangelical. Rather my own argument is that we need also informal (and non-rigorous) channels of communication between two seemingly disparate worlds if we are each to gain from an engagement with the other.