Monday, September 14, 2009

Convergence? Edges coming together in Cambridge......

Viewpoint from Juliette Morgan, Cluster Development Consultant

At dinner the other night, I was struck by a comment from an über-connected Cambridgian.....who posed the question: 'Why is it that all the people at the Enterprise Tuesday lecture are not the same people at the sustainability lectures? Are the innovators not interested in the future of the planet?'. Now those are pretty good questions, but even more so when you consider that there are whole communities of ‘creatives’ in this city who also are not attending either of those forums. The dinner conversation moved on to talk about silos, distributed conversations, etc.

Yet it's pretty flippin' interesting then when a University of Cambridge professor (Nicola Clayton) has been working with the Rambert Ballet company to inspire a ballet based on the work of Charles Darwin. More so, when ballet companies are entitling their work as E=MC2. The creatives are looking to science for inspiration, but are the technologists/sciences looking to the creatives?

If innovation happens at the edges or overlaps, then surely we should be acting to cross-pollinate creatives, with tech, with sustainability. That means as individuals we have to step out of our own silos and attend things for the good of ourselves and the good of the city. Take Paul Smith's Cam Creative's group - how interesting to cross pollinate them with i-teams or CUE, or better still Cam Tech Demo night (probably the coolest event in town these days, which it took an outsider to start!). Apple does this brilliantly - excellent software coupled with excellent product design and marketing. By definition, great companies need marketing and design to be able to touch consumers by reaching them with a great products made by the technologists. So we need to get these groups together.

It was also said that creatives find picturing the future much easier than technologists. The upshot is that we need them on the team, with their fresh perspectives, ability to make us question, and ability to communicate complex ideas.

And frankly, it would just be more interesting. We're a small city, and finding these people and groups won't be hard. There doesn't need to be some big initiative - just a few people inviting arty people to tech demo nights and vice versa. How much more interesting would it be to hot-house start-ups in artists' studios to form a culture of creativity and competitiveness. After all, a huge proportion of UK economic output comes from the arts, and frankly, we need to sort the planet so if Cambridge is a microcosm of that, then we should be overlapping these groups and interests.

There are lots of publicly funded initiatives in this city to promote enterprise, but I think the model needs a shake up. Lets chuck artists, video makers, digital media guys, tech teams and eco entrepreneurs in the same space to do something together in an informal way to stimulate each other in whatever realm they are working on......this isn't new. Singapore was a small island state thirty years ago with a mission to become a world class innovation cluster. Through planning it is putting its artist quarter next to its digital media quarter, which is beside IT and Healthcare. Now I'm not suggesting that Cambridge is a small island state, but life isn't disconnected anymore, so nor should Cambridge be. We need to start overlapping at the edges, which in reality is just people going out of their way to learn more and network differently.

I'm looking forward to being invited to whoever puts on the event that has Nicholas Juett (Cambridge artist) discussing with Nokia how he uses phone technology to make his art, and teach us all to look at the world from a new perspective.


  1. Interesting points. As a rule, interdisciplinarity - especially mixing arts and science - is hard work, and that perhaps puts off some people.

    I've heard complaints from old CamCreative hands that these days their events are so full of web marketing types that it's not the original creative networking event any more, and less worth attending as a networking event for their own field. This is viewed as a sad loss for a creative industry which is, compared to the huge bulk of tech locally, a minority sport which appreciated a forum.

    Most of all, though, I think the challenge for Cambridge is that there are so many events going on - you list a tiny fraction - that one simply cannot attend even a substantial fraction of them, regardless of interest. And for those actually doing innovation (rather than just talking about it), long hours and great commitment are the norm, and one doesn't go to non-essential evening events when one is flat out building tomorrow - one picks and chooses very carefully indeed.

  2. Peter White6:58 pm

    What seem to be 'creative' ways of thinking, communicating and achieving outcomes do sync nicely with 'scientific' methods. Different, but parallel and complementary. But it needs examples (real, high quality stuff), direction (or at the very least, facilitation) and collaboration tools to get stuff happening - chaos can be fun, but there's still a role for management. I've found that people who describe themselves as in the creative industries too often restrict themselves to that industry: it's not always the 'scientists' who have the barriers. One observation: is being sniffy about web marketing types the behaviour of a endangered species? (Eeek!)