Saturday, 15 June 2013

Are invention, innovation and improvisation lost skills?


As I look back on my childhood I realize now how many inspirational things were happening around me from the mid sixties onwards. I really did not realize it back then, as I was to busy enjoying it all.

These influences included;
·      Development of commercial jet engine air travel up to and including Concorde
·      The modernisation of British Railways, abolishing steam and bringing in Diesels and Electric locomotives
·      The Apollo space missions and then Shuttles
Watching the first moon landing lead to a life long interest in the Apollo programme and the work of NASA, making it a must to visit when in Florida a few years back.
·      The arrival of home computers and of course the world wide web
·      Evolution of the motor car
·      The arrival of the Harrier Jump Jet and the development of the Hovercraft
The pace of aeroplane development is clear to see at the Cosford RAF Museum, exciting designs from UK engineers that fuelled excitement, expectation and interest.
·      Open heart surgery and test tube babies
·      Arrival of colour TV and the high production values of children’s TV such as Blue Peter, Magpie, Thunderbirds
These replica models of the various vehicles in the Gerry Anderson TV Shows, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Terrahawks and UFO all served to remind me that the original shows served to create an interest in science, engineering and things that made a difference to our lives.
and so on.  Treating us as being capable of concentrating for more that 3 minutes at a time.
As I look back I realise just how much these things took hold of my imagination and how I eagerly awaited the next development, I never seemed to have to wait that long either. More importantly as I talk to others I realise how they too were influenced by the same things and  how these things maintained the innovation, inspiration and improvisation that the British have always excelled at.  The list of great innovators the UK has produced and their achievements is the work of many dedicated web sites, books, films and TC Programmes. 
As I look around today, and I accept I may not be looking in the right places, I do not see this type or level of inspirational influence - any where.  The activities that will inspire the next great engineering or medical leap forward seem to be missing and now I hear that several of our science museums are also under threat.
What I do see is an ever-growing array of celebrities, being honoured and put forward as role models.  I would not say they all do not deserve this, but until the celebrity of invention, innovation and improvisation is given equal exposure I believe we risk losing these critical skills in future generations.  To lose them means we lose part of our identity and part of what allows us to be a leading innovative nation.  
The UK government has announced a £1m prize for what it calls a new "grand innovation challenge"; with the Prime Minister David Cameron, saying the prize should effectively be in recognition of the "next penicillin", or the plane that could fly carbon-free to New York.  It was then likened it to the 1714 Longitude Prize that was famously won by the clockmaker John Harrison. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22892443)
This will only have a real benefit, a lasting legacy, if there is a holistic strategy across education, technology, culture (Museums specifically), business etc to support those already active, but more importantly continually inspire others to get involved.
Nice start UK Government, but 6 out of ten, must do better, lets start by championing our engineering and science history and using it to inspire the next generation.
If you have any thoughts on this please do leave them and thank you for reading.
(N.B  All pictures are my own and the copyright is reserved.)