Inspired by: Girl power

Last week I attended Ancient Worlds, a conversation-slash-debate between historians Bettany Hughes and and Michael Scott at the Royal Institute of Great Britain. It was an hour and a half of expert perspectives and audience questions on the state of politics and its relationship with the ‘truths’ about history that we think we know.

One of the things that particularly piqued my interest was Dr Scott’s mention of OECD’s PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment. This is designed to sit outside the boundaries of school curricula to determine how well the world is preparing the next generation of 15-year-olds for global citizenship. Whilst I’m not a fan of the current levels of academic testing particularly in early school years, I do think that something that takes a global view – both a omnipresent look and a cross-cultural sampling – is important. I was also encouraged by the website’s claim that the tests are

“designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.”

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a similarly forward-looking approach at a local secondary school. Presentation Matters! was a half day programme for more than 200 Year 9 students designed to help them articulate their ideas and present themselves in life – from addressing larger groups and performing well in job interviews right through to talking with friends and peers.

In groups of 4-5 , the students were asked to come up with a two minute presentation aimed at Year 6 students and their parents to inspire them to attend the school. There were a couple of formal talks on presentation structure, content and delivery but in between, the girls were despatched to compile, practice and present their story – in a Semi-Final round – in their form groups. The best group – voted by their peers – went into the Final which meant presenting to all of the Year 9 students, teachers…and us.

I was one of 21 business volunteers who worked with the form groups coaching, encouraging and keeping things to time. I’ve worked with adults in this capacity before but never teenagers and I found the prospect of working with the 27 teenage girls in the form, let alone the 200-odd in the wider group, just a little terrifying. (Seriously, my props to teachers!) And whilst I wouldn’t say that I felt entirely comfortable at any point, our little team of three muddled our way through the morning and managed to conduct a Semi-Final with a) everyone in the form presenting and b) to a pretty good standard. (Boast Note: We worked with the form group that produced the winning team presentation in the Final. Not that I’m at all competitive…)

Back in the hall, in watching the seven finalists, I was struck by what an amazing opportunity this was for these young women. And they responded in kind – showing both great courage in presenting in front of such a large group and commitment to doing it well – with some pretty impressive presentations. It seems that despite the absence of political leadership over the last few weeks, the willingness to step forward, to give your best and to represent others lives on.

Girlpower past and present

London’s nod to girl power past and present: (left) Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – leader of the suffragette movement – at the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament and (right) the Memorial to Amy Winehouse –  a unique female voice in modern times – at Camden Lock Market

I was also struck by the generous (and rather raucous) encouragement from all of the girls – there was a real sense of camaraderie, even girl power, in the room and I just loved the fact that I’d gotten the opportunity to play a small part in it all.

So on an historic morning in June – when, through democratic process, the nation charged government with the task of leaving the European Union – I felt inspired. Perhaps we need to give the next generation some credit as a pretty capable set of hands in which to place the future, whatever it may hold.

Driving Our Future…

Could you imagine driving your car along roads that adapt to the traffic and the conditions around you?

Sounds like something out of a futuristic sci-fi flick doesn’t it? But in fact, it could be closer than we think.

In my itinerant innovation meanderings last week, I came across a cracker of an idea from a couple of literal clever clogs. Dutch design firm Studio Roosegarde have partnered up with Heijmans to develop Smart Highway, their vision for roads…

…which are more sustainable and interactive by using light, energy and road signs that automatically adapt to the traffic situation.

This looks like it responds to the weather conditions – we have many changes in weather here in the UK. Perhaps a highly lucrative market may not be so far away…once our road taxes have paid for all of the tearing up and re-laying of asphalt, the filling in of potholes as well as visibility jackets, hard hats and shovels…
Looking at this, I think the car is actually charged up when you drive in the ‘induction’ lane…what a fantastic idea! Now that might just give the oil companies a run for their money.
I love this idea of having lighting that is triggered by the traffic flow. Bit like turning the lights on and off as you enter and leave the room. No nagging required…and energy saving too.

During Dutch Design Week in October, this brilliant idea won a Best Future Concept award and Studio Roosegaarde claim that the first Smart Highway will be a reality in The Netherlands mid 2013.

What an amazing use of technology – concepts like this really do inspire me. What do you think? Could you see yourself driving on these highways of the future?

NB: All images sourced from:

People In Glass Houses…

I am someone who loves technology.

Not in a really techno-geek, have to have the ‘latest and greatest’ kind of way.

I love the clever ways that technology provides access to new ways of day to day working, convenient shortcuts for the most mind-numbing of tasks and some fascinating and alternatives views of the world.

On top of that, I’m lucky enough to work in the kind of job that’s all about exploring new ideas so there’s not a week that goes past where I don’t find something that makes me go ‘wow’ or ‘that’s amazing’.

And recently I was reminded of a real ‘techno-wow’ moment I experienced earlier this year.

Global glass and ceramic manufacturer Corning has been beavering away to create their very own vision of the future. Each time I watch this, I feel absolutely amazed that this world, that not so long ago would have seemed completely unbelievable, could be possible in my lifetime. 

So strap yourself in, open your mind and check this out:


It’s amazing right? And before any of you starts saying it’s all a long way off, evidence suggests that the next generation – not Gen Y but the ones born in the last decade or so – are closer to this futuristic world than we think.

Watch this one year old work an iPad…and then watch her wonder why her motor skills aren’t transferable. Keep an eye on her hands as she tries to ‘activate’ the magazine…

I remember when the film Minority Report was released (only 10 years ago) – it was lauded as visionary and yet so far-fetched. But it would appear that this future is heading our way and much sooner than we think, whether we Gen X-ers and our forebears like it or not.

An unstoppable wave of change is sweeping across the world we live in.

I think I’m ready…

A+ For Creativity…

In previous posts I have been known to bemoan the less than extraordinary output managed by today’s educational systems. Whether they be the formal or informal, academic or the University of Life, it has seemed that perhaps something has gone awry and that we are not preparing the current – or for that matter future – generations as we should…and I use the term ‘we’ loosely to mean society in general.

As far as I can see, there’s something of a dichotomy going on at the moment.

There’s the over-arching drive to get that all-important (and increasingly expensive) university place, although it doesn’t always seem to be pursued as a heart-felt vocational calling but rather as an experience or a rite of passage before entering the ‘big bad world’.

And then there’s a worship of role models who come sans academia – the self-made men made Lords, the single-minded stars of the sporting arena, and those in the pages of the weeklies who seem to be celebrated for…well…being.

So where does education fit in? How do we line up the roles that society has created with an education system at odds with fulfilling them? And what happens to those that fall somewhere in between talent and narcissism?

Just when you thought that this post was turning into another rant on the state of the world, I want to take a pause to share a demonstration of the very mismatch I speak of.

The following is a selection of exam questions and answers provided by one particular student:

Q In which Battle did Napoleon die?
A His last one

Q What is the main reason for divorce?
A Marriage

Q If you threw a red stone into the Blue Sea, what would it become?
A Simply a wet stone

Q If it took eight men 10 hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men?
A No time at all. The wall was already built.

Q How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
A Any way you want because a concrete floor is very hard to crack.

The teacher obviously saw the funny side and noted A+ for creativity…and the student failed the test.

So whether you’ve chuckled at their chutzpah or despaired at their defiance, the question remains: how do we engage this clearly clever mind in contributing something valuable, meaningful, worthwhile to the world at large?

Now just before you race off to ply sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandkids and/or the neighbours’ offspring with a raft of serious and thought-provoking questions on the matter, in the spirit of true narcissism and self-absorption, I must remind you that there are only 7 sleeps to go until Society’s Celebration of little ol’ moi is upon us. Not many shopping days left peeps…are you ready?