Bright Ideas – Starting From An Early Age

John Mathers, Design Director, of British Design Fund talks about educating and supporting the creatives of the future.

Just recently I was re-watching a brilliant clip of Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, when he was at Davos earlier this year. In a debate about AI and the role that we, as humans, will play versus the inexorable rise of the machine he was very clear about what we needed to do and, in particular, how we should be teaching our children.

Teaching knowledge, as we have done for centuries, will no longer be sufficient  he said… the machine will always learn faster and smarter than we ever could. No, what we should be teaching our children is values, belief systems and creative ways of thinking that simply cannot be learned by a machine and which will continue to fuel the ideas that we will need to move us ever forward.

So he advocated teaching the very subjects which are dwindling in our schools … painting and drawing, music, sports … the things which to some might seem somehow less important but are actually what we need to fuel the inventiveness and enterprise that has characterised us Brits over the years.

It’s exactly those ideas which we are looking for at the British Design Fund. Well designed British products which are going to solve problems and make a big difference … whether that’s for plumbers who struggle with decades old equipment, which can be so easily updated, to women with bunions who struggle to find stylish shoes which they can comfortably wear.

So that’s why we, at the Fund, are such strong supporters of the call to keep creative subjects alive in the school curriculum and to encourage our children … and their parents … that creativity is something that is worth investing in for the future.

But good ideas on their own are not enough and maybe there is something more we should be teaching our children at school.

For too long we hapless Brits have been portrayed as the great inventors of new ideas …. that someone else, usually from another country, takes on and makes a commercial success.

Just last week a good friend of mine asked me to come round and look at a new idea he and a small team had been working on. A brilliant idea which could revolutionise the outdoor heating market. Well-designed, new technology, some brilliant features … what could possibly be wrong!

Well, firstly, the idea is now out in the open. By showing it to me and a load of others without us signing any sort of Non-Disclosure Agreement means that the device is essentially out in the market. Secondly, the team had been so wrapped up in the development of the idea that they had not done sufficient research to see what else there was on the market or, more importantly, what existing patents were out there and what, about their device, they could protect.

At the Fund we not only provide money to help the great ideas get off the ground but we also help and mentor the people and teams that come to us with their ideas. We have a team of specialist advisers … and I’m delighted that Dids Macdonald is joining that team too …  who is going to advise on everything from creating a proactive IP strategy to providing the tools of self-help for design protection on the journey from idea to marketplace.

But maybe there’s something else which we should be encouraging be taught at schools. As more and more children seem to be leaving school and College wanting to work for themselves shouldn’t we also be teaching them about the importance of how different their idea actually is and how important it is that that idea is protected. That ideas are valuable and that time and resource spent on looking after them is worth while.

John Mathers

Design Director, British Design Fund