Finishing the marathon: a reason for taking part in the global innovation discourse


My friend Andrew Missingham is working on the digital strategy of Arts Council England – which, being a venerable governmental machine invented by none other than John Maynard Keynes as World War II drew to an end, has never had one and is wondering what goals it should set for itself exactly. Andrew’s idea is that ACE might think of itself as an individual who decides to run the London marathon for the first time. No matter how hard it trains, ACE is not going to win it. Paula Radcliffe is. “However, with focus and dedication (alongside the day job) ACE will be able to participate fully, taking in all of the sights, sounds and excitement of the day and get the most of the journey that marathon training involves. And if ACE met Paula Radcliffe, it would be able to hold a conversation that respects her pre-eminence, whilst being able to understand the issues, passions and pressures that drive her.”

This concept of full participation seems to me to capture an important part of the motivations of those who take part in the global conversation on innovation without being MIT or Google or one of its protagonists. I, for one, am interested in collaborative and user generated public policy. I have thought up and deployed several small and medium projects – like Kublai – some more successful, some less. My contribution to the discipline is modest, but not useless, or so I like to think. I am not one of the great gurus like Shirky or John Holland, whose work I follow passionately. But I take part in the collective effort for more and better knowledge: I train hard, am committed and I will finish the marathon with dignity. Like so many athletes, I feel this effort completes me and makes my life more interesting and, yes, moral. De Coubertin did have something going on after all.

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