When Bruce Mau came to town …

When Bruce Mau came to town, there was a full house in the State Library of Queensland ‘s 200 seat Auditorium 2. There were additional chairs and a screen downstairs in the Knowledge Walk for the large overflow crowd. And there was the vodcast – for audiences throughout the rest of Australia and the world. Amongst all this was the sense that Mau could deliver something we need, urgently. He was optimistic, visionary, and his lecture could easily have turned into an evangelistic-style chanting, crusading audience of devotees. Perhaps that happened later – at the after party – or will be in progress tomorrow at the (fully subscribed) workshop 24HOURS2MASSIVECHANGE BRISBANE (25-26 November).

Bruce Mau delivering the Nielson Design Lecture, “Designing Our Future”, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, Wednesday 23 November 2011.

Mau’s subject is design, applied to every facet of life, institutions and society – global and  local. At the core of his message is a signal change to the green, eco-friendly, sustainable paradigm as it has existed for fifty years, one riddled with guilt, pain and conservatism (in the sense of opposition to innovation or change). He noted, “We won’t solve the problems by inflicting pain”. And that, “The people that solve the problems will own the future”.

These “staggeringly difficult” problems – climate change, population growth, world poverty, lack of global access to higher education – require,  according to Mau, the power and possibilities of art and design. At the heart of this is engaging, encouraging and facilitating the creative faculty of humanity. He sees the real challenges being won by putting disciplines together that have been divided: technology with art, science with design, a holistic trajectory that turns traditional thinking upside down and inside out.

Interestingly, I’ve heard another recent promotion of creativity – for Australia’s sake -elsewhere, at Sheldon College earlier this month. Principal Dr Lyn Bishop delivered a heartfelt and impassioned defence of her school’s significant investment in the arts at this year’s awards ceremony, citing its relevance for the future of our children, a world in which the only constant may be change. She noted Australia’s interests in a highly creatively literate population – for an ability to innovate in a global environment where skills-based jobs (accounting, law, even medicine) may be delivered more cheaply overseas with the results digitally transmitted back to our shores. She cited too recent research that suggests a Master of Fine Arts is currently more highly sought after by employers than the traditional business degree of choice, the Master of Business Administration. (Decades later, it seems that finally I have the right degree.) Belief in the innovative power of the arts is, however, part of the educational methodology for 2011.

But back to Bruce Mau, the most inspiring speaker I have heard in recent years. He has a unique ability to recognise human nature for what it is, acknowledges our intrinsic interest in upgrading (rather than retrofitting) and removing the “should” from eco-friendly initiatives. His energy and motivation in pursuing solutions in truly lateral ways is evident in a track record that suggests he is capable of stimulating genuine change. His final word though, related to global education – extending opportunities to the 99% of the population who have not been able to access tertiary education to date. His MASSIVE CHANGE NETWORK has ambitions to vest education to larger numbers and to change the system to develop greater individual power to innovate. Noting that world population growth currently sees one million children born every week, he said,

“Amongst the challenges and opportunities of our age are the changing goals of civic design thinking. It means the redesign of everything we do… If we do it indefinitely we will not leave a toxic legacy. This is one of the most extraordinary opportunities in history… I’m interested in what is possible, what is the best – and not because we should but because we can. If we can meet these challenges, what a story we might have to tell our children one day. If we can tell them that we did not turn away … but welcomed these children, born every week, into a new world of possibility.”

“A new world is evolving. It is driven by purpose and committed to sustainable human development. The new world inspires and demands a new approach. Our future is no longer about selling more stuff to more people – it’s about understanding our potential as citizens and designing and producing shared prosperity and abundance.”

I can’t wait to hear what the MASSIVECHANGE BRISBANE workshop is able to propose. Only 48 hours to go until these ideas, concepts, and visions are presented at The Edge Auditorium, State Library of Queensland, Saturday 26 November 2011 (7 to 10pm).

lmc, 24 November 2011.