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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Friday 22 June 2012

The TalentS Revolution

Day 5 was my ‘main gig’ to present the TalentS Revolution at Melbourne University. 

The symposium was focused on creating a Better Youth Offer – or at least to produce a research paper on what that means.  For me, the answer to the Better youth Offer is always going to be the Foyer development rather than the research paper, but I neglected to make that point.

After a lucid outline of the key issues by Tony Nicholson, the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, I was under the spotlight.  The stage set up wasn’t really conducive to do much running around, but as anyone who has seen me speak over the last few years knows, I don’t use notes and I don’t like to stand behind a lectern looking at my slides. I’m much more interested in the audience. Who on earth would travel all this way to read a bit of paper?

The idea for my speech came from a phone call with one of the Hanover Foyer development team, who had spoken about the idea that the Foyer could be a ‘tabula rasa’ for developing its own Open Talent vision.  I was clearly talking to someone who has much stronger academic credentials than my Masters at UEA could muster, so it took me a while to understand what that meant and then I thought – but that’s exactly it, the tabula rasa is actually all about the latent potential we are all born with, which only some people get the right investments to actualise into a talent that is validated in society This formed the basis for suggesting a connection from 11th century Persian philosophy and 18th century radicals such as Paine and Spence who spoke about a set of natural ‘advantages’ and ‘rights’ which were denied in vast sections of society through an impoverished social contract.

For the 21st century, the rights of man/human is all about the right to be recognised as someone who has a talent that is worth harnessing. That right is not only a moral issue of social justice, but one of economic necessity to create a society based on sustainable livelihood in the model of entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson rather than a culture of welfare dependency and imprisonment.  And if institutions such as Geelong Grammar enable young people to build that livelihood through a curriculum based on positive thinkers such as Seligman – then it’s damn well good enough and essential for the not for profit sector too.  
How to achieve all this was the idea of a TalentS Revolution – which Open Talent allows by not legislating for a set youth offer of particular services or interventions, but by establishing the DNA of innovation and inspiration required to shape and fight for the right ‘talent-building’ offer through an on-going experiential learning journey. That DNA (which we call TalentS) is all about making a breakthrough in thinking, challenging the status quo, refusing to accept Disadvantaged Thinking, flipping the sector back to its radical roots.   Part of the revolution is recognising that we need a new focus in social parenting based on developing talents, and a new focus in social care based on developing the assets to thrive.  I finished with what I hoped was taken as a call to arms, reminding the audience that the values of Gerard Tucker, the founder of the Brotherhood of St Laurence running the event, were all here to be had – to advocate for young people’s talents, to fight for the social justice of investment in talent, and to keep innovating at the frontier of knowledge to shape a fresh offer to do that. It's your revolution.

I was helped in my message by the next speaker, the Deputy Secretary for Schools, and Youth, at the Department for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. It felt like he entered the stage carrying a shovel rather than a speech, and was soon digging himself into the grave of addicted disadvantaged thinking. For once, everyone in the audience knew it. I might present with too much anarchic passion and not enough logical control, but this was like watching a wind up doll at the end of its spring running out of power as well as imagination. 

I had enjoyed the event, was honoured to have been invited to play a part, and learnt alot from some of the other presentations, but as an outsider, it felt to me that the sector had some dangerous obsessions – the fixation on evidence base as a logical mantra without enough questioning of what the evidence base is, how it is gained, what it is used for, and what it prevents; a fixation on the D word of disadvantaged and disengaged, without realising the damage of a ‘youth offer’ that is already limiting aspiration in the easy stereotypes of the adult researchers and policy makers; and a fixation on research and policy without any meaningful representation from young people themselves.  Yet, despite all that, there were some powerful voices in the room, an energy and determination to create and do things that just needs to be allowed to thrive.  I'm constantly inspired by the people in Australia, how quick they are to get things and see through what's not authentic. The conversation outside the lecture hall was full of life.

During the after show meal, sitting next to someone from a philanthropic organisation, I couldn’t help thinking – if only we had control of the money to create the asset  required to set everyone in the room free, what a game changing thrill that would be.  Every revolution needs its Bastille moment; it's really not too far away.  We're already walking through red lights, waving our hearts and ready to go.

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