Can ideas really change the world?
Think about it. Before the late 19th century, most people believed that manned flight was not possible. We could have stuck with that idea as it had been true until then. But, gradually, we started to question that ‘fact’. As we learned more about machines and nature, we started to develop ideas on how those elements could be combined to move us through the air.
Through experimentation and determination, we worked out how to make those ideas work and turned our previous belief around. Those early ideas led to unforeseen and phenomenal changes that have changed society forever. But, what if those ideas were never pursued? Or the ideas that led to the discovery of electricity or radio waves? What if we decided that life was fine in the caves and we didn’t need to make tools in the first place?
We need ideas to help us evolve and we need to try out lots of them to see which ones work. We also need to accept that most ideas will be superseded by new ones at some point.
Political movements and policies have always been driven by ideas. For example, we’ve experimented with different ways of governing countries and educating our children. In the 1980’s and 90’s, governments in the western world were consumed by the idea of privatising assets and organisations that had previously been publicly-owned.
However, many privatisation policies weren’t ‘tested’ well enough to see how they would hold up in the long term. So, they worked for a while, then many, such as privatized tertiary education and public transport systems, gradually stopped functioning effectively.
The problem is that, while we were holding fast to this idea, we forgot to spend time exploring alternatives on a large scale. In the past, we used to have political parties with radically different ideologies opposing each other. Now, we can barely tell them apart as they are all selling us the same ideas in different ways.
Professor Roy Green is Dean of the University of Technology Sydney Business School. Professor Green discussed this situation in his recent presentation as part of Florence Guild’s speaker series, ‘The Antidisciplinary Future’. The series narrative explores how we can look outside traditional disciplines to find better ways to live and work now and in the future.
Professor Green pointed out that recent global disruptive backlashes against the major western governments (and Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, in particular), highlight that the ideologies that have brought us to where we are today are ready to be replaced. We are looking for fresh ideas that are more relevant to us now, but our governments aren’t providing them. Or, if they are, they haven’t worked out how to explain the benefits to us or to plan effectively for the long term.
So, we’ve now lost a lot of faith in our governments to bring about change. Instead, we are looking elsewhere for new ideas and new leaders, like Richard Branson and Elon Musk, to question outdated ‘facts’ and to help us find new pathways into the future. If we follow them, change is a certainty, but, we need change to grow.
Hear more about how ideas can change the world by listening to Professor Green’s talk ‘Australia’s Future: Do ideas matter?’ in episode 7 of our ‘antidisciplinary’ podcast series. You can also keep up to date with conversations with other thought leaders by subscribing to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.