Collaboration, discovery, inquisitiveness, failing fearlessly.
You’d probably expect to find all of these words peppering a handbook for tech start-ups – and with good cause.
I was hearing them in quite a different setting, however, as Heston Blumenthal addressed an attentive audience of teachers, technology enthusiasts and education industry professionals at this year’s BETT conference.
We were at the show to announce our own collaboration with UK awarding body OCR, as well as showcase how Fujitsu is applying new and future technologies like AR and VR to the education environment.
Blumenthal, a chef renowned not only for his innovative take on cuisine but also his self-taught approach, held the keynote session last Friday.
Over the course of a 45 minute interview with food historian and Financial Times columnist Dr Polly Russell, he took the crowd back to his childhood and his first realisation that cooking and eating could be a multi-sensory experience.
It was this realisation, he said, and his subsequent reading of a book entitled On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee, that set him on a path of discovery that he’s been on ever since.
To question everything is what makes us human, he told Dr Russell. His inquisitiveness and passion for discovery – as well as an unwavering perfectionism – is what has set him apart over his years in the kitchen.
Learning as you go
Whether it be coming up with whacky inventions like smoked salmon ice cream, or upending assumed culinary best practices (browning meat does not, he informed us, keep the juices in), Blumenthal has always sought to push the envelope.
Learning, he said, should be about the journey. Perfection is a good thing to aim for, but it’s what you learn on your way there that really shapes your achievements.
And to reach that perfect end point, you need to be able to accept failure as a potential outcome of trying new things and experimenting.
But what, in the spirit of a conference on education, can we learn from this?
What was particularly interesting to note was how many of these same discussion points came up throughout the rest of the show.
Ash Merchant, Fujitsu’s Director of Education, was joined in one session by Ty Goddard, co-founder of the Education Foundation, and Geoffrey Fowler, London Design Engineering UTC’s principal designate, to discuss the challenges a digital future poses to the education sector.
Both Ash and Geoffrey were keen to emphasise the importance of cross-sector collaboration between education and industry to ensure that workforce skills gaps are closed for the future.
Digital, Ash said, is here to stay and will continue to impact all aspects of our lives. It’s therefore vital that we ensure children are getting the skills they need to adapt to the new digital age.
This doesn’t just mean putting more technology into classrooms – £1bn of investment into just that has shown, Ash said, little measurable return in terms of skills to date.
If the skills gap doesn’t close, then businesses will suffer. Our Fit for Digital study revealed that that 52% of C-suite executives don’t believe their companies will exist as they do today in five years’ time.
Partnerships with the likes of London Design Engineering UTC have shown how technology can be used to inspire learning and discovery.
Fujitsu will have 30 of these partnerships by late 2017 , as part of the Education Ambassador Programme across the UK. They’re already proving value not only in terms of helping students to develop new, relevant skills, but also in highlighting the talent of the future.
Mentoring the mentors
Geoffrey made a point, too, of mentioning the role that industry mentors play. As well as offering careers advice, and real world experience, they can learn from the students themselves – attending classes alongside them.
This, Ash explained, is in keeping with the core principles of innovation. The arrogance of success, he said, is to think that what you did yesterday will be good enough for tomorrow.
Today’s young people are not only the innovators of the future, but represent the future itself. As we encourage them to learn about the world that they’ll inherit, we too should be learning from them. The future, after all, is ever a place of uncertainty.
What did you learn today?
This means that inspiring students to be inquisitive is more important than ever. With this, we need to teach young people that the real value of failure is what we can learn from it – an attitude that prevails in the most innovative technology companies around the world today.
In this context, one particular anecdote from Heston Blumenthal stands out.
His experiencing of judging on Masterchef Australia, he said, was brutal. But what he loved most about it was what happened when the budding chefs were knocked out of the competition.
Rather than kicking themselves over failure, they would focus on celebrating all that they’d learned from their mentors and co-competitors in the weeks that they’d been on the show.
This, he said, is something we can all learn from: whether making technological innovations, or teaching the young people who’ll be responsible for the innovations of the future.
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