Tim Jones on the changing role of roles

A RSA fellow, innovation facilitator and self-described “culture hustler”, gave a talk at the open weekly Goldsmiths Social Entrepreneurship Society Social Innovation Speaker series on how future employment might look and what working outside established professional Eco-systems can be like.

Tim Jones has spent over 20 years advising and instigating innovation in a variety of roles, something he admits can make it difficult to introduce yourself. With a lot of time spent in the arts and culture sectors, with a passion for socially engaged art, he often meets other professionals or aspiring youngsters in the same situation. He says: “in education they normally say you have to become the best at one specific thing, otherwise you won’t make enough of an impact to be remembered.”

Moving between the senior levels of management, academia and the frontline of new projects he has come to accept this lifestyle often requires being able to start anew every half year or so.  More than once Jones has had to witness a promising project stall, fail or never take off. And sometimes he has had to tell himself: “I’m going to give this project all my energy and intense focus for another four months. If that doesn’t work I’ll have to walk away.”

He compares it to racing a toboggan: “One it gets started you are going to have to race ahead on the chosen path. If you start slowing down or moving around too much you fall behind. And in the end there is no guarantee you won’t be overtaken and loose the race anyway.”

Jones shares his ideas and teaches in a variety of settings and often employs the fast paced PechaKucha method of presenting a slideshow of 20 slides with only 20 seconds for each. Among the advice he shared, a set of brief but powerful rules of thumb stood out if you want to work outside a defined role-set:

Kiss a lot of frogs – Many a time you will have to accept working many different projects not knowing which will turn out successful

Embrace expanding definitions – the world of the future will be constantly changing, so always make sure your projects are fluid enough to adapt to new developments

Drop the jargon – there is a language for experts and a language to use when dealing with the public, don’t mix them up in hopes of sounding smarter than is needed, it is more important to be understood properly

Use the white space – make sure to explore the areas between fields and communities, and keep an eye out for new spaces to branch out to

Start from where people already are – don’t waste resources trying to lure people into a new system, make it easy for people to find you. If you make videos put them on YouTube and share your events on Facebook

Always aim to scale – have a five-year plan in the back of your mind before you start something new

The Pareto principle; focus on the 20 percent that is essential – a beautiful restaurant with terrible food will never succeed

Share knowledge and empower people – people love to be engaged, take part and feel they gain something from working with you

Change people from part of the problem to part of the solution – ask your critics what can be done better and let them advise you on how to improve your projects

Focus on organisations and structure instead of projects – if you don’t have a proper structure in place you will never do more than one project, no matter how great the first one turns out to be

Interculturalism instead of multiculturalism – don’t just open a project up to a lot of different cultures, make sure they have a chance to blend and mix and share their strengths

Don’t fail the Photocopy test – be unique, if someone can google something just like your project in five seconds you’ve already lost

creativity essential retrain every four years – the future and especially the technology is changing faster and faster, be prepared to stay creative and retrain yourself and your team every four years to stay current.

Jones emphasises that discovering who you are in the world is not an easy task and much of your strength will come from your network. Making sure that you engage with the people around you on the personal (your team), peripersonal (your extended network) and extrapersonal (strangers) levels will be essential. As he concludes: “you will have to create own ecosystem.”


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