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Too old to rock and roll?

May 16, 2012 by
Filed under: The RSA 

After spending a couple of days in Holland I’m feeling a bit flat, and that’s not just a pathetic geographical pun. I spoke on Monday evening to De Publieke Zaak a really impressive Dutch organisation which combines a mission to promote new debate and dialogue with a variety of projects aimed at challenging and supporting young people in deprived areas (although the Dutch definition of deprivation is a good deal less hard-core than Britain’s).

As anyone who ploughed through Monday’s epic post will know, I used the speech for another iteration of the 21st century enlightenment thesis.  The speech went fine. An incredibly impressive audience (all of whom, of course, spoke perfect English) reacted thoughtfully and asked relevant and challenging questions.

Yet still, I couldn’t throw off the questions that nag away at me. Is the speech any more than a rag bag of the obvious reflections and unrealistic entreaties? And, what am I hoping to achieve by telling people my worldview? I’m not a bishop or a politician of even someone who has done important original research of my own. I suspect deep down I harbour the hope that at the end of the speech the audience will rise up and carry me shoulder high into the street proclaiming that at last they know the way forward. That’s about as likely as me being chosen as the next West Brom manager.

While in this reflective mood I get an email from Dr Linda East, who is based in the School of Nursing at Queens Medical Centre Nottingham and is also one of my closest and longest-standing friends. She tells me that based on a short conversation we had a few days ago she has developed a new typology (see below) which enables her to frame her thinking about the relationship between policy on health and sustainability. Actually all I did was listen to Linda and make a few suggestions but it is gratifying to think that an idea of mine is being used to frame her thinking and engage her students.


Two by two matrixes always make me think of that old blog favourite, cultural theory, and actually it maps on quite well. The medical model equates to a ‘fatalistic’ way of thinking (sickness is fate, leave it to the doctor), public health is the hierarchical perspective (experts telling us how to live better), self-help is the individualistic perspective and sustainability is the ‘egalitarian’ (a focus on solidarity and consciousness raising). I suspect Linda – who is very green – wants everyone to ascend the top right corner so I did remind her that cultural theorists encourage clumsy solutions which seek to engage each model of change

Put these two things together and I have a new personal metaphor. When it comes to ideas I am that bit of the space rocket that gets the thing off the ground and into the air (I think it’s called the propulsion system) and then drops off before falling back to earth. My dream is to land on the moon but I never get higher than the clouds. I guess that’s fine. We all have our small part to play in making the world a better place.

The only problem is I’m getting older all the time and somehow the idea of being a middle aged propulsion system isn’t very inspiring.





  • Evita Martina

    Dear Matthew Taylor,
    I dare to differ. Behind every great (wo)man—or idea for that matter—there’s a great (middle aged) propulsion system. This is your talent. And I believe you should cherish it. Don’t knock it; for a propulsion system may seem minor to you right now—in your ‘flat’ mood—but remember that without it, there can never be a lift off. Call it a prerequisite.

    And, besides not just anyone can be a propulsion system. It takes a clear and sharp mind. Eyes that are able to look beyond that which is presented and guide the other to connect the dots and see the patterns.

    If it’s a pat on the shoulder you need; I’d gladly give it. I’ve heard you chair various RSA talks. And like I said before: not just anyone can be a propulsion system.

    Kind regards,
    Evita Martina

    BTW, I’m Dutch. :) And I’m so using the typology presented here. It’s just what I need to explain a dilemma I’m having.

  • Jurriaan Pröpper

    Dear Matthew,

    I am Dutch and also a graduated rocket scientist, although a rusty 20 years ago. The most energy is required to get a rocket with all its fuel and load of the ground and into orbit. From then on it can do its grand work with just a fraction of the inital energy. So you are doing the hardest part and should be proud of it.

    And more importantly, I was at your speech to De Publieke Zaak (the public cause). So allow me to ensure you that your analysis and message was very clear and welcome. It helps a great deal to have someone with overview put into perspective what you individually feel and see: ‘I see what you see, so you are right in seeing it’. Your speech has encouraged us all to go ahead and do something about it. With elections coming up, this was a well timed and valuable contribution.

    Thank you!

    Kind regards,

    Jurriaan Pröpper