Why advertising needs more explorers and our education system requires a rethink


By Chris Hirst, European and UK group CEO

November 13, 2014 | 3 min read

At a recent talk the polar explorer Ben Saunders proved to be an eloquent advocate of the value of maths and science. Without learning in these areas he could never have achieved what he has, succeeding where Scott and Shackleton failed in mounting a return journey to the South Pole by foot.

Polar explorer Ben Saunders

This week Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, praised the UK’s national effort in helping children to become more involved in science and technology. He paid tribute to the introduction of computer technology learning for every child between five and 15.

It looks like our education system is starting to tick the STEM boxes. Yet Saunders, alumni of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, learned more than this. He adopted the kind of attitude that says “why not?”. He acquired a confident, questioning outlook.

Saunders wanted to write his own story and had the mindset to ask himself “what if?” and walk off, both metaphorically and physically, to achieve his own thing.

Our education system needs to have a role in creating such values. But do we currently have an approach that will help to grow explorers, people with an enquiring mind? People who ask “how?” and “why?” and go beyond the rules?

I believe we should attempt to build an attitude wrapped around the day-to-day of school. An approach from our state school system that provides children with experiences and endeavours that steer them away from a linear path. What we want in the creative industries, whether in music production or advertising, is people who say “what if?”, who push boundaries and are told early on to go for the impossible. Something that can happen even on a simple project or a trip with friends and mentors.

We need more people with the attitude that they want to do something because nobody has ever done it before. It’s the role of our education system to create a lively pool of talent with that outlook.

The danger of an exam-based syllabus, a focus on facts, is that it’s myopic. It’s great for people who are built to think that way and for employers recruiting an airline pilot or an actuary. But we, in advertising, need people who ask about things and quest for something else. We need more stories. And we need more explorers to tell them.

Chris Hirst is chief executive of Grey London. You can follow him on Twitter @chrishirst


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