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What the Culture Council can learn from Elon Musk

News from the Culture Council: 'The four teams developed several building blocks, which they further concretised. In addition, the teams tested and enriched each other's ideas. At the end of the day, they presented their building blocks to members of the council using visualisations.'

This quote is, with the title 'Last meeting design teams new cultural system' coming from the Culture Council, and although these days I tend to repost the Council's press releases unabridged, I could not let it pass without comment. It was because of the term 'Design Thinking'. The Council has been doing Design Thinking.

Pretty useful. More useful than the so far too often applied Epibrate.

New magic word

Design Thinking is the new magic word for organisations that are a little past the management jargon of the last century. Design Thinking is hip since it has been shown that brainstorming completely useless is. With Design Thinking, you follow the steps of the designer, and since we know that everything is once designed by creative minds and those designs often determine the success of an organisation, you can't have anything against it.

Provided you go through all the steps. The Council skips two steps. Then it becomes epibrating.

Also, what are the 5 checkmarks of Design Thinking?

  • Be Empathetic
  • Define the problem
  • Come up with ideas
  • Create a Prototype
  • Test the solution

Looks clear. You can also see directly where it goes wrong, when it comes to reforming the arts subsidy system that we since Tobi Goedewaagen have cobbled together. That reform is needed because the system is thoroughly broken. Let us list what is wrong:

  • We have separated supply and demand. 

The state determines what offerings are subsidised, the local government ensures that there are places and resources to show those offerings. Or, as someone at a fund once said, "We still decide in The Hague what can be seen in Assen." This leads to a tremendous gap between subsidised art and audiences who do not live in the Randstad.

  • We discourage experimentation. 

There are all sorts of requirements for subsidies, and because the system is broken, only requirements and rules are added. We don't throw away bad schemes. We follow the Rutte doctrine, which is that you solve a problem mainly by not working on a quick solution. Some problems then solve themselves, by sacrificing timeliness; other problems, on the other hand, get worse and worse.

  • We distrust everyone

Since we have all embraced neoliberalism, we distrust anyone who does not survive by giving someone else a leg up. We call it sound economics, and what cannot keep its own trousers up that way has no reason to survive. Those who do need public money should be distrusted to the core. That applies to artists, as much as to people in care.

Empathy is easy

The funny thing about the Council's news is that the first three points are no problem at all. Empathy is easy for a Council made up of - and advised by - people in the field. Defining the problem is also easy, as I outlined above. Once you have done that, you can start coming up with ideas. Top.

After that, it gets tricky, because how do you work those ideas into a testable prototype? That step is necessary to move from endless brainstorming to Design Thinking. And how do you build a prototype of a new subsidy system, where you can test your idea against practice in a reasonably defined situation? You can't subsidise one theatre company differently, you can't leave supply funding to the municipal government in one city.

Or should such a thing be?

Successful tests are under way in Utrecht and Tilburg with a universal basic income. That idea, where you not only give people a fixed amount per month, without having to jump through 15 million hoops of all kinds of schemes, but you also just trust those people, without bothering them daily with the fact that they are getting free money, works. That much has already been proven.

Do it in Arnhem

Can it be done with art? Of course it can, but then that Design Thinking should be supported by the entire government: give Arnhem an earmarked budget to buy in art and artists, give those people a basic income and make sure you and the rest of your city have a nice cultural life, where the artists hang out in the local art pub at night instead of taking the train to Amsterdam. I kind of saw it happening in practice in Manchester, where local government could afford to think in long lines.

Is that 'Rocket Science'? Sure, it's complicated, but exactly in rocket science lies the solution. Once upon a time, idiotic amounts of money were poured by various world powers into the race to the Moon. They managed to get a human on the Moon in ten years. It hasn't really worked since then, because the fun was gone and nobody wanted to free up an astronomical budget for a jump through the atmosphere.

Because failure is expensive. A rocket costs idiotic amounts of money, and a human life seems to cost some too, so a failure due to a bad screw can make decades of work unnecessary.

And then you have Elon Musk. The chunky pilot. The man who has so much money he can do whatever he likes. I personally think Musk is a huge lout, even a dangerous one, because of his destruction of Twitter.

No moral boundaries

Still, we can learn something from him, because having no moral boundaries, he can move mountains with the turbo version of Design Thinking. Or let's say Prototyping in Ludicrous Mode. Not just deliberating and empathising and brainstorming until you have something that can be tested once, and then must be good, but quickly and cheaply cobbling together a reusable rocket that you explode just as many times until you know exactly where everything can go wrong. That he is now applying that strategy on Twitter is dangerous for world peace, so not everything is right about Musk's hyperprototyping, but something we can take from it.

Developing a new system of art subsidies is at least as difficult for us as organising a successful Moon Trip. But if you don't start really testing things out in practice very soon, with all the potential explosions that entails, it will never happen.

What do you think, dear reader? Let us know in the comments!

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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