We are stuck in our old ways and most of our ancient institutions and organisations are not fit for the 21st century. If this is the case, as the constant messaging seems to be telling us, where can we find the innovation to unlock the future?

Simply put, as an organisation, you cannot and will not be able to innovate if you don’t have the people to innovate. It’s logical.

Let’s unpack this a little bit more. What am I talking about?

It appears that everyone is now an expert on innovation and thought leadership. Carbon budgeting? Sure, anyone can cover that. Up the tempo a little bit, perhaps change the question to ‘Should the carbon budgeting system be integrated into local economic plans by LEPs, combined authorities etc with a system of negotiated hard targets?’ and you’ll find plenty of ‘experts’ will be stumped out. They should be called out!

What the so-called experts do not understand is that the risks we face in the post COVID world, in the new normal (I am sure I was the first to use this term back in March), are systemic risks. This means that they require a systemic response.

Back in the old normal, 2015, when people heard the word ‘resilience’ and shrugged their silo-busting & checking for vulnerabilities, were the stress test to check for resilience. Business continuity was important. Resilience was not an urban risk a mayor or a city leader needed to understand. Resilience was, in the UK, a civil contingencies matter.

Fast forward five years, we have a crowded space in the space of resilience, energy transition, net zero, retrofits, financial disclosure, decarbonisation, etc. These are all urban problems.

Where are the urbanists though?

Seems like, from the webinars I sit on during a given week, and I sit on loads (my CPD is going through the roof!), you do not need planners to talk about planning. You don’t need architects to talk about retrofit. You don’t need thought leaders to talk about thought leadership.

Back in the day, even before the old normal, Ivan Illich wrote about the disabling professions. 1977 was a good year. But it was not until 1989 at the Bartlett that I came across the book. It then resonated as I was reading the late Edward Said’s work on freewheeling generalists.

I guess the message for today is: Beware of generalists bearing gifts!