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The Sir John Soane's Museum, Lincoln's Inn Fields

19 January 2013

The Eye has been the subject of an artistic project today.

22 January 2013

The Edouard Manet exhibition opening at the Royal Academy on 26 January 2013 has been subject to unprecedented pre-exhibition ticket demand.



The concept of the tipping point is an interesting one.

Supposedly, it is reached without knowledge that it has been reached and beyond it all relationships are changed.

BP once held 10-15% of the solar PV panel manufacturing market. In December 2011, it announced it was quitting the field. A 30% drop in solar PV panel manufacturing costs in China over the past 18 months has meant that production outside China appears unviable and two of BP's major panel manufacturing competitors in the west are having financial difficulties, despite one having had government subsidies.

It is a stark illustration of the consequences of having entered a market fundamentalist phase of globalisation.

In a world where governments are beginning to advocate new industrial policies it rings a warning bell.

Given a blank sheet of paper a few years ago on which to write the outlines of an industrial policy, many governments might have written 'solar PV panel manufacture' despite it not being high technology.

If a tipping point came it was not in 2011 but about a decade earlier with the final expiry of the dotcom boom.

Before then governments had sought to set the broad rules by which capitalism was played.

Big, medium, small and micro sized businesses all had a role to play in the business ecosystem and competitive clusters of each could be found in many places.

It is obvious that a 1000 hectare vineyard is likely to be more efficient than a patchwork of vineyards but added value and quality come by tailoring production methods to people, terroir, weather and other factors.

That more people are employed by smallholdings of this kind is not a mark of inefficiency but a positive benefit in a world where mere efficiency would dictate all solar PV panels are manufactured in one country.

In the dotcom boom large companies saw new companies compete as if they were large.

This may have been displeasing to some of them and by some unwritten consensus, as if a tipping point had been passed, governments then changed the rules of trade and business to favour large globalised businesses.

Now a logical end of this trend is reached when a fine company like BP, one of the ten largest enterprises in the world, cannot easily compete in the solar PV panel manufacturing market.

The purpose of this review, though, is not to treat the detail of macro-economic history but to start exploring rather tentatively whether a tipping point could be reached that reintroduces more creativity into the counsels of business.

Speaking to a director of an FTSE index company which gets a healthy share of procurement contracts about how to get business in a downturn, his advice was something to the effect of 'seek to be niche; it is the medium sized businesses which will have great difficulty'. He also wanted micro businesses to be exempted from more internal and external procurement rules so he could buy more from them.

The example of satellite television having altered the rewards upwards for elite sporting creativity is well known but monetizing other forms of creativity has been progressing slowly since the credit crunch of 2007-2008 started to introduce different kinds of economic change into the world economy.

Getting a niche business to have a secure foothold is also a challenge.

Part of the problem is getting across enough information about the niche provider.

The days when a pair of artists could ring up a railway company to propose artwork for a station and be invited in to show their scheme and explain their case have largely gone.

Elaborate procurement procedures stand in the way.

Real change is these days too often ghettoised as being in the domain of technology but technological change might just bring about a tipping point.

If business conversations could routinely and inexpensively be switched from voice to videophone or if business people used tablet computers to talk to one another with visual contact, the gap in information would be diminished. Dealing with a niche provider in person, and with visual contact, rather than talking to call handling staff in a larger outfit would move business in the direction of niche providers.

However, the technological change that could precipitate a tipping point is still probably unforseen.

This is not to say it might not be soon enough upon us.

Part of the reason I continually advocate changing ways of working stems from having observed good artists (or creative people) using their time more effectively than others.

Even when they are doing something else their subconscious is at work on their art.

Time is not wasted on presenteeism. If one is lucky and employs a creative person part-time who is willing to think about issues, you may find that beyond the hours worked he or she is solving the problems without difficulty.

We have also got out of the habit of looking to the artist as a source of wisdom and as someone who records the recent past, gives a perspective on the present and gives a projection of how the future should be even if it does not turn out that way.

Manet, for instance, makes allusion to artists who preceded him, records the bourgeois France of Napoleon III with his unique perspective on it, is innovative in technique and is influential on both contemporary and future art.

What little he sold did not achieve high prices, the art establishment accorded him only second class recognition and critics were often very uncomplimentary but he had a good following amongst younger artists as someone setting direction.

Nowadays, we rely on video footage, or occasionally film footage, to record historic events like the new millennium celebrations at the Dome and more often than not omit the artist's record, though many photographers are artists.

In fairness to the Dome it was the most memorable public building constructed anywhere to mark the millennium. What was confused was the imposition of commercial values upon it, that filled it with doubtful exhibits and tried to make it pay its way. Spin for once got it spectacularly wrong - instead of letting it be known as a celebratory piece of art, open to all, that would eventually find a use, it became known for a decade as a commercial failure.

Certainly, with the Dome and and the London Eye combined, London did the best and most memorable job, in built form, of marking the millennium.

Numbers and hard facts cannot always point the way forward and the synthesis that creative people bring ought not to be overlooked by business in the changing environment.

As for the artist, he draws information both through the conscious and subconscious and often delivers better conclusions from less information.

With artists sidelined as sources of wisdom, religious personages somewhat discounted and politicians no longer regarded as repositories of it, the burden of being publicly and consistently wise falls on very few shoulders - a few excellent academics, a few journalists and the best commentators commenting on the economic scene (as much of the world is currently concerned with the economy). It is to be hoped that the range of reference is not too narrow.