Jamming for ideas with BASF

by Alexandra Hicken, PhD student, Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP


Tackling climate change is a hugely complex issue. And when considering such a sprawling problem, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Arriving in Brussels last week for BASF’s ‘jamming session’, I was curious to see whether this playful approach could successfully spark new ideas. I wasn’t sure what to expect from such an activity, but was excited about the prospect of meeting professionals and academics with a range of experience in order to discuss the question ‘How can we enable the innovations necessary to tackle climate change and decarbonise our societies whilst pursuing prosperity?’

On arrival at Belgium’s beautiful Natural History Museum, we were given an introduction to BASF and a holistic view of the need for such a session, in order to promote hyper-disciplinary thinking. As well as this, Jonathon Porrit, head of Forum for the Future and writer of The World We Made, gave a talk around the area of sustainability. What struck me from Jonathon’s talk was his depth of knowledge, and the ease in which he managed to make me engaged in the need for society to tackle the complex issue of climate change over the next 35 years or so. Although his message was very honest, it was refreshing to hear from someone who was very passionate about our ability to do this.

Cultivating innovation

The concept of ‘jamming for ideas’ comes, unsurprisingly, from the musical term ‘to jam’. We were encouraged to play around with ideas that may produce some unique sparks of innovation, but not necessarily form a fully fledged idea – analogous to expecting a riff or lick to come from a jamming session, and not a full song.

We started off my applying this approach to some complex ideas, for example, how do we allow geoengineering innovations to thrive and promote decarbonisation, whilst not allowing for ‘bad examples’? Using the ‘jamming for ideas’ technique, we were encouraged to physically present thoughts on sticky notes, whilst also engaging and discussing everyone else’s ideas and discussing them. The time-pressured aspect to this activity meant that we were forced to ‘think and do’ in sync.

Following on from this, we were able to choose what angle we would like to use to tackle our problem and as we were encouraged not to chose something we were necessarily used to thinking about, I chose to approach the question from the point of view of the education sector. Instead of just thinking of ideas we were asked to try and ‘build’ them in interactive ways using a variety of resources. Ideas were illustrated with Lego, others with cardboard and pipe cleaners.

BASF3Some of the ideas presented were around the idea of complex systems and consumer-focused products. However, ours was on the theme of ‘mindfulness’. We explored the idea of being able to implement mindfulness and periods of reflection into every day life, starting with implementing it into a primary school timetable. Taking the time to reflect, we would hope would lead to better decision-making and reduce the amount of bad, or misinformed examples of geoengineering. During our two-minute presentation slot, we used Lego figures to explain our idea and then gave everyone a moment to reflect on their day. It was definitely a unique way of trying to convince everyone that mindfulness will have a role to play in answering complex questions!

Did it work?

On reflection, I think that ‘jamming for ideas’ certainly has its place in being able to harness innovative thinking. I think that in this situation, where collaboration between people who had never met before was necessary, it was a useful technique. As a one-off, it was a great experience to be able to learn about new ways of thinking. However, I don’t think I will be using it to enhance my own work anytime soon.

Following the jamming session, we were invited to attend part of BASF’s 150-year celebrations, in a more conventional environment. Here, we listened to an enlightening talk from Kurt Bock, CEO of BASF, regarding new ways to innovate, and also from Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy & Society, regarding using digitalization as a driver for growth. During the evening, I also enjoyed chatting to various different people working in different areas such as academia, industry and politics, and especially enjoyed the great hospitality that BASF had provided.

The whole experience was a very enjoyable and enlightening one. It was excellent to be able to go to such an event at such an early stage in my career, as I was able to express my views and ideas without feeling any pressure. I thoroughly enjoyed being the Grantham Institute’s representative in a city with such responsibility with regards to the future of climate change.


Read about Alexandra’s PhD project

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