What do Charles Dickens, Stephen Hawking, Nelson Mandela, Dame Judi Dench and David Attenborough have in common? They’ve all made their mark on history and they were also all fellows of the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce (RSA). The RSA unites people and ideas to resolve the challenges of our time and have been at the forefront of social impact for 260 years.
Resolving the challenges of our time
New research has shown that anxiety levels in the UK have risen dramatically in the past 12 years. It isn’t hard to see why. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges facing the world. At times things can feel relentless and overcoming the challenges insurmountable. However big the challenges may seem, organsiations like the RSA, are commited to creating a future that works for everyone. Sadly, despite its reach and impact, many people haven’t heard of the society, or are aware of what they do.
To address these challenges, the RSA reached out to Studio Texture to help them refresh their brand. I spoke with Louise Kyme, Strategy Director at Studio Texture to learn more about the evolution of the RSA and her career so far.
You spent 10 years single handily managing one of the UK’s largest charity brands and have spent 5 working at a variety of agencies including The Circus, The Team and NB:Studio. What have you learnt working at agencies that you wish you knew while you were at the British Heart Foundation?
I’ve learnt so much! The experience has really shaken up my expectations and what I thought I knew previously. For example:
- That simple but nuanced is always more effective than generic, but convoluted. But it’s also the hardest thing to achieve.
- That organisations respect strong, well thought through opinions, more than they do diplomacy, or round-the-houses recommendations.
- That forcing something through because you believe in it, is never going to get you to a better result. But that holding firm to the right approach, and letting be what will be through that process, will get you to a better place.
- That there are things that are so much harder to achieve when you’re within an organisation, and that is no reflection on your ability.
- That organisations will be more open to recommendations when you’re not within.
- That brand, as a concept, takes a bit of time for people to get their head around. But once they get it, it unlocks everything.
- That you need to keep relative distance from the daily grind of complex organisations to achieve the best light touch instinctive work.
- That some of the most talented, problem solving, future focussed, risk taking people, work client side.
- That to get the best problem solving, creative answers to your challenges, you need to invest time in your agency. Tiny budgets = a tiny amount of time to solve big, complex challenges. Something has to give.
- That agencies, big and small, are constantly under pressure to win new work, and to maximise their client relationships. So don’t be too hard on them, and work within their approach and systems. They’re there for good reason.
The RSA is a charity which encourages the release of human potential to address the challenges that society faces – what was the challenge that they wanted to address?
Like many organisations, the RSA had grown organically, and spread into many expert areas of focus. As a consequence, they were presenting themselves as a highly active organisation, but without clarity of focus. The way their name was often abbreviated, suggested they were an ‘arts’ organisation.
Whereas, not far beneath the surface, we found an innovation and change organisation with an enormous amount of expertise, passion, intellect.
Their strategic business review defined a new vision of: A world where everyone is able to participate in creating a better future.
And a purpose statement: We unite people and ideas to resolve the challenges of our time.
They are currently defining the core programmatic areas of change they wish to focus on over the coming years, and have so far agreed on:
Future of work
We believe good work should be enjoyed by all. Our future of work programme exists to make sure that everyone, regardless of background or starting point, can pursue good work in this age of technological change.
Our aim is to shape a future where humans thrive as part of the Earth’s ecology. For example, we’re supporting pioneering creatives to design a better future for fashion.
The RSA says that history has shown that a crisis can be an opportunity for positive change, what positive changes would you like to see following the pandemic?
My answer to this question might change on a weekly basis, dependant on what state of mind I’m in!
At the broadest level, I’d like to see equal opportunity for all, at all levels of society. But without wanting to sound overly defeatist, I have no realistic expectation of that fully happening right now. I don’t think things have gone far enough in terms of a crisis, to affect that level of dramatic change. The reality is, this current lockdown hasn’t affected people across the spectrum at the same level. In fact, for middle classes with nice homes and gardens, there have been some advantages. Spending more time with family. Not having to commute. To achieve that level of change, having a Government who prioritise it is still likely the most significant driver.
But I also believe that progress, in all walks of life, is always an inevitability, whether you believe in current definitions of progress or not. And change forced upon us, like this crisis has, shakes things up on level you can’t go back on. Conversations happen that hadn’t happened before, opinions change and evolve without realising they have done so. We become different whether we realise it or not. We are always evolving.
Because of this, organisations like the RSA have the opportunity to play a significant role. Ideas that would have seemed overly idealistic in a previous year, suddenly seem very relevant in the here and now (for example Universal Basic Income). Our working expectations have opened up, serious conversations can be had, because of the experiences we’ve gained.
My biggest learning so far from this experience has been that, while I gained time for work, and personal projects. That quickly led to digital burn out, leaving me wanting to get closer to nature, closer to more soulful activities such as arts, music, culture. (Which thanks to lockdown, are all at enormous risk at the moment). But I suspect, what I’m really learning during this time, will only become apparent once it’s all over. And the inevitable positive change that will come, won’t be defined by what I want or hope, but will come in expected ways. My job is to go with the change and trust my instincts. But then, that’s just life, isn’t it?
The RSA’s Fellowship is a global network of over 30,000 proactive problem solvers who share the RSA’s vision and values – how were Fellows consulted during the strategic review?
The Fellowship is a critical collaborator and powerful voice for the RSA and an enormous asset to its success. So seeking their input at different stages was important. That the Fellowship involves so many design experts – people we at Studio Texture look up to and revere – certainly added an interesting extra pressure to the project! We love that becoming a Fellow of the RSA still has significance across our industry, and we really felt that sense of pride in wearing the FRSA. For this reason, we designed the Fellowship their own toolkit of parts, that they can use in their own endeavours, and really act as ambassadors for the RSA.