Anton Howes is a historian in residence at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts (RSA), and a visiting lecturer at King's College London. He is also author of the book Arts and Minds: How the Royal Society of Arts Changed a Nation.
Imagine for a moment, an organisation dedicated to improving anything and everything. This group would try to improve life in every way from how people work, to how they’re educated and even how they remember their own history.
It turns out that this organisation has existed in Britain since the mid-eighteenth century, when the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, known today as the RSA, was founded in a coffee house.
Anton’s book, which is the main subject of our conversation, documents the creation and development of the RSA, drawing vital lessons from its successes and failures for anyone and everyone who wants to improve their lives and the world around them.
In this episode we discuss:
- The innovator's mindset and why it’s much rarer than you think
- The key role the great exhibitions and world fairs of the 19th century played in innovation and Anton’s vision for bringing them back
- Anton’s approach to researching and writing a book, as well as his advice for getting your work read
This was a great conversation that will give you some great ideas for how you can innovate more in your life, in your organisation and even for society as a whole. If you’re creatively inclined, I think you’ll also enjoy Anton’s discussion of his own creative process as well.
- Introducing Anton [00:37]
- What school was like for Anton and how did he end up pursuing history [02:32]
- Who were some of Anton’s mentors and inspirations? [03:41]
- Why does Anton have a particular interest in history’s underdogs? [05:23]
- How does the improvement mentality relate to the concept of innovation? Is innovation really as natural as we think? [08:32]
- Is skill in a specific domain necessary for inventing something in that domain? [13:25]
- Are there cultural variations in the improvement mindset? [16:57]
- How do you address the detachment of today’s notion of progress from humanist values? Can beauty be universal? [18:29]
- What would a modern version of the Great Exhibition of 1851 look like? [22:31]
- How have world fairs and similar events changed over time? [25:44]
- How can society improve the lens through which we see progress and development? [28:09]
- What does the research process look like when writing a book? Anton shares the idea behind writing-led research and research-led writing [29:43]
- Anton’s advice for people who are thinking about writing a book on a specific topic, and how to know if it’s worth pursuing [35:06]
- Why writing about a particular topic is the best way to research it [37:49]
- Closing remarks [38:40]
- Arts and Minds: How the Royal Society of Arts Changed a Nation by Anton Howes
- Is Innovation in Human Nature? by Anton Howes
- An Illustrated Tour of the Great Exhibition of 1851