Includes interesting stories from the world of leather and updates on the Museum. Issued periodically.
To copy from her public profile Mary Rose is Emeritus Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Department of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation at Lancaster University Management School. She specialises in evolutionary approaches to innovation, the relationships between innovation, entrepreneurship and communities of practice, institutional influences on knowledge exchange past and present and social media and business communication.
I have enjoyed knowing and occasionally working with Mary over the last fifteen years and have always been impressed by her profound understanding of history. She has recently written about the outdoor sector on which she is currently working:
The role of history in innovation in outdoor products isn’t backward looking and nostalgic, but often involves combining new skills and new challenges in sport, with old knowledge and the sharing of understanding and experience.
Her concern is rising that many brands have a long and deep history which carries with it a huge amount of knowledge about historical products and how they were used. Yet the current big shift from the Boomer generation to Millennials running business (generation X is a small cohort) is a big change. “Today 80% of people in the Western developed world are urban and live in controlled environments.”
In some of her research Mary and a business colleague Mike Parsons looked at the clothing and footwear George Mallory took on his fateful 1924 Everest expedition. When they spoke to industry about this equipment and started to replicate it she notes that they “were just in time” as all those with knowledge of the old materials, and how to use them to make the garments were retiring or had died.
Yet what the research uncovered was that the original equipment had generally been excellent, and that the natural materials, including quite a lot of leather and fur remain really valuable tools in the armoury for any one designing outdoor equipment today.
Keeping past knowledge alive
One of the huge tasks for a Museum like ours is to retain not just the artefacts from the past but also the knowledge that goes with them. For example we would dearly love to know more about the methodology of making Cuir Bouilli (“boiled leather” which was thick and very stiff; used for armour) and the various technologies behind Shagreen. Was it originally sting-ray of asses hide?
Increasingly companies are looking to their own history to use heritage stories in their marketing and to search for designs that can be recreated in some way for our modern world.
We know very well that the vast majority of modern innovations are not dramatic completely new concepts dreamed up in some skunkworks bit more often a mix of a few existing ideas put together with one new one. Increasingly we are recognising that some of the best “existing” technologies that have been forgotten, often because the power of modern marketing has persuaded us to ditch natural materials, for example to rush to “drip-dry” nylon or polyester.
So beyond the scholars, the schoolchildren, and the many, many other different groups interested to see our collection increasingly we will have marketing and design teams searching for ideas and inspiration from the past. Indeed a new study from Lancaster University shows that the “trend emerging … suggests embracing the old might actually be the ‘new'”.
They show that it is possible to “innovate through tradition” through matching in depth market knowledge with equivalent knowledge of their past, as long as the companies are willing to build a capability to take in and reinterpret past knowledge.
What a great role for our new setting, where we should have space to work with marketers and designers with firms in all parts of the supply chain from meat companies to luxury brands and help them “recognise the potential advantages of old knowledge and learn to successfully innovate by leveraging rather than discarding heritage and tradition.”
6th May 2016
Outdoor Gear Coach is trying to capture as much of that information as possible, so it doesn’t become lost knowledge. Read Prof Mary Rose’s article here: