May 23, 2017 blog

#Dare2Try and literary festivals: not such strange bedfellows

David Landsman, executive director of Tata Limited, explains how the unexpected relationship between two significant players in different parts of British life, Tata and Hay Festival, makes sense

There's a Martin Scorsese short film called 'What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?'. Though it dates back to 1963, the year I was born, the title has always stuck with me as a reminder that the image of two unexpected people or things together can be very powerful.

I've sometimes seen people experience that feeling when they've learned that Tata — the 'salt to steel, Jaguar Land Rover, tea to IT' business — partners with Hay Festival, one of the UK's oldest and largest literary festivals. What's Hay got to do with heavy engineering, they say (or at least think). It begins to make sense when we talk in terms of our interest in education and skills, as well as a partnership between two significant players in different parts of British life. But I confess I don't mind that people sometimes think the relationship is a bit unexpected, precisely because of the power of the Scorsese-like imagery.

But, as I look forward to visiting Hay for the fourth year of our sponsorship, it occurred to me that there’s something else which we have in common which offers us all a useful challenge. Take a look at the Hay programme and you’ll see a huge variety of speakers from Germaine Greer to Bernie Sanders and Simon Baron-Cohen to Elif Shafak, not to mention all sorts of activities for children. Of course, we all have our personal interests — mine include politics and European history — and I’m looking forward to hearing some great talks on those. But it would be a shame not to use the opportunity to try something new, go out of the comfort zone and maybe spark a new interest or idea. I’m looking forward to learning about neuroscience from Hannah Critchlow, for example.

Being open to new ideas is increasingly vital in our fast-changing and interconnected world, whether your main interest is archaeology, business or computing. Like Hay, Tata is a well-established institution, but we know we have to be ready to keep up with change. That’s why we put a lot of emphasis on innovation. For example, every year we challenge our companies to compete in Tata InnoVista, our cross-group innovation competition. Nothing unusual there, perhaps, except for the ‘dare to try’ category which actually rewards a project that hasn’t succeeded. What’s the point there? To recognise that success isn’t always about coming up with the right answer first time and that a willingness to try and fail, to learn from experience and to try again even more enthusiastically is the way in which advances are made.

Tata companies’ recent innovations come in many shapes and sizes, from virtual reality experiences and Super Teas, to electric cars and gaming apps. The ‘dare to try’ category includes interesting ideas such as Jaguar Land Rover’s work on noise-reducing wheel technologies, which will help the company’s engineers to take forward their next project. That same spirit of openness and experimentation, which we call ‘dare to try’, is what we’ll see in many of the speakers at Hay and is something we can all learn from.

Whether you can come or not, it’s worth taking a look at the programme, maybe getting hold of one of the books which will be presented there and seeing what new ideas come to your mind. What are you going to #Dare2Try this year?


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