Dangerous Ideas and Starting fires…

‘Days of Danger’ have come to Scottish Government!

I’m sure every day, is a day of danger for someone in Government but these particular days were created to stimulate and identify ideas that could challenge our thinking and orthodoxies of working in a large organisation, such as the Scottish Government. We asked “What is your dangerous idea for the Government as an organisation that we work in?”

Why a Day of Danger? What is a Dangerous idea?

The notion of Dangerous Ideas came to the fore when Steven Pinker posed this question to the members of the EDGE foundation.

“The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?”

So what have we found out from our days of danger? Many themes have emerged including:

  • the process by which staff are recruited, promoted and developed;
  • how we organise, manage and respond to work outcomes and directives;
  • the values and behaviours we feel are important;
  • where and how we work and the systems that are meant to support this

Perhaps one of the most significant things to transpire is our readiness to take risks and whether or not we feel supported in taking forward actions. How do we test out the ideas? Do we wait for (or need) permission?

The benefit of days of danger and inviting dangerous ideas, is the sense that they take you out of the norm, challenge orthodoxy and we start to consider what a possible future could look like. This aligns with the Government focus on SG2020 – Keep, Leave and Vision exercises, giving an opportunity for dialogue around the dangerous ideas of the past that have now become orthodoxy and that we now think may not serve as well. Was the introduction of flex-time a dangerous idea at one time?

Engaging in dialogue about ideas, on its own isn’t enough. We need to consider what does this idea really look like in reality and how might we test it out? How can we design and create different ways of being in collaboration with others. Who are already lighting small fires of change, testing out different ways of working together? This isn’t just a question for Scottish Government, but one for all those delivering public services. Where are the fire starters and what fires are they lighting?

These questions have particularly arisen since so many in Scotland have engaged with MIT’s Theory U MOOC and becoming linked with change makers from across the world. The process of the U has encouraged us all to be more fully aware of what we (on an individual, organisation and societal level) want to let go off; what energy is being generated in in our connections and systems and what new ideas are emerging that we could prototype. The energy generated from over 30 hubs in Scotland feels like it could lead to some creativity around change making for all those involved in the policy and practice of public services.

However prototyping ideas into action isn’t easy, particularly if we want to continue with ideas around self-organisation and collaborative working. How do we continue to work towards better outcomes for all that ensures we are use the creativity of all those who design, deliver and use services? How do we maintain the initial enthusiasm, using those sparks to ignite ideas that could make a difference?

What is the Fire Starter Festival?

The Fire Starter Festival aims to provide opportunities for all those involved in trying put ideas into action. 2016 is the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, and we want to focus on the innovation, creativity we see in how communities and those involved in public service design let go of ways that no longer serve us well, and try out new collaborative ways of being, testing out ideas on a small, medium and grand scale.

Have you got ideas you want to share, or need some expertise to take forward? Would you be willing to support an idea into action? If you are currently igniting an idea and hoping that it will spread like wild fire please get in contact and share what you are doing. The Fire Starter Festival starts the week beginning 25th January but hopefully the flame will keep burning throughout 2016.

If you would like to be part of the self-organising team of fire starters, or want to know more about Days of Danger, please contact Karen Lawson: Karen.lawson@gov.scot, @karenlawson3,


  1. Thanks Karen. A very interesting article on Days of Danger and good to know this is being considered although I did think the danger areas looked a little micro and wondered if much time is being put into bigger issues such as what would we do if capitalism collapsed or we were hit by a second ice age?

    1. Hi Susan

      Many thanks for taking the time to respond.
      These are indeed issues worth looking at and I know many organisations, including Governments are actively involved in thinking how we respond. However, we also need to focus on how we work colloboratively, harnessing the creativity of all people working in government and public services. The more people feel empowered to think and act creatively, lighting small fires, the more able we will become to tackle the big issues. If you have some ideas please make sure you share them in the fire starter festival!

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