King's College London

The Power of Legacy: Traditional Functions Remixed for Digital

A recent conversation with King’s College London (KCL) Professor Frans Berkhout impressed on me the commonality of approach in academia and business in navigating and problem-solving contemporary complexities. Another more surprising vein of wisdom ran through his narrative that has huge relevance for legacy incumbents in the business world – the strength derived from traditional connections and institutions.

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KCL is a “university of state”, as Professor Berkhout put it, with deep and enduring links to national institutions of law, government, the military and education. This heritage stems from the mission of its founders, King George IV and the Duke of Wellington, who established the university to counter the secularism of other educational institutions springing up in the nineteenth century. Today, King’s retains a powerful sense of purpose that, I learnt, is enabled, not hindered, by its traditional links with state.

As Professor Berkhout explained to me, the university is still informed by Anglican values of openness and tolerance, which are now applied to twenty-first century global challenges. Imbuing students with a sense of moral purpose to go out into the world and change it for the better, whether as lawyers, medics, teachers or military personnel, is very much part of the King’s brand.

The university’s embedded links to state institutions makes it uniquely placed to bring together diverse, relevant and high-powered individuals and institutions, who can think about problems in original ways and shape policy. Whether it is discussing humanitarian efforts in conflict zones, responding to climate change or global terrorism, King’s brings scientists to the table and also military leaders, medics, policymakers and educationists, who can formulate 360-degree and flexible responses.

KCL has created a Vision 2029 to further embed this diversity of academic thinking into the structure of its faculties and departments, in order to increase its capacity to make a global impact. Instead of traditional silos of academic learning, such as sociology, geography and so on, the university prefers to mix up disciplines around a goal or challenge, such as its renowned Department of War Studies, which combines military lecturers with psychiatric educators, scientists and sociologists.

In other words, King’s retains its ‘traditionality’ but mixes it in new ways to cross-pollinate thinking and enable action; it’s a fine model for incumbents to remix traditional disciplines to spawn innovation. So often in conversation, incumbents are rueful about their historic, vertical structures and believe them an impediment to digital progress. Remixing expertise into new cross-disciplined teams around specific business challenges in the King’s College mould is one way to proceed.

Helen Beckett

Author: Helen Beckett

Helen Beckett is the Community Manager of the Business Value Exchange. She has been a writer and editor for over 20 years and takes a particular interest in the challenges facing the CIO in today’s business climate.