Our cultural personality of the week this week is Sylvain Bureau, Ph.D. from Ecole Polytechnique, is the co-founder of the Art Thinking Collective and the Jean-Baptiste Say Institute for entrepreneurship at ESCP (the very first business school, founded in 1819). His key research topic is related to creative practices in organizations. He has particular interest in making creativity accessible to the “non-creative”. His approach draws from observing similar patterns in all types of creative activities, whether in art, science or entrepreneurship.
Based on his research, Sylvain designed Art Thinking: A method to create the improbable with certainty. He teaches this method at ESCP as well as at Stanford, HEC Montreal, Oulu University, Ecole de Guerre, Ecole Polytechnique or the coding school 42. The seminars are regularly organized in unique locations like Centre Pompidou, Musée des Beaux Arts of Montreal or Block House in Tokyo.
Sylvain has been a visiting scholar at University of California Berkeley and City University of New York. His research findings have been featured in various scientific journals as well as in Financial Times, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Le Monde, La Repubblica…
Finally, Sylvain is the co-founder of Storymakers, an app to make pitches people remember, and co-author of Free Your Pitch (Pearson, 2018).
Oulu, together with 32 Northern Finnish municipalities, is the year 2026 European Capital of Culture! How do you feel about partnering with Oulu2026, Sylvain?
I started to collaborate with colleagues from Oulu University in 2012. Since then, I discover more and more about this city and its community. I am impressed by the dynamism and the energy that you can feel when you meet people in Oulu. They act and play in such a way that they can be seen as “cultural makers”. Polar Bear Pitching developed by Mia Kemppaala and her team is the perfect example of this trend: international and very Finnish, full of ambition and absolutely humble, magical and professional!
What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?
Our society is extremely powerful: since 1972 and the Meadows report (The limits of growth), we know that our future is endangered due to the industrialization. We know that human beings can change the very conditions of our planet earth (e.g. the anthropocene). We know exactly what is happening and what will happen: thousands of research papers have been published to detail climate change, the extinction of thousands of species, the massive pollution of the air, the soils and the seas, the rise of the level of oceans… We know with certainty that things will become unbearable for human beings within 20 to 30 years. Yet, things are barely changing. Science did his part to warn us and explain what is at play. The next step is to find ways to change faster our culture. Culture frames our behaviours and attitudes towards other human beings, animals, plants… In the past, some countries experienced “cultural revolutions”, but the speed and violence of the transformations led to many disasters (e.g. China between 1966 and 1976 is one emblematic example). Our challenge is simple: we need to revolutionize our cultural climate to organize the ecological transition. But at the same time, we need to make it without dramatic and violent changes which could harm many. This is very tricky. As the French philosopher Paul Valéry puts it, the main issue is to know whether human mind can overcome what the human mind has done?
Oulu2026 is one element of the answer.
The European Capital of Culture highlights the importance of collaboration between the Oulu2026 region and the rest of Europe. What can we learn from each other?
Unlearning is the main goal of the 21st century: we need to unlearn the way we eat, dress, travel, build our homes… I used to consume meat several times a week, take 1 to 2 showers a day, move around the world by plane, buy clothes very regularly… It took me a while to unlearn all these bad habits. To help me do so, I was influenced by people who were different from me. You cannot lean to unlearn with individuals who looks like you. As the historian Tzvetan Todorov explained “if one knows only one’s country, only one’s relatives, one takes as natural what is only usual“. We need to confront our values and beliefs, our dreams and nightmares. We need to develop dialogues between national cultures. And we certainly need to create an expertise melting-pot: artists challenging scientists, designers questioning engineers… and vide-versa. We do not know the solution, but we know that polyphony is the only route to initiate new questions leading to new solutions.
Send your greetings to Oulu who is now continuing their journey to the European Capital of Culture 2026.
I love and envy the mix you created of cold and hot dimensions in the way your work, eat, share, live! Keep going, stay the way you are, this is perfect and so powerful!
What will Oulu look and feel like in the year 2026?
Oulu will be the centre of Europe: its perspective, its horizon, its heart. Oulu will be the place to be!
Picture: Aurore Vinot