My sister is 11 years older than me.
When I young I remember her waking up at night and sitting on the side of her bed with her face in a bowl of water.
Her face was itching so much she couldn’t find any other way to relieve it.
She had seen all the major specialists in all the major hospitals.
They had prescribed pills, creams, lotions, injections.
Nothing had worked.
The itching got worse and worse.
And she put her face in water to avoid scratching it to bits.
The doctors didn’t have a clue.
The condition she had didn’t fit anything they knew.
Eventually she went to see the top skin doctor at a teaching hospital.
He came in followed by half a dozen young trainees.
They were learning to be doctors by going with him on his rounds.
He examined my sister, asked her questions about her condition, checked the history notes, then turned to the trainees.
He said, “Well ladies and gentlemen, this one’s go us all baffled. I don’t suppose anyone has any ideas?”
One of the trainees stuck their hand up and said, “Excuse me sir, but there is one condition that fits all these symptoms.”
The head doctor dubiously said, “Ye-es, and what would that be?”
The trainee said, “Well I know it sounds ridiculous, but it could be scurvy.”
Everyone went quiet, waiting for the trainee to get a major bollocking.
Scurvy hadn’t been heard of in the UK for over a century.
Scurvy is a condition caused by lack of vitamin C.
Sailors used to get it in the days of sail, and it’s the reason the British are known as ‘limeys’.
Royal Navy ships used to carry a stock of limes for the crew.
So scurvy had been eliminated and no one even bothered studying it.
There were much more modern diseases for busy doctors to worry about.
Except for trainees, who had to study everything.
And it turned out that was what my sister had.
She was treated with vitamin C, and her condition cleared up.
All because a trainee was studying all the things the seasoned professionals weren’t.
Because the trainee had been forced to go back to studying the basics of the job.
Instead of just concentrating on what all the seasoned professionals were concentrating on.
Does that ring any bells for us?
Is it possible that we’re so caught up in the latest thing we’ve forgotten what we could learn from what went before?
Instead of just trawling the latest media for ideas and techniques, how many people in our industry use the dozens of major art galleries on a regular basis?
How many people study film before 1970?
Or French film, or Italian, or Scandinavian?
How many people experiment by going to Japanese theatre, or a Balinese concert, or dance, or mime?
How many people are mining any of the two thousand years of art and culture, of creativity in all its forms that we have all around us?
But maybe that’s the wrong question.
How many people are desperate to find the latest digital technique before someone else?
How many are checking every new media website they can, on a daily basis?
You see everyone’s looking for the answer in the same place.
Which is why everyone comes up with the same answer.
That’s the great thing about not having a preformed idea about where the answer is.
You have to look everywhere.
And you could end up looking somewhere no one else has looked.
And finding something no one else has found.