Neophiliac policing

EMPAC is keen on driving innovation in policing, so we want to let you know about new work on the innovation mindset. It provokes an interesting debate about were policing sits on the innovation spectrum: lagging behind, somewhere in the middle or right out front? And where it might be going in the future. Leonard Mlodinow’s new book Elastic Thinking in a Constantly Changing World (Allen Lane) explores how we think amidst an ever changing world: the trait that describes the ability for change and exploration is called neophilia. Although the book is not focussed at all about policing, the concepts can be applied to policing just like anything else. It’s an interesting book and worth a read!

Neophiles have some common traits, such as the ability to adapt rapidly to change, and a natural tendency towards seeking innovation. The opposite term, neophobe, carries more of an aversion to change, perhaps seeing too much change as almost heretical.

Robert Wilson also wrote about neophiles, in Prometheus Rising (1983) where he explained the Enlightenment following the industrial revolution as a period of history where neophiles became dominant.  The book evolved from a PhD thesis about neuro-sociological circuits, turning into a much more multi-disciplinary and populist work.

Mlodinow is an American theoretical physicist, who has previously published on the quantum theory of light and The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (2009) which was co-authored with Stephen Hawking.

So, what is neophiliac policing? It’s about a tendency towards exploring and being early adopters to change. There could also be some risk taking tendency in order to gain a reward. Then there’s the tendency to think outside of ‘normal’ convention.  Another way of thinking about ‘convention’ is where your brain subconsciously carries assumptions based on previous experiences and to get to grips with a new situation you need to abandon presumptions and see things afresh.

Question time

Is this a phenomena we are now starting to see in policing? You can test where you sit on the spectrum in Mlodinow’s book, but in the meantime considering that rapid pace of change in society that policing is working amidst, has the time come to embrace innovation more? To what extent should policing be about the tried and tested or the radical? If we were policing amidst the Enlightment where would be be – part of the problem holding back progress? Being a steadying influence on rapid change around us? Or being a leading innovator? Policing comes from long standing traditions and tends to present that image to its public, workforce and indeed potential future workforce. But is policing’s future the same as its past? Will policing move into progressive innovation rather than a conserving function more in the future? Can the police service keep what are its strengths yet evolve into something more agile and innovative to shape society, rather than simply respond to changes around it? Does growing and changing always mean losing something? What do you think?