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Music, not drugs, will create workforce stars

Possibly somewhat lost amid more momentous news on Wednesday morning was the publication of a report by a working party drawn from the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society into cognitive enhancing drugs and bionic engineering.

The chairwoman, Professor Genevra Richardson, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme (between bulletins from Jim Naughtie in the US) that the technology in development to boost memory, attentiveness and mental agility had the potential to transform our employment, for better or for worse. The implication was that employers might introduce workplace doping, so that staff will become as efficient as Tour de France cyclists in pursuit of that corporate goal.

How far we have travelled from the heady days of the 1960s when lysergic acid diethylamide and other "mind-expanding" experimentations were seen, by some, as the pathway to new levels of consciousness and self-expression. Instead of being a way for those who decried the establishment to escape from The Man, the new danger with which to scare readers of the Daily Mail is the water-cooler spiked with performance-boosting additives by The Man himself.

Fortunately there is a cheaper, less insidious and entirely legal way to cognitive enhancement. Yes, just as a vigorous training regime and a supportive team enabled Bradley Wiggins to defeat those tempted to chemical shortcuts across the Pyrenees, regular exposure to art will develop that mental muscle without recourse to Ritalin. Just this past week I have found my frontal lobes (or possibly another bit of my brain, it's hard to tell) stretched by the evocation of pastoral Romanticism wrought by Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's way with Beethoven, and I have also tried to continue the immersion in Joycean modernism begun by seeing the Tron Theatre's Ulysses. And much better I feel for it.

On Tuesday evening I also enjoyed hearing the ensemble and solo improvisatory talents of dozens of young musicians at Glasgow Jazz Festival's schools jazz band competition, which I was once again called upon to help adjudicate. The personal mind-extending job here was different, with issues of balance, fairness and taste to be untangled. But what we now know beyond doubt is that those young folk who have the chance to pursue their musical education can be expected to show the benefit in their attainment level in other disciplines – which is why initiatives such as Big Noise in Stirling are important and cuts in the provision of instrumental tuition in schools are bad, beyond the fact that we are training fewer musicians.

The lesson to business is clear: eschew the morally dubious tempt-ations of the pharmaceutical and invest instead in support of the arts for the future availability of an able, expressive and creative workforce.

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Arts and Entertainment

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