Two more key words

Did you read last month’s column? I need to point out that I submitted the content a week and a half prior to the semi-finals of the rugby world cup. So, it was only afterwards that I heard the England coach, Eddie Jones, refer to those players outside of the starting fifteen, who sat on the bench at the start of a match, not as substitutes but as finishers. This provides a superb illustration of the point I was trying to highlight: ‘substitute’ carries the connotation that they are not first choice and will be called on only when needed; ‘finisher’ emphasises the equally important role of those on the bench, which is key to the overall team achieving success. Would you rather be a finisher or a substitute?

As much as I would like to take credit for this corroborating example, I must admit that it was just serendipitous. ‘Serendipity’ was the word that came into my head as soon as I heard about ‘finishers’. I have used this word several times in this column and I have always understood it as an alternative word to ‘lucky’, ‘coincidence’ or ‘good fortune’ and, as a result, it has a feel-good factor about it. I also had occasion to think of serendipity when I was listening to a discussion on the radio about algorithms used by entertainment and social media. A listener was explaining that she was offered different programmes by a platform depending on whether she was using it in the morning or in the evening. It was what she added to this that made me take notice. She was happy for the platform to offer such suggestions because it saved her time having to trawl through the myriad of options herself in order to choose a programme to watch.

Personally, this made me feel both concerned and sad. I was concerned that technology is potentially suppressing the ability of people to research information and to identify that which would be considered important, useful, entertaining or relevant to their particular tastes or objectives. Investigation and analytical skills are required in any number of professions and roles and, if people are not developing them in their non-working life, it will be more of an effort to apply them in their work. The feeling of sadness came from thinking about what people could be missing out on if they solely relied on algorithm-based choices selected based on past behaviour. They could lose the opportunity for serendipity in identifying a film, book, product or present.

This leads on to the revival of another word that has not been used very much in recent years, but is growing in importance: curation. My interest was raised back in January 2018 in a ‘thought for the day’ talk by Reverend Dr Jane Leach. She marvelled at the skill of the curator in placing two different but connected items together in an exhibition, which produced a greater impact through their intersecting stories than if they had both been exhibited separately. In this instance, curator and curation are used in their traditional sense relating to a museum exhibition. The origin of the word comes from the Latin: one who cares. The word denotes someone who has the care and supervision of something. So, in a general sense, curation is the selection and arrangement of objects, artefacts and, increasingly, information and data, to increase value. It requires the selection of a subset of the whole and the presentation of this subset so that it conveys the meaning or story of the whole with extra impact and added value.

Two specific areas where curation is gaining traction is as a tool in leadership, to simplify and articulate core issues and messages, and in the management of digital media, to enable continued access and maintenance of assets for future use. In both of these, the ultimate goal is to add value. Curation is now playing more of a role in online activity. Instead of maintaining the online echo chamber, curators select and arrange information to provide access to new ideas and different people and viewpoints. Good curation provides the opportunity for serendipity!

NDT is a curation activity. We select and arrange information, collected during an inspection, to tell the story of the particular plant component to the client in order to add value. To be able to do this, it is necessary to research and analyse the proposed inspection technique to establish its capability and inform the curation of the inspection data. Within the NDT community there are already curation activities being performed on our behalf: BINDT selects and peer reviews articles on selected topics to include in each issue of Insight; workshops, seminars and conference sessions are all curated to meet specific objectives. Curation can provide future opportunities for adding value by building a body of knowledge and ensuring ongoing access to historic data.

I would like to thank you for reading this column throughout the year and wish you all a Happy Christmas. May serendipity bring you joy in the festive season.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Wood or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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