|Wednesday, February 22, 2012|
|The Cultural DNA Inside an Innovation Engine|
|Biology was one of my favorite sciences in secondary school. I liked it because it was descriptive rather than mathematical. It was not about applying abstract rules to make numbers behave in peculiar ways. It was about how real things fit together. Or, in the case of those frogs we all dissected, how they came apart. |
If you have read anything about life sciences research lately, you know that this view of biology is very old school. Since we figured out how to sequence DNA and to data-mine the resulting flood of information, we have been uncovering unbelievably complex chains of action and reaction at the microscopic level.
And every time we think we understand the pieces of the puzzle, each piece seems to have within it yet another complex chain of action and reaction. The deeper we look, the more we see. The sheer interconnectedness of it all is mind-boggling.
At the end of March, I will visit Oulu, Finland, one of our Top Seven Intelligent Communities of 2012. And I am fully prepared to have my mind boggled.
Not because Oulu is a world leader in life sciences research. It is a remarkable place when it comes to technology innovation but its talents mostly lie elsewhere. I am prepared for mental boggling because of the way that innovation in Oulu is driven by its cultural DNA.
You function as a living, breathing whole in part because each cell in your body contains all of the genetic instructions for making a new you. That is pretty much how innovation seems to take place in this mid-sized city only 200 km south of the Arctic Circle.
Whether the project is a broadband network or a tech incubator, success is built on intensive collaboration among partners in government, business and institutions. In project after project, the story is the same. It is as though the partners are cells in a single organism, each carrying the whole of Oulu’s cultural DNA.
I’m sure they have their inter-organizational food fights and inevitable jockeying for position and influence. That’s how cultures work. But this culture of collaboration has enabled Oulu to ride through successive waves of economic change and keep coming out on top. I look forward to seeing it, and I hope that this particular form of biology has not gone beyond my ability to describe how it works.
|Wednesday, February 15, 2012|
|Good News on Income Inequality from Austin, Texas, USA|
It would be a classic “good news, bad news” joke if it weren’t so serious. A new study of American educational achievement from the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University shows that…
“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race.”
That is how Sean F. Reardon, the study’s author, described a gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income American students, which has grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites. The good news is that the color of our skins is no longer an automatic indicator of our educational achievement (see Obama, Barack). The bad news is that the contents of our wallets increasingly are.
Income inequality – with all of its educational, cultural, ethnic and social impacts – is the new American problem, and to a lesser extent, is a problem in all developed economies. It is the direct product of globalization in the broadband economy, made worse by policies popular with an anxious electorate filled with nostalgia for a golden age that never was.
Which makes Austin, Texas all the more remarkable. Austin is the first of our 2012 Top Seven Intelligent Communities to be profiled on our Web site. (You will need to log in or complete the free subscription form to read it.)
In Austin, they have recognized that their "home-grown" population largely does not participate in the community's red-hot technology economy – and that this is a threat to long-term prosperity and social health. The public and private sectors together have developed multiple programs with ambitious goals to increase the number of native Austinites who graduate from secondary school, enroll in a 2-year or 4-year college and graduate successfully from that. And they are getting results. For the secondary school class of 2009, the graduation rate of low-income students jumped 14% to 75% overall.
For any community struggling with similar issues, Austin has lessons to teach. And the start of those lessons is just a click away.
|Wednesday, February 8, 2012|
|The Road to the Intelligent Community of the Year|
On the Way Up
On my way to the Coral ballroom of the Mid-Pacific conference center, where I would name the new Top Seven last month, my mind was racing. There were seven million details I was trying to process. You know the feeling before a speech or a meeting: a nervous mishmash as you scramble to put on your “game face.”
On the morning of the announcement my internal monologue was a ramble about the new Top Seven. The top thoughts “trending” in my head were, “What would people think about three Canadian communities being on the list?” (Answer: Canadian communities have been pursuing the ICF’s goals in disproportionate numbers over the past decade and have begun to prove themselves in assessments by ICF’s juries.) “How would I best describe the successful development strategy of Austin, Texas?” (Answer: I would say that it led to a surge in regional payrolls, and a 14% boost in graduation rates.) “How would I compare a city with a mere 32,000 people (Stratford) to Taichung, Taiwan, with over two million? (Answer: When it comes to intelligence, size does not matter.) And how would I possibly describe the new, shared cloud-based engineering data bank in Taichung, which has speeded time to market for its small, entrepreneurial companies by significant margins? (Answer: I would just say what I just wrote!) Finally, how would I call out the digital divide programs which are essential to Riverside, California’s remarkable renaissance? (Answer: I would invoke the Sermon on the Mount. We do have an obligation to the least among us and it pays dividends that are often returned to us in ways that we have come to call “social capital.”)
How could I make the success of these seven communities, each of which has delivered truly profound outcomes, as entertaining as possible in a mere 20 minutes onstage? I decided to create a slide with a photograph of a pahu, an traditional Hawaiian drum, and ask the audience to beat their hands on the table as I began the countdown. (It worked and it was fun.)
As I was thinking about these things and nearly running, I had a moment when the buzzing in my head stopped and I confronted what the Irish author James Joyce called an “epiphany.” It was quite unexpected.
Heading toward the escalator to the Mid-Pacific, I made eye contact with an elderly man, who was standing in front of the Maui Clothing Company shop. He was on holiday, and I am guessing was retired. What I noticed was that that he wore a hat identifying him as an American military veteran of the Korean War. I once had mixed feelings about veterans “advertising” their service like this, but I have changed. After all, how else would we know? Hawaii is a paradise, but it is also hallowed ground to people who know the history of the mid-20th Century. One day it became the place where America was forced to enter the war and the history of Asia was forever changed. I knew this, of course. Because I knew it, and probably because I was being moved by the energy of what I was about to do in the Coral room, I walked up to him, shook his hand and thanked him for his service and for his sacrifice. Guess what? He didn’t say a word. He simply nodded as if to wish me a fine day and send me on my way. I took it as “You are welcome, kid.”
I wish I could have brought him into the Coral room to see the Top Seven announcement. As part of the announcement I introduced a slide of the Korean peninsula in the middle of the night. It was taken by satellite and, as I wrote in my May 30 blog, it serves as a stark reminder of why the Top Seven are important for all communities in the broader historical context of community re-energization. The southern half of the Korean peninsula is brightly lit, as the great cities of Seoul and Suwon pulse with energy and economic output; while a mere 20 miles north, the northern part of the Korean peninsula is pitch black. Up there, you know that there is a slide toward a darkness which can engulf us. The choice for communities is clear and it is unremitting. It is the difference between this very real light and the very real dark. This man, this veteran, whose name will remain forever unknown to me, had left his community long ago and, in his way and without any control, influenced an outcome of breathtaking proportion. Today South Korea is free. It is lit and it is moving toward better days. Its estranged brothers and sisters north of the 38th parallel experience nothing but lousy options. As Asia moves rapidly ahead, with communities like Taichung a representation of that energy, and places like Oulu, Finland, once a place few could find on a map completely transformed into a city of the future, the contrasts are becoming more stark. A long night awaits those who stumble and cling to fear. The seven who are on their way to New York to be celebrated are in full stride.
At 13.00 Hawaii time I made my announcement and ICF had seven new champions. My favorite response was from someone who, upon hearing about the new Top Seven said simply, “Wow! What great stories. I didn’t realize that there was this much going on.” A few days later, I saw this video from an actual resident of Riverside, California: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPP8hGx2FXI&feature=youtu.be
We are on the right path and on the way up – up to where the light is. The lights on Broadway are on for the Top Seven. I have that buzzing feeling again: I cannot wait for New York in June!
|My First Year in the Intelligent Communities Family|
I was very honored indeed to receive a message from the Finnish Consulate in New York that the Intelligent Community Forum wanted to give me a Visionary of the Year 2011 award. We politicians are used to getting criticism rather than positive feedback on our work, so this kind of recognition was such a nice surprise.
My work to improve broadband access—and, I would like to stress, the quality and affordability of broadband access—has been what I would call pragmatic. I strongly believe that the use of communication technologies can make a difference in our lives. My message has been that the public sector cannot develop an information society, or should I say a ubiquitous society, if everyone does not have broadband access. The public sector should also be interested in putting much more effort into the development of intelligent nations and communities because of the growth in efficiency and productivity that accompanies such development.
|Today, many governments and communities already lack the money needed for public services, which presents us with a challenge. Intelligent Communities and a good telecom infrastructure can help provide services and create an enabling environment for the private sector.
One would think I might remember 2011 as an ‘annus horribilis’ because so many things changed in my life; my sixteen years in Finnish parliament and seven years in Finnish government were over. On the contrary, 2011 was the year my new life began.
Links of Note
Address at ICF Summit on 3 June 2011
Press Release announcing 2011 Visionary of the Year
In 2010, I was invited to be a member of the UN Broadband Commission, a post that offered an interesting view into the role of telecom infrastructure in developing countries. It was very eye-opening to see statistics on what mobile phones have done for economic growth and the improvement of life in many emerging countries. Our work is not only to advocate broadband issues in the developing world; the philosophy of the Intelligent Community Forum is also a very good guideline for the Broadband Commission.
Alongside good infrastructure should come consideration and action on issues of digital inclusion, the knowledge workforce, innovations, and advocacy. Taking care of these issues brings people prosperity and happiness. It is an honor to be the ITU's Special Envoy for the Broadband Commission and to have so many opportunities to talk about things I truly believe in.
The ICF award was a very pleasant recognition, but for me, the best part of 2011 was the new family I received. The friendliness and geniality of the people involved in this global network is striking. Although the network is international and its members are sometimes continents apart, a special feeling of warmth exists in the ICF. The more I learnt about its work, the more I found myself advocating its philosophy. To Louis, John, Robert and all the fans of the ICF, I would like to say that it is great to be part of the group.
Last fall, I was busy travelling around, talking about broadband and the treasure that can be found at the end of the rainbow, namely the Intelligent Community—and that was such a great experience.
I never thought my life would be so full with Intelligent Communities, issues of broadband access, and interesting and challenging occasions for dealing with the improvement of our daily life with the help of communications technology.
I want to congratulate the seven finalists chosen to compete for the Intelligent Community of the Year 2012 award. I have to admit I am very proud that my hometown Oulu is one of those finalists. Oulu has been called the Silicon Valley of Finland and the city has been developing its competence as an information society for decades. This is the first time the pieces of this work have been evaluated, and the results have been very good. I am certain that interest in the work of the ICF will grow in Finland, hopefully meaning new members for the ICF family.
I had the pleasure to visit the iCanada conference in Windsor-Essex in November 2011.
I was amazed at the dedication of tens of communities in Canada to building Intelligent Communities, which will certainly create tools for better life in those regions. Canada is a vast country and the digital era has brought new tools for the improvement of services and for economic growth. The dedication of such communities in Canada should be a guide for us.
The other Top Seven candidates are also very prominent and talented. Riverside, Austin, and Taichung all have their strengths and are very dedicated to the development of Intelligent Communities.
So many things have happened in a year and I am very much looking forward to 2012. My calendar is already filled with many interesting events and it seems that, for me, 2012 will also be the year of the Intelligent Community. I love it.
Read more Guest blogs in Visionary Voices.
|Saturday, February 4, 2012|
|Some Innovations Deserve to Get Left in the Lab|
|One of America’s great writers, H.L. Mencken, loved the muscular inventiveness of his countrymen with the language they inherited from the English. He extolled the American word “rubberneck” – which arose in the 1890s to describe tourists craning their necks for a better view – as “one of the best words ever coined.” |
My own current favorite example is “creep out.” It describes feeling uneasy, fearful and a bit revolted, as though something unseen with too many legs were creeping up your arm. Here’s an example of it in a sentence: “Is anybody else creeped out by the new Timeline feature on Facebook?”
Timeline, if you haven’t encountered it, is a setting in Facebook that arranges all of your posts, pictures, games and videos in chronological order. Or as Facebook puts it: “The movies you quote. The songs you have on repeat. The activities you love. Now there's a new class of social apps that let you express who you are through all the things you do.”
Information and communications technology have enormous potential to create prosperity, improve health, promote peace and reduce social stresses. They have equally great potential to do the opposite as well. But whatever else they do, they will change how we make meaning of our lives.
Humans are meaning-making creatures. We live by the stories we tell each other and ourselves. And now here is Timeline, which transforms your stray thoughts, likes and dislikes, videos of cute cats and embarrassing photos you never should have posted into the Story of Your Life.
It brings several questions to mind:
1. Why would I ever want to give a bunch of almost-strangers – also known as Facebook Friends – this kind of improved access to my life’s narrative?
2. Could this random digital debris ever be confused with the actual Story of My Life?
3. What if, in a few years from now, it is?
I am all for digital innovation, especially this year, when ICF’s theme is “Intelligent Communities – Platforms for Innovation.” I am all for rubbernecking, but not when it is being done by drivers slowing down in front of me to look at a traffic accident. I can only hope that Timeline will share the fate of cars that talk to you and technology that lets you talk on your mobile phone during airplane flights. We are all better off when some innovations get left in the lab.