Educating for Employment

2012-04-30

Policy makers and company leaders are starting to be serious about making policies to help close the EU gap between demand and supply of skills.

Four million job vacancies and 20 million unemployed. The real pain is felt in Spain, Greece and elsewhere throughout the EU, but these numbers are also getting to policy makers in Brussels.  April 26-27 I attended the 2012 European Business Summit in Brussels, which is an annual event for a few hundred leaders of private and public organizations mixed with prime ministers and EU officials. This year the theme was Skills and the purpose was to discuss “the necessity to find solutions for an aging workforce, the mismatch between the current educational system and youth unemployment and ways to improve education.” 

The Summit program included presentations by business leaders, presidents of industry associations, EU commissioners,  prime ministers and the presidents of the European Council and European Commission. Most of them talked about the problem, we do not generate the right skills for long-term economic growth, and some of them about possible solutions. Almost all speakers stressed two things: the importance of encouraging young people to study science, technology and engineering, and the need to help students become more “employable”. The former they see as the long-term guarantee of innovation in Europe and the latter is a necessity since we can’t afford the current system where university graduates don’t find jobs. The message I heard was that universities should  listen more carefully to the needs of (current) the private and public sector.

I’ve heard it before. When I was president of a Danish university 2009-2011 the debate was the same. In view of the mounting deficit and national debt the governments kept funding the universities generously, but they began to demand that university professors climbed down from their ivory towers to research to resolve real and important societal problems and educate to enhance employability. They also pushed for more science, technology and engineering studies. I also heard it in Singapore two weeks ago and I guess I’ll continue to hear it in Sweden too. I conclude that this message about education for job creation will be stronger over the next few years.

The primary reason I attended the Summit was to contribute to a special roundtable on Management Skills for Growth hosted by EFMD, to which I was invited.  Kicked-off by one of the editors of The Economist and the chairman of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology the roundtable discussion served to refine a Call for Action from EFMD about management skills and practice as a way to accelerate value creation in Europe. This two-page Call for Action will be channeled to EU policy makers and hopefully have some impact. The group included senior leaders of companies as diverse as Telefonica and Facebook, people from management education organizations of different kinds and as representatives from the Education and Culture and Enterprise and Industry DGs of the European Commission.

We discussed several ideas and potential practices for how to make even better connections between industry and academia. For example, the practice of  Innovation Factories in Germany, which serve to bring scholars of technology, business and company people together to solve concrete problems that maters to society. Another approach we talked about was to consider PhD studies a way to become entrepreneur, not only an academic professor. I talked about the need to use the public sector to drive innovation, which seem to find fertile grounds in this group. Others talked about the need to break down “elitism” in higher education since the famous companies of today were started by university drop outs. Others ventilated their frustrations about business schools being too detached from real world problems and sometimes even causing them. Yet, others talked about the need to create fertile context for entrepreneurship within existing companies and among people who are approaching and even passing formal retirement age – “senior entrepreneurship”.

Reflections

First, the EU has proven itself as capable of stimulating evolution, but seems less great at navigating in revolutions. But, as some of the people argued, we’re in revolutionary times and right now we need policies for revolutions more than polices for evolutions. I didn’t see much discussion of that.

Second, I was also left with the impression that most decision makers don’t really differentiate between research and innovation. As the Swedish Paradox illustrates, there is no clear positive relationship between research funding and commercialized innovation. In fact, that is one of the great myths of our time, and a convenient one for scholars who want to stay in the ivory tower.

Third, John Stewart Mill said that you can’t create happiness; you can only create the conditions from which happiness may emerge (as a product of something else). Otherwise you may end up with nothing. The policy makers I listened to seem to have forgotten this wisdom.  It is unlikely that EU or a national government really can create polices that will directly create jobs and the desired social inclusion. It is probably better to think of policies that create something else, which has the outcome of also creating jobs and social inclusion. That “something else” should be huge private and public investments in development of new products, services, processes and systems in the intersection between atoms, bits, neurons and genome, which can be applied to solve problems as diverse as effective elderly care and efficient green energy.

To pull this off we need both young and more experienced people with skills, wills and passion for technology, design and business – working together. In the world of the 27 nation EU and the rest of the world we also need people who, just like EU Commission President Barosso said he is advising his own children, speak many languages and mix natural sciences with the deep insights gained from the humanities.

For that statement I simply had to shake his hand!


Men, Women and Prosperity

2011-12-16

Female talent remain a huge untapped potential, also at the top.

Recruiting and retaining women in science
 and technical fields is one of the key success factors for the European 2020 Strategy. But, putting women’s’ talent to use is not only a concern for science but for all sectors of the economy in all countries. The logic is straightforward. Talent generates ideas that can generate products, services and competitiveness, which in turn leads to prosperity. Since women makes up ½ of the potential talent pool the more women involved the higher the probability of prosperity.

Female talent and prosperity

The WEF Gender Gap Corporate Reports illustrates how nations’ competitiveness depends on whether and how it utilizes its female talent.  The parts of the world where women are treated as second-class citizens are not surprisingly also the least competitive and prosperous ones. As one of the primary emerging markets China is rapidly closing the gender gap. Tens of millions of young women are moving into factories in fast growing city areas or attending the highly competitive universities. Although few women make to the upper echelons of Chinese private and public organizations things are changing fast and partly inspired by the more women-friendly cultures of foreign multinationals.

The OECD countries are at the top of the list with one exception. Japan is an outlier because it is prosperous and is not using much of its female talent. According to a recent study by Gant Thornton only 8% of CEO of listed companies in Japan are female, compared to 34% in China, 45% in Thailand, 97% (!) in the Philippines and 20% as a worldwide average. Judging from the service jobs women tend to have in Japan half of their workforce seems overqualified, under worked, under paid and is probably quite bored.

The average Japanese women working full-time earns 44% of their male peers. But then again, the Japanese economy has stalled since the crisis in 1990s and those (men) who work tend to work around the clock. One can only imagine the effect on the economy and society of welcoming and engaging the collective talent of Japanese women.

The labyrinth to the top

Women now occupy more than 40% of all managerial positions of the most highly paid executives of US Fortune 500 companies, but of those with titles such as chairman, president, chief executive officer, and chief operating officer only 6% are women. The pattern holds for other developed countries too. In the 50 largest publicly traded corporations in each nation of the European Union, women make up some 10% of the top executives and less than 5% of the CEOs and chairpersons of boards.

The more female talent in use the more prosperity? If so, what a wonderful potential for improvement!

Even in family friendly work cultures women tend to have more additional roles at home which reduce their potential to engage and contribute at work. Sweden, for example, has a well-known system of childcare, generous incentives for men to stay home with toddlers and recently also elaborate tax deductions for professional house keeping. Yet, gender imbalance still reigns at the top of Swedish organizations.

Researchers Alice Eagly and Linda Carli use the metaphor of a labyrinth to describe the challenge facing women in organizations and their research shed light on how to help women close the gap with men.  The challenge is clear:  “If we can understand the various barriers that make up this labyrinth, and how some women find their way around them, we can work more effectively to improve the situation” (Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership, Harvard Business Review, September 2007, p 64).

Women, diversity and performance

In their resent special report on women at work The Economist – in its usual bluntness – point out that the companies that are taking most action to close the gender gap are not doing it “out of the goodness of their hearts.” I agree.  Their story about how Deloitte in only a few years transformed itself from a horrible work place for women to a women-friendly employer is illustrative of both the motivation and the effort needed as well as the great benefits that can be reached from increasing gender diversity.

The business case for gender diversity is strong. A study from 2004 by Catalyst found that companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest women’s representation. Similarly, boards with at least three women directors did better than those with fewer. A much larger 2007 McKinsey study show similar results. Gender diversity means you  recruit from a wider pool of skilled workers, improve the organization’s image and enhance its marketing opportunities.

Gender and innovation

At the heart of the innovation are people willing and able to work collaboratively in teams and to exchange what they know so the team process is an appropriate unit of analysis to understand innovation. Research supports that gender balanced team are more innovative, which my own experience confirms, but only a few researchers have studied the impact of gender differences on innovation.

Findings from the  Lehman Brother Center for Women in Business at London Business School show that there are a number of critical aspects of the innovation process that are influenced by the proportion of men and women in a team. Laura Tyson and her colleges have studied factors  known to influence the innovation process in practice. For example, differences in self-confidence between men and women; personal initiative; sensitivity to others’ views; the extent to which they are able to include others; their satisfaction with their life and their career satisfaction; their perceptions of the significance of the tasks they are undertaking; and their commitment to the organization.

Not surprisingly, the perceived psychological safety is a must for innovative thinking. This is common sense to most people: If you feel threatened, run the risk of being ridiculed, or have to listen to chauvinistic jokes of simply feel uncomfortable you probably remain silent rather than put up your hand, engage in “out-of-the-box” thinking or suggest a weird idea.

Eliminating the minority experience

The problem is that gender imbalanced teams are not naturally safe and secure in the eyes of the minority. Too often, senior teams and teams tasked with innovative thinking have just one or two women as members and such “tokenism” has a negative effect on the women included and, consequently, on the performance.

From experience of male-dominated organizations I know how difficult it can be to welcome women as equal partners rather than as the token minority presence. In view of the many psychological factors shaping the sensitive innovation process the LBS research suggest that the optimal gender mix is 50/50 and, thus, more than the Catalyst study (above) suggested.

Unfortunately, that remains an imaginary number in many organizations. Herminia Ibarra of Insead, an authority on gender and leadership, says that “…when it comes to large multinational organisations the days of explicit sexual discrimination are by and large over, but what remains are pretty subtle biases … and those have proven more intractable simply because you can’t dictate them away with a policy or a practice …

Scholars Tyson and Ibarra have also found interesting differences between how men and women build relationships with others when they are in a minority. When men are in minority they network with others in the group, but when women are in a minority they network outside the team. When women are in a minority they build stronger networks with other women, not men, throughout the organization.

Conclusion? To improve the potential for innovation eliminate minority experiences by actively constructing teams with equal proportions of men and women.

The long march

Men may be from Mars and women from Venus and those differences should be treasured. But at work we are on the same planet, at work we have much in common. Today young men and women alike expect to be able to develop their full potential at work and achieve a work-life balance. They don’t expect to get lost in a maze of gender-based hurdles to reach the top in private and public organizations.

In many countries, including my own Sweden, women today account for a majority of university graduates and, therefore, they represent the most advanced talent pool available for organizations. The moral and business cases for increasing gender diversity and decreasing gender gaps are clear, at least in countries that do not treat women as second class citizens.

The governance case ought to be equally clear. We know from the data that, everything else equal, giving women the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as men in companies will boost innovation, competitiveness and prosperity.

The Economist lists several reason why professional women do not reach the top. Work remains structured to suit the man-as-breadwinner model, which do not fit women. Having babies and caring about them (!) obviously have an impact on careers. Women tend to be less self-confident than men and “do not put their hands up” like men do. Women are also more honest than men, at their own peril. Discrimination against women, like Ibarra said above, continues in subtle ways.

But the problems is even deeper. My former college Lynn Roseberry, who I appointed Chief Equal Opportunity Officer at Copenhagen Business School, summarizes it as a profound leadership challenge.  Her idea is that effective and responsible leadership requires knowledge about gender differences, stereotypes and the ability to challenge these. The problem, she says, is that these knowledge and skills are not taught. Neither in business schools nor in other executive courses. Having worked at four business schools in different countries and contributed to many more, I agree.

The lack of such leadership seems to be inherent in the way corporations have been structured since the early 20th century. Already in the 1970s Elisabeth Moss Kanter noted that the higher up in the hierarchy the more you rely on personal discretion and trust based on social relationships with co-managers. She labeled this “homo-social reproduction” and the consequence is that men-leaders are choosing more men to work with because they trust each other.

Lynn is determined to challenge this paradigm and, in her view, this requires the rare kind of transformational leadership called “authentic” and one that also includes gender as part of the system – “gender-authentic leadership.”

I look forward to helping her.


The Lost European Dream

2011-12-15

The Lisbon Strategy have failed but the intentions must remain.

In 2004 Jeremy Rifkin optimistically described the emergence and evolution of the European Union and presented it as an alternative to the philosophical, social, economic and political system of the US. He contrasted the “harder” American Dream of individual accumulation of wealth with the “softer” connectivity and respect for human rights that he argued defined the European alternative. Rifkin argued that the European soft power should be able to win greater influence in the long-term at considerably less expense. Europe, once more he said, would have critical importance to the global future but this time as a positive force for humanity.

This optimistic thesis The European Dream reflected real progress among the member countries at that time.  With new members lined up and plans drawn up for further monetary, political and social integration it is easy to understand the hope the EU inspired throughout the world. In fact, in many parliaments and boardrooms at that time decision makers throughout the world expected Europe to invent a new industrial model that would result in a better world than the one known from the industrial revolution and manifested by the hard capitalism of the US.  Rifkin summarized his hope: Europe has become a giant laboratory for rethinking humanity’s future and the world is watching. The contrast with the sad European realities of today is striking.

The good intentions of the Lisbon Strategy

Let’s go back a decade when the renowned Lisbon Strategy (or Agenda) from 2000 boosted the EU self-confidence. At that time European leaders realized that innovation is the engine of economic change, that knowledge-based economic development is a must and that sustainability ought to become a basic parameter of economic development.The EU leaders boldly stated that:

  1. The European Union is confronted with a quantum shift resulting from globalisation and the challenges of a new knowledge-driven economy. These changes are affecting every aspect of people’s lives and require a radical transformation of the European economy. The Union must shape these changes in a manner consistent with its values and concepts of society and also with a view to the forthcoming enlargement.
  2. The rapid and accelerating pace of change means it is urgent for the Union to act now to harness the full benefits of the opportunities presented. Hence the need for the Union to set a clear strategic goal and agree a challenging programme for building knowledge infrastructures, enhancing innovation and economic reform, and modernising social welfare and education systems.

The aim of the Lisbon agreement  was to make the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. Yesterday  I quoted this sentence to a visitor from Asia and we both agreed it felt a bit odd to even say it in view of the current Euro mess.  Never-the-less, at that time this strategy intended to strengthen the EU economy, create employment and promote social policies in line with Rifkin’s softer approach, which would drive economic growth even more. All in all, the Lisbon Agenda resulted in many new policy initiatives to be taken by all EU member states and has been the foundation for the development of the EU over the last decade. And it did strengthen Europe but in an uneven way.

The end of the party

In 2007, the EU was still celebrating a welcome economic upswing after five years of positive growth and optimism. In a region long blighted by joblessness, the rate of unemployment had fallen to its lowest level since the early 1980s. But then the international crisis hit. So profound was the crisis that many of the Lisbon Agenda’s key targets and principles have been loosened or suspended. The consequence is that less than only seven years after Rifkin’s book was published our decision makers have been unable to realize the many good intentions from Lisbon. The European Dream has become a reality only for a few, an illusion for some and nightmare for many. As I write this article the COP 17 meeting in Durban is heading for another mega-disappointment and the EU leaders are alone in their want to do more than the Kyoto Protocol calls for.

Already in the 2008 Simon Tilford and Philip Whyte published the report Lisbon scorecard: How to emerge from the wreckage in which they provided a harsh analysis of the performance of the Lisbon strategy. “Picking through the wreckage of the past year, it is legitimate to ask what remains of the EU’s Lisbon agenda”  they bluntly said in their introduction. The implicit assumption of the Lisbon strategy was that Europe’s main challenges are on the supply side, but that doesn’t make sense. Leaning on Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman they argue that while supply side factors are the key determinants of a country’s prosperity, measures to improve the supply side will “…do little to lift the EU (or the rest of the world) out of its current hole.”  Why? Because the short-term challenge is the demand side and the Lisbon Agenda doesn’t provides any tools for influencing  business cycles, demand and the global dynamics driving it. Today, three years after this report, virtually all EU governments continue to struggle with this demand side.

How do the EU countries score a decade after Lisbon? With some Scandinavian exceptions, the 2008 performance was less than encouraging. In the words of the authors: “No honest assessment of the Lisbon agenda can ignore two inconvenient facts. The first is that the EU as a whole will not meet any of the targets it set itself in 2000. The second is that the gap between the best and worst performing EU countries is arguably larger now than it was when the Lisbon agenda was launched. There is no evidence that the situation have improved after 2008, on the contrary.

The implication of their finding is that countries that fail to make progress on their Lisbon targets are likely to suffer from weak levels of productivity and employment: “…countries which fail to reform will condemn themselves to lower living standards”.  Adding pain to injury, the public finances of such countries will make them more exposed to rising income inequalities flowing from increasing globalization and technological change. Not surprisingly, the “villain” (versus “heroes”) group of countries in their analysis of Lisbon performance is remarkably similar to the EU group of nations sarcastically named “PIGS,” which are now in desperate need of financial assistance to avoid bankruptcy.

The education agenda

It is difficult to argue against the good intention of the Lisbon strategy. Innovation, deregulation and life-long learning are key to nations’ competitiveness, economic growth and social cohesion in any part of the world. Much empirical research has  shown that education raises labor productivity, but the link between higher education and innovation is a weak one (as illustrated by Sweden and Denmark). Far from all research generates viable innovations and far from all people with higher education innovate, but more many other reasons  investment in education are always valuable for nations.

In view of global competition many European countries need to continually upgrade the level and quality of education of its citizens.  Globalization, technological development and the inclusion of a large portion of the world into the world economy simply calls for it and an increased education level is also essential to maintain social cohesion in our societies. Unfortunate, the Lisbon Scoreboard shows that many  EU countries – particularly in Southern and Central Europe – are not doing well on this dimension.  Tough but necessary austerity measures are not the best driver of this strategic agenda, however.

The OECD program for international student assessment (PISA) shed light on how well students in the OECD countries are prepared for future challenges in terms of their abilities to analyze, reason and communicate effectively. The key question is to what extent they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life, very much in line with the Lisbon strategy. The findings, however, are as sobering as the Lisbon Scorecard because they show how European countries, with the exception of Finland, are lagging behind. It is not surprising that governments even in high-performing countries like Denmark and Sweden are driving significant reforms through parliament to improve their educational systems.

A new dream?

Despite the sad picture from the Lisbon Scoreboard its policies remain necessary to increase EU’s long-term competitiveness in view of the global competitive onslaught from BRIC and other countries. Together China and India represent 1/3 of the population (read: potential brain power, consumers, entrepreneurs, innovations, etc.) on this planet and their priority is not always the softer values of the Europeans. In Europe we have no choice but regard the current difficulties with the Euro zone as a self-inflicted hick-up in the bigger picture, get our act together and increase the speed of reforms needed to boost the quality of education, research and innovation.

The last time I was in India and China their Dreams were clear and present. When the current nightmare is over it is high time for a new European Dream.


American Unreason

2011-12-15

The anti-science rhetoric by the political establishment in the US is worrying.

As I write this article the Chairman of the Nobel Foundation, Dr. Magnus Storch, has just finished his introduction speech for the 2011 Nobel Ceremony in Stockholm. In his speech Storch stressed the importance of the values Alfred Nobel manifested in his will more than a Century ago: The importance of science for improving the human condition combined with inspiration from the humanities and the struggle for world peace. In the face of the grand challenges of today, including the current sovereign debt crisis, Storch stressed that we really need the contributions of science more than ever. Not surprisingly his message went down really well among the enthusiastic audience of Believers in Reason, for the occasion in full evening dress.

As I watched the handful of proud scientists-Laureates – survivors of decades of harsh academic scrutiny – I was reminded of a 2005 article in the New Your Times about a geologist digging into the Grand Canyon to prove the “Young Earth” theory: “Geologists date this sandstone to 550 million years ago and explain the folding as a result of pressure from shifting faults underneath. But to Mr. Vail, the folds suggest the Grand Canyon was carved 4,500 years ago by the great global flood described in Genesis as God’s punishment for humanity’s sin.”

Already at that time NYT reported that almost 1/2 of Americans think God created human beings “pretty much in their present form” within the last 10,000 years. More disturbing is that the same study found that 5% of scientists adopted the “Young Earth” view. As far as I know, these numbers have not diminished. Religious discourse in places of worship and at the departments of theology is one thing but replacing reason with religion is another.

I am not alone in having these concerns. As a longtime subscriber of Scientific American I have noted a growing sense of alarm among its editors and columnists about the recent anti-science tone and rhetoric of the US political establishment.  Authors in similar eminent scientific journals also debate what they perceived to be a clear and present danger of growing American Unreason. This is a worrying tendency not only for America but for the entire world.

The Enlightened US

The American researchers who have received the ultimate Nobel prize from the hand of the Swedish King is a tribute to their nation’s founding ideas of Enlightenment, the great European cultural and intellectual movement of the 18th Century that sought to advance knowledge and improve society.

France was the center of the early Enlightenment movement with hundreds of scholars like Diderot, Voltaire and Rosseau all challenging the unreason of their time. For example, the very idea that Diderot’s pioneering Encyclopédie (1751-1772) claimed to contain all knowledge of the time and that the 35 volumes sold more than an astonishing 25,000 copies of which half outside of France created fertile grounds for the pursuit of more science and reason.

The Enlightenment ideas clearly inspired Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers of America to build their new and free society on reason instead of the unreason of religious dogma and hereditary succession of monarchs-tyrants (see Thomas Paines’ famous pamphlet Common Sense from 1776).  The American Constitution and the French Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen manifests the political philosophy of the ideals of the Enlightenment. In contrast to Mr. Vail’s crusade in The Grand Canyon those ideas of reason also encouraged a new wave of more or less religious-free scientific discoveries and developments across the disciplines.

In modern times the great American nation has been the natural leader of enlightened research, education and innovation as demonstrated by the 2011 Nobel Prize winners and it still is. The US has welcomed and developed the best minds in the world, invested heavily in research and education, generated unparalleled ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Even today the US remain the world’s powerhouse of research, education and innovation in terms of ranking of universities, number of Nobel Prizes, attractiveness to students from across the planet, patent generated, entrepreneurship and the like.

Have the lights gone out?

When the NYT journalist mentioned to “creation-geologist” Mr. Vail that 80% of Christians walk away from their faith when studying science he throws a stick into the sand in frustration and exclaims that “we’re raising a generation of confused children, and it’s the public schools that are doing it!” As a reminder: this was in 2005, not in 1776. And it seems that a large portion of the US population today think he has a point.

It is precisely in view of its grand history that it is so sad to observe the decline of the values, assumptions and rhetoric of the Enlightenment among American decision makers. Many prominent Republicans, for instance, are well-known to seed suspicion about the research showing human causes of global warming and in other ways let ideology or religion trump scientific evidence.

Poisonous claims about matters of science by ignorant politicians surface all the time and everywhere and no political party has a monopoly on such unscientific thinking and dogma. For instance, when presidential candidate Michele Bachman (the Tea Party person) claimed that the HPV vaccine was a “very dangerous drug” that could lead to mental retardation, even some of her arch-conservative Republican peers criticized her. But what is worrying is that in their quest to win votes among the growing mass of science deniers, prominent American politicians place anecdotes over scientific evidence and sometimes even portray scientists as the perpetrators misinformation, like in the case of global warming.

Unfortunately, American politicians frequently use religion as a warrant to justify more unreason. Constrast Nobel Chairman Storch’s message about the need for science with the latest video ad by US presidential candidate Rick Perry’s (R), Strong, uploaded to YouTube only a week earlier. Perry’s main message is that President Obama is waging a “war on religion” and that “faith makes us stronger”. This 30 seconds video illustrates the growing religious dogma among the conservative American political class, which unfortunately is coupled with unscientific thinking, tone and action. But there is hope: of 4.7 million hits on Perry’s YouTube video (10 December) 33 times more people dislike than like it. I am not sure, however, if that high ratio of dislike reflects the science-denying portion of the US population.

By any measure, Parry’s statement – a possible next leader of the world’s only superpower – seems far from the Enlightenment ideal of his nation’s Founding Fathers. Free exercise of religion is one thing, but as Thomas Jefferson pointed out more than two Centuries ago, government must be neutral among religions and non-religion, which is also the spirit of the first amendment of the US constitution.

Perry is not alone to bring faith to the forefront of political debate in the US and probably he will probably not be the last in an increasingly religious America, in an increasingly religious world. Just recall how George W. Bush said that he received “prompts” from God about what to do and that he claimed he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Also recall that he pushed through legislation to make it more difficult to pursue stem cell research.

Faith-based Universities?

A few years ago I attended a Harvard program for new university presidents and found myself as one of the token foreigners. I was awe-struck by the apparent role of “faith-based” institutions of higher education in America. The Islamic madrasah is a well-known faith-based school system by which students mostly learn how to memorize the Qur’an. But to have faith as the foundation for education in general, but especially in higher education, was more than I expected.  This even in view of the strong religious heritage from the 102 pilgrim-immigrants on the Mayflower in 1620, who undertook the voyage to escape religious persecution in England.

It was soon apparent that I had very little in common with the challenges facing the Deans of those institutions and they received different “prompts” than I and from very different sources. Although faith-based higher education might be innocent enough in the beginning, what stops it from extending into, let’s say, faith-based research (like that of Mr. Vail), faith-based academic titles and journals, faith-based evaluation of faculty and research outcomes or faith-based innovation? If policies and practices of science and education are based on faith more than the ideal of the Enlightenment of the US, the pluralistic world has a good reason to be concerned.

Oxford professor in evolutionary biology and renowned science author Richard Dawkins has often confronted the influence of religion on society and debated why science is fundamentally different from religion. In short, his argument is that “…science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops.” Controversional columnist, literary critic, author and “anti-theist,” the late Christopher Hitchens was harsher in his critique of the influence of religion on society, summed up as “religion poisons everything.”

It is tempting to dismiss Vail’s, Parry’s and Bachman’s statements as shouting “blind faith” from the “rooftop” to science-denying believers and assuming that, if they come to power, nothing would really change. But that would be a disservice to science. Science and religion will typically have different answers to epistemological and ontological questions (What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? How do we know what we know? What categories of being exist?) Science and religion will, to paraphrase President W. Bush, also give us different “prompts” about what to do, which may result in real decisions that impact real people.

Perhaps it is my pluralistic Scandinavian roots that makes me prefer the peaceful coexistence of science with different interests, convictions and lifestyles over what Perry, Bachman et al. are metaphorically shouting from their rooftops. As a scholar and leader in academia I am uncomfortable with mixing legitimate activities of no-matter-what religion with science, education (theology exempted) and innovation. Perhaps it is my training in scientific methods and scholarly dialogue that make me weary when Non-Reason is spread within the very institutions that are tasked with the advancement of Reason and Enlightenment. Like Professor Dawkins, and unlike Faith-Based Geologist Vail, I see very little connection between religion and research in today’s enlightened societies.

Have Faith in Reason

Many Americans may be listening to the anti-science and religious unreason spread by Parry, Bachman and others. However, the US remains a wonderfully cosmopolitan melting pot of brain power and resources that are needed in the pursuit of science, education and innovation. I am convinced this will remain so for decades.  In contrast with the nationalism and chauvinism that is weakening other nations, and despite the increasing anti-science tone of presidential candidates, the US remains a beacon of reason in the world, for now.

In his notorious video, Parry said that “faith made America strong” and that he assures that it will make her strong again. I question his premise. Science, technology and the ideal of Liberal Arts made America strong and that cocktail of reason can make her even stronger. To deflect the shouts of unreason from the rooftops, scientists and leaders of science need to cultivate allies across the political and religious spectrum and help keep the public debate informed and factual, especially in America.

A century ago, Alfred Nobel stressed the importance of science, the humanities and peace for improving the human condition. His endowment has enabled the ultimate price in physics, chemistry, medicine/physiology, literature and for efforts to make the world a more peaceful place. A century later, Science and Reason continue to beat Blind Faith and Unreason as the most innovative, effective and responsible way to improve the human condition. Let’s hold the course.


Want to change a paradigm? Good luck

2011-11-16

It is very difficult to challenge a world-view.

Why do people with opposing views often seem to be living on different planets? Because we do, metaphorically speaking.

We use different concepts and methods to address different problems whereby we consciously and unconsciously limit communication across what divides us from others. Mindsets, mental models, knowledge structures, dominant logic, or my favorite German term, Weltanschauung, all capture the idea that experiences, beliefs and values affect the way we perceive reality and how we respond to that perception.

The divide between opposing and seemingly incompatible views and how we deal describes why it is so difficult to change an established way of thinking and working, from the inside. It also suggests that we should welcome conflicts with opposing and seemingly incompatible views, but also why we hate it.

“Incommensurability”

In the middle of the last Century Thomas Kuhn suggested and refined a simple yet powerful idea to both describe and explain why and how this divide happens.  In short, his provocative idea was that proponents of different fundamental ideas simply work in different worlds. Alan believes the earth is flat and he finds it hard to have a meaningful dialogue with Jan, who is convinced that the earth is round.  Two such different worldviews, or habits of reasoning is what Kuhn called ”paradigms” and they can’t be reconciled with each other because they cannot be subjected to the same common standard of comparison.

When it come to conflicting world-views or beliefs there is no neutral language to describe and interpret what is happening. Just imagine Joe waving a religious text as the main ground for his passionate claim and Mary holding up a printout of empirical data while they both claim to know the “truth.”  Just imagine that Joe and Mary are believers of neoclassical economics versus behavioral economics, the virtue or vice about entering a new market, or…

Kuhn called this impossibility to reconcile views “incommensurability” and he developed the idea when he studies the nature of scientific development, especially scientific revolutions that made mankind take giant leaps forward, so-called, paradigm shift.

Revolutionary science like Albert Einstein’s famous challenge to Newtonian mechanics, he found, is usually unsuccessful, and very rarely leads to new paradigms. Einstein challenged a way of thinking that had been used to describe force and motion for over two hundred years. Not surprisingly, protagonists of the current paradigm were not amused and reacted accordingly. However, when these large-scale shifts in the scientific view are implemented and accepted by the majority science will once more progress within the new paradigm, and the process repeat itself.

In other words, major changes in how we view the world often happens more as sudden earthquakes than incremental steps. But, it is very human to dislike earthquakes.

The barriers to change in science

Just like in industry in science there are many mechanisms to reinforce existing paradigms, and reject attempts competing ones. Well known methods include:

  • Professional organizations that give legitimacy to the paradigm and provide standards for evaluating quality
  • Strong leaders who defend and represent the paradigm
  • Conferences conducted that are devoted to discussing and promoting ideas central to the paradigm.
  • Educators who propagate the paradigm’s ideas by teaching it to students in a cycle of self-reference.
  • Journals giving legitimacy to the paradigm and that reject papers threatening it.
  • The self-referential practice to cite one-self and ones like minded peers in publications, helping increasing the legitimacy of central ideas of the paradigm
  • Funding agencies that provide money only to those who have made their career in one paradigm.
  • Promotion practices of only giving tenured professorship to people who have proven themselves in the paradigm.

Just imagine the how challenging it must be for the lonely scholar who has figured out a revolutionary idea.

The difficult inside job

Kuhn’s simple idea also partly explains why it is so difficult to change a paradigm from the inside. When you are inside a way of thinking and working in science or in a company you do not notice it. You just keep speaking the language of that way of thinking, meeting like-minded people and consciously or unconsciously you defend the turf.

Just like a ruler urges his subordinated to defend the motherland from real intruders it comes naturally for most people to defend their way of thinking from intruding worldviews.  Religious faith and political ideology are perhaps the most illustrative examples but scientific knowledge development and best practices in organizations qualify too if you think of how things works. If you have a different worldview you become a non-believer, a heretic whose strange views will be eliminated, sooner or later, unless you can recruit and convince others about the value of your dissenting views.

The way we organize and manage organizations is designed to reinforcing a shared way of thinking and doing – a unified paradigm. In fact, creating a shared vision, or “aligning” and organization is regarded as an essential aspect of organized life. Many leaders work hard to get people in the organization to pull in the same direction, to basically have the same mindset and dominant logic.

The corporate world is full of examples of how project champions of rejected ideas kept pursuing these undercover and eventually won the battle of worldviews.  Nestlé’s Nepresso division is perhaps one of the most well-known examples.

A living  example of the hardship of challenging a paradigm in science is Dan Shechtman, the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. When he shared his preliminary findings 1982 even the leader of his research group disowned him and with great shame. Three decades later people queue to get his autograph and scholarly support.


Global innovators v.2011

2011-11-15

It is difficult to measure innovation, but the West remains ahead

Innovation is widely acclaimed as a cornerstone for business and societal development, but innovation is tricky concept and difficult to measure and analyse. Earlier today Thompson Reuters published their 2011 Top 100 Global Innovators report in which they identify companies that are “truly the world leaders of innovation and economic growth.” An indicator of the importance of these 100 companies that they created more than 400,000 new jobs in 2010, which they argue is far better than comparative companies.

How should we measure innovation?

Research and development (R&D) has often been used as a proxy for innovation based on the simple idea that the more research the more innovation. A problem with R&D as a chief measure is that research is not an important dimension of many industries, including services. More profoundly,  innovation is not equal to research since research costs money and innovation creates it (and other values). In fact, in a previous article in this collection I have argued that “A grand illusion of politicians (and university people) is that more millions in research funding automatically results in national wealth creation.”

Another frequently used measure is intellectual property, especially patents, in companies. The assumption is that an efficiently operating intellectual property system is critical to the ability to spur innovation and bring new services and products to the marketplace faster. In other words,  intellectual property is what bridges innovation and economic growth. This is what the Thompson Reuters report is about.

In sum, they use four patent-oriented criteria:

  1. Success: The ratio of published applications to granted patents, over the most recent three years.
  2. Globality: The extent to which a patent is protected globally.
  3. Influence: How often a patent 
is subsequently cited by other companies in their inventions.
  4. Volume: Amount of patents.

So in terms of Innovation = Patents, how does the world look like?

  • The United States leads the world in Semiconductor & Electronic Component Manufacturing
  • Asia leads the world in Computer Hardware Manufacturing and Automotive Manufacturing
  • Europe leads the world in Machinery Manufacturing and has more than half of the Top 100 Global Innovators in this category in Sweden
  • France leads the world in Scientific Research and is the European nation with the most companies represented in the list

Judged by this metrics, USA remains the most innovative host country of innovative companies, followed by Japan, France, Sweden and Germany. The next five are Germany, Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland and Lichtenstein: Most innovative host countries.

In other words, the winners are well known nations with developed industries and societal systems. Not surprisingly, these nations have some of the world’s highest GDP/capita and score high on similar measures of wealth and wealth creation.

What about industries? Given the metrics, patents, it is not surprising that manufacturing dominates but it is still noteworthy that semiconductors, electronics and computer hardware together with chemicals make up the top three most innovative industries. In these industries USA dominates. Consumer products, machinery and telecom and electrical products follow: Most innovative industries.

What companies are we talking about? Among the first ten we find global brands like, 3M, ABB, Airbus, Alcatel-Lucent, Alfa-Laval, Apple, Atlas Copco and BASF. I could not find any company based in a BRIC country, nor from any other Nordic country other than Sweden, but I am sure new contenders will be there in a few years.

Is patent the right proxy?

The number of innovation indexes out there is also growing since governments, business leaders, policymakers, and industry associations recognize the importance of innovation and want to measure it effectively.

Patent is a crude and imperfect measure of innovation, but one that lends itself to data gathering and analysis and it does provide a viable picture of where the action is. But what is really needed is a way to capture a range of factors, including investments in training, organizational change and competitive performance over time.  Some kind of peer review where organizations rate each other’s degree of innovativeness might also be helpful.

We need to regard innovation as multidimensional and far more than new products or patents. New services, standards, business models, systems and leadership processes are parts of innovation too. But this will take time and developing global standards for measuring innovations is far away.

In the mean while we need to keep investing in research and education to cultivate the culture valuing scientific discovery and scientific methods as well as one of life-long learning and curiosity. Then ensure that the national innovation system is in place to encourage the transformation of new knowledge into new products, services, markets, industries, systems and processes that are seen as valuable and useful in they eyes of paying customers, in addition to patents.

Last week I was part of a group of private and public organization leaders who heard the  new Danish minister of science, education and innovation say that the country really needs a new innovation strategy. I agree.

But, this is a clear and present challenge for all developed countries and that is why efforts like the OECD Innovation Strategy are so important. But, strategy means both differentiation and choice so replicating another country’s strategy is not the best way forward. It shall be interesting to see what the new Danish innovation policy will look like.


Innovating Universities in India

2011-10-28

One of the pillars of India’s new Innovation Strategy is Education

During a recent trip to India I was struck by the eagerness and willingness to innovate the rigid university sector and university education. The challenge is humbling in such a billion people country. It is sometimes easy to forget that the extremely well-educated and cosmopolitan Indians we typically meet at various places in the world are the products of a handful of extreme elite institutions, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) or their counter parts in Management (IIM). This is the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg of education in India.

The challenge to gradually improve both quality and quantity of education is immense. In fact, one of the five “innovation pillars” of the national Indian innovation strategy 2010-2020 is Human Capital & Tools, which includes higher education. Building on their ancient traditions, including the pioneering universities  Nalanda and Takshshila, the newly revised innovation strategy sets out to rally the collective resources of more than 1 billion people to rapidly improve India  in all aspects of innovations (more about this strategy and the other pillars in another post).

The specific governmental initiatives to boost the quality and quantity of education in India includes the following key actions:

  • Expansion, Excellence, Equity & Access
  • Higher Education Council for  Regulatory Reforms
  • National Mission on Vocational Education
  • More IITs, IIMs, Colleges, Schools  & investments
  • 16 New National Universities & Multidisciplinary Ed
  • 14 New Innovation Universities
  • More students in Maths, Science &PhD
  • Distance learning & Technology in Education
  • Open course ware, Course wise credit, New models
  • Private & Foreign partnerships

When I asked officials where they had been inspired to move ahead they listed the US, UK, Israel and Finland.  Judging from interacting with some of the leaders involved in implementing this program I am convinced these actions will have a tremendously positive effect. The Chinese challenge is of course similar, but with a totally different governance approach.

The featured story of the October-issue of the Asia’s largest magazine on this topic,  Asian Educator, is Education & Innovation. The challenge is summarized on the cover page: Innovation is necessary in the education sector where decade-old methods in curricula and teaching continue to be used. The entire systems needs revamp to meet future challenges. In this issue a number of people – including me – offer their views and suggestion for how to make this happen. The interview is here: Asian Educator Oct 2011 page 26 and Asian Educator Oct 2011 page 27

What about our own backyard? Where is the eagerness and willingness to innovate our university sector and university education?

Or, perhaps you think there is no need..? Dream on.



Danish Design 2020

2011-10-27

The future of Danish design is to integrate it with innovation

Design is an important brick in the tricky jig-saw puzzle about how to rejuvenate the Danish economy.

The country is well known for its design traditions, beautifully designed products and its thriving design industry. In the 1990s Denmark was among the first countries in the world to adopt a design policies (=1st generation) but since then other countries have caught-up and even launched design policies emphasizing the dissemination of knowledge on how to use design and how to create better-functioning markets for design services (= 2nd generation policy).  The UK, Netherlands, Korea, Singapore and Finland are just a few examples. If Denmark is to maintain its strong design identity, and if it is to become better at harnessing the innovative capabilities of design, these design policies need to be updated (= 3rd generation policy). An international group of six experts appointed by the government and chaired by me presented to the minister of business and the minister of culture the Vision for Danish design 2020 in June 2010.

Our task was to develop a vision, not a detailed action plan but we did a bit of both. We articulated a vision that we believe is both exciting and realistic and we made a number of suggestions for how to make it happen. I am absolutely delighted this was never a party political matter and that one of the strong players in the new government, the liberal RV party, presented their own design policy ideas already this spring. This means that there is a good chance that our suggestions will be converted into new and changed policies over the next few years.

In short, the we envisioned that in 2020 Denmark is known worldwide as the design society –  a society that, at all levels and in a responsible way, has integrated the use of design to improve the quality of people’s lives, create economic value for businesses, and make the public sector better and more efficient. To quote from our report: “Our vision will be realized the day it is no longer necessary to explain and motivate the value of design or promote its use to Danish companies and public organizations. This is the day when design will have become an interwoven part of the psychological, social, and economic fabric of Danish society. This is the day when design will be as natural to Danes as caring for the environment.

From here we presented the landscape and the roadmap for design as a driver of innovation, design competency development, design research and future branding of Denmark. In this post I will only mention our suggestions regarding design as a driver of innovation since, in my view, this is where the real mind shift is called for. We argued that Danish public-private partnerships simply should use design to develop innovative solutions to societal challenges, especially in areas in which Denmark and Danish companies have advantages such as the green economy and welfare services. The example of the upcoming mega investments in five new hospitals was a frequently used example of where a more intentionally and integrated up-front use of design thinking and approaches could add much value. Specifically, in our vision of using design as a driver of innovation we suggested that:

• A majority of Danish companies use design as an important and integrated driver of innovation to strengthen their productivity and global competitiveness.

• Denmark has a significant number of specialized design firms that offer a wide variety of cutting- edge design products and services to the global market.

• The Danish public sector consistently utilizes design to develop better and more efficient services.

• Denmark remains a country where materials and products are shaped, developed, and produced in innovative ways.

Our many suggestions about this an other issues represent an important step for how Denmark can retain its lead in design (or avoid losing it) by thinking of design as interwoven with innovation and by seriously upgrading its research and education about design. While the rest of the world is busy overtaking each other in innovation and Denmark is slipping in international rankings about innovation. From the perspective of research and higher education the integrated design aspect of Alto University and the new Singapore University of Technology and Design are examples that speak for themselves, which contrasts with some recent developments in Denmark.

The full report is available for downloading from the ministry of business.


Playing seriously

2011-10-27

Play is a way to welcome the imagination and cultivate spontaneity.

“Despite good intentions and decades of conceptual progress, strategy is often practised as if circumstances remain reasonably stable. The typical outcome of such practices is well-defined action plans suitable for dealing with the expected, rather than increasing the readiness of individuals, groups and the entire organization to seize fleeting opportunities and avoid emerging problems. When I confront senior executives with these observations and views, few disagree and most say they wish things were different in the way they practise strategy. They also seem to be at loss about how to remedy the situation.”

This is one of the first paragraphs in my 2006 book Thinking from Within. The book was the outcome of a decade of research, consulting and experimentation and my statement a summary of the problem I had experienced, and continue to experience in corporations.

I recently worked with a leadership to of a large multinational corporation and I was struck by how valid my argument from 2006 seems to remain. They were doing the same thing over, and over, and over again, and, for some reason, expecting a different outcome. By the way, this remains one of the best definitions of insanity I know of.

In the late 1990s I was a professor of strategy and general management at IMD in Switzerland and this is where a college of mine, Dr. Bart Victor, and I begun exploring with the notion of breaking the patterns of how strategy was made in organizations.   The idea started out as a way to use LEGO bricks in innovative ways, in fact, it was a way to innovate an executive program at LEGO Company (!) that I was responsible for. In turn, this resulted in a product that Bart and I invented and patented together with them and we labelled it LEGO Serious Play (LSP). Wikipedia has a fair description of that history and an open and growing global LSP community of management and organizational consultants is thriving.

Much research and many publications later I  came to frame strategy making as being prepared to deal effectively and responsibly with the unexpected more than the action plan and the budget we develop to be prepared to deal with the expected. However, this twist calls for more imagination and spontaneity than writing up an action plan. In short, Thinking from Within is a play-like practice that enables people to engage more and different senses to create the conditions for new and different ideas and actions. It is about working more astute for meeting new circumstances in new ways.

LSP is a great product and I am delighted it continues to add value in so many organizations throughout the world. But, the concept is not about LEGO or any other kind of materials. It is about the tremendous power of creative arts methods that engages more of our senses and more of our brain capacity, which is well known in psychology since the time of Carl Jung. This is what I discuss and exemplify in the Thinking from Within book.  This is why any kind of material remain an illustration and not a panacea of this approach to cultivate the imagination and welcome the spontaneity of serious people in serious situations.

As many prospective consultants have experienced the hard way when they passionately put a box with materials on the table, however, the key success factors to this approach are three: (1) great facilitation skills, (2) great facilitation skills and (3) great facilitation skills.

Here is Chapter 1 of Thinking from Within.

One of the first theory articles was published in Long Range Planing: Roos et al. (2004)


Lots of ideas, no money

2011-10-27

More capital is needed to seed future innovations in Southern Scandinavia.

The southern part of Sweden acutely needs more innovation capital.  The Malmö-based daily Sydvenska Dagbladet recently published a special report on the situation.  In their report leading figures in the venture capital industry, science parks and in universities send the same message. There are any ideas but limited capital, especially for early-stage seed funding. Specifically, there are limited funding available for new investments since most of the funding committed by private players have already been invested. And the vast majority of venture capital in Sweden is focused on the Stockholm region.

I recently talked with a writer for The Economist, a science professor with affiliations in the US, China and Europe and with several years of experience in Scandinavia. In his view, there are probably a lot of undervalued ideas in that region, simply because it is off the beaten track for big international tech investors, and local investors do not have the technological insight. If may be off the beaten track for large international investors but with only one million people the very southern Scania (Skåne) county of Sweden has already an unusually high concentration of brainpower per capita and new mega investments in science and technology are expected to dramatically increase commercial opportunities. The nexus of this development is Lund, which hosts the oldest university in the country, University of Lund. The municipality of Lund and Scania are governed by a non-socialist coalition for which continued investments in research, development and innovation are at the top of the agenda. For historical and geographical reasons the psychic distance from Lund is closer to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, than to the Swedish capital Stockholm and this has provided many social, economical and political linkages and even a bridge/tunnel across the narrow Oresund strait. But, the risk capital industry in Denmark is less developed than in Sweden and dominated by life science.

With 3.7 million people the larger and bilateral Oresund region makes up 1⁄4 of the GDP in Sweden and Denmark, respectively. It features strong industrial clusters built 
around global corporations like Novo Nordisk, Danisco, AP Möller
 Maersk, Sony Ericsson, Gambro, Tetra Pak and Alfa Laval. The
 region is hosts three strong science universities and a 
handful science parks for commercialising technological development. Still, only a few venture capitalists take a bi-lateral, Oresund perspective, and most of them are already fully invested.

Over the next decade massive new investments in additional and world-class science facilities will attract thousands of additional researchers to the already science-intensive Lund region and this is expected to also boost the commercial opportunities. On the Swedish side a consortium of some 20 countries will fund the joint European, EUR 1.5 billion European Spallation Source (ESS) material science facility outside Lund (see my post about it) to be constructed 2013-2019. The Swedish state is currently constructing the additional EUR 0.5 billion synchrotron radiation facility MAXLAB IV next to the ESS site. Private donations in 2011 are enabling Lund University to convert Astra Zeneca’s previous site into a new EUR 50 million Ideon Life Science Village a research laboratory and business incubator located adjacent to the Ideon science park (see my post about it). Recently, private entrepreneurs announced plans to build a combined SEK 4-5 billion golf, spa and hotel retreat south of Lund, which is to be ready at the same time as the ESS facility.

Overall these unusual and international mega investments into R&D in the Lund region will further increase the general attractiveness to and high concentration of brainpower in the region. Lund is destined to become one of the most dynamic science and incubator hubs in the world over the coming years, especially in life science, cleantech, nanotechnology and materials technology. It should have all real potential to be a hub also on the beaten track of foreign innovation capital.

But capital funds need a certain scale to be meaningful and that is a major barrier of entry. In Sydvenska Dagbladet the head of the Ideon science part in Lund summarizes the situation: “One hundred million (kronor = EUR 11 million) is not enough….” And he suggests that five times that amount is a minimum level to operate such a fund. The problem is that none of the current funds with a south Sweden focus have raised that level of capital.

Somebody should give it a shot.