A Stolen World

As I write this blog post, my friends Leif and Ingrid are back in Tanzania. I know that they are having a good time, because again they publish their experiences online at www.metafari.blogspot.com. Yesterday morning, they saw a lion just across the lawn from their hut in the Mikumi National Park.

If you travel northwest from Tanga in Tanzania, you will come to Mombo. Go a further 30 kilometres and you will reach the Nanyogie Maasai village. This is where Leif and Ingrid went to talk to the people about life, livestock, warriors, dreams and the rapid development in the world.

From my office window, I can see the big sign on The Museum of World Culture in Göteborg encouraging people to come and look at their new exhibition: A Stolen World – The Paracas Collection. It shows 2,000 years old funeral textiles from Peru that come from looted graves. In the beginning of the 1930ies large quantities of these textiles were illegally transported to museums and private collections all over the world. Sven Karell, the Swedish Consul in Peru at that time, smuggled hundreds of these textiles to Sweden and donated them to the Ethnographic Department of Göteborg Museum.

Besides showing these beautiful pieces of art, the exhibition confronts the visitor with questions regarding what to do with this stolen treasure. How are we to handle what our ancestors did? Does what was done in good faith, make up for the fact that it was illegal? But what about having better opportunities to preserve these important items, helping us understand history and appreciate other civilizations?

The famous Danish design company Stelton recently released what they call their Maasai collection with beautiful mugs and baskets in vivid nuances of red, blue and aubergine. There is no mention of collaboration with the Maasai people. But is this really a case of stolen culture? We are constantly inspired by the things we see around us. Can a community claim their right to some colours, their trademark?

I think we really need to think long and hard about how we handle intellectual property issues and how we pay tribute to the creativity of people, no matter country or century. Don’t you?


Positive Paranoia

In late August I spent two wonderful days in Copenhagen together with the Resonans crew and their guests from The Solutions Focus: Paul and Janine. Through working with Henrik from Resonans on a project in Sweden I had already experienced the wonders of some of the exercises described in the book “58 1/2 Ways to Improvise in Training: Improvisation Games and Activities for Workshops, Courses and Team Meetings”. I was so grateful for his gracious yes when I asked if I could come to the session.

During the two days we used tools in various combinations. We did JAM sessions (Just-A-Minute) and addressed coaching conundrums. The Walkabout Marketplace was an enriching encounter where we collectively gathered and shared knowledge on important topics. I liked the whole experience so much that I found myself longing for an opportunity to practice my newly acquired skills, so when Linnea asked me to do a one-day session with the Frisksport leadership teachers, I was more than happy to accept.

One rather fun exercise was a kind of competition where the task was to identify who was who from looking at pictures of people who have contributed a lot to the strength-based, solution-focused, self-organised, positive-oriented and constructivist community. I could barely recognise David Cooperrider and Marcus Buckingham, but my Resonans team partner Mikkel turned out to be well versed in this game and quickly spotted persons like Insoo Kim Berg (Brief Theraphy), Augusto Boal (Forum Theatre), Thiagi (Frame Games), Gregory Bateson (Change Language), Keith Johnstone (Improvising), Steve de Shazer (Brief Therapy), Martin Seligman (Positive Psychology) and Margaret Wheatly (Complexity).

Of course, the list can be made much longer than that. For example, I would like to include images of Anne Radford, the founder of the AI Practitioner and who brought AI to the UK, and Jane Magruder Watkins who was one of the early adopters and who has spread AI around the world through courses, books and projects.



In these times of financial crisis and looming recession, maybe ecodriving is a good metaphor for how a country should be managed. We must learn at what speed and gear our national machinery works best, understand how to accelerate and break more gently in order to save energy, choose the right fuel and keep the engine in good shape, design efficient motors and provide clear indicators that will guide us towards our best behaviour. And of course, practice anticipation.

In Tunisia, the small city of Mahres is considered a forerunner in terms of environmental consideration. The water is recycled and the power comes from solar panels. However, none of this is noticed by the tourists passing by. Instead, they probably observe the heaps of garbage lying around everywhere. Despite campaigns in schools and in media, waste management is high on few people’s agenda.

It sure is difficult to figure out how I as a tourist can contribute to sustainable development. Should I buy the wonderful soft leather bags (made in Libya)? Or the mass manufactured pottery and jewellery of unknown origin you see in every tourist shop? Or go on a speedy jeep tour into the vast desert (probably using petrol smuggled from Libya)? Or buy a hand-made woollen rug tied by women earning 2,5€ a day? There is only so much locally produced dates and olives one can eat in a day and I can’t afford the 7.500€ shimmering silk rugs.

Tunisia is one of the countries allowed to participate in the Sida-funded Advanced Training Programme “Putting Ideas to Work – Strategies for Innovation-led Sustainable Growth” organised by the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems. With its educational systems and high attendance-rate, the population’s excellent command of French and good grasp of other languages, as well as equal opportunities laws Tunisia stands more than a fair chance of continuing being a stable country and to prosper even more. Looking back, both the Phoenician and Roman versions of Carthage might serve as inspiration (and I don’t believe they sacrificed infants). Especially if introducing incentives for making better use of all the creative power among the large number of highly educated women.

Our bus-driver, Samir, demonstrated excellent eco-driving skills when he transported us to the Sahara and back. Maybe this could be a new line of Tunisian business: ecodriving courses in the desert! And by the way, riding a camel into the desert sunset is quite an experience!


An Excellent Choice

Life’s full of decisions, some of them more important than others. But what makes a choice excellent?

I think some of the most difficult choices I face are the ones I make as member of funding advisory committees. As member of the Venture Cup West jury, I decide which business plan gets a prize that entails both money and recognition that will help turning the plan into a start-up company. The winner will hopefully inspire others to become entrepreneurs. My job on the funding advisory committee for the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems is to select those research groups that will become VINN Excellence Centers. By long-term funding we hope to create stable environments that will attract even more funding as well as really bright people, and of course develop some really interesting and useful results that will make sure Sweden continues to be a prosperous country. The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research has similar ambitions, where I’m the chairman of the advisory committee for the “Program Intensive Systems” programme.

There are more difficult choices entailed than “just” selecting the winners. These involve the design of the selection process. Who and how many should be on the jury? How often should they meet? What selection criteria should be used and how can these be made simple but not too blunt? How should the rules be communicated? Should resources be spent on educating the applicants in order to raise the quality of the submissions? Should a portfolio model be used in the selection process?

I think perhaps the most important aspect of this kind of work is to ensure there is a continuous learning among all the people involved in the process, so it can be improved each round. This is why it is important to create statistics that show distribution according to for example gender, age, area, organisation and geography in order to reveal any systematic inaccuracies. I also wish that the applications should be published afterwards and workshops be held with discussions on what constitutes a really good submission.

Google has made some tough decisions through its ten years existence. Now they are facing some more difficult choices in their 10100 project. In this competition anyone who has an idea concerning how to improve the world in terms of energy, environment, healthcare, education, communities and families are welcome to submit them at www.project10tothe100.com. The competition is open until October 20 and a team from Google will select a 100 promising ideas. Everybody can then vote. From the 20 most popular projects, an advisory board will select the five projects that will share the 10 million dollars has set aside to implement the ideas.

Those of you who would like to contribute to sustainable development in other ways could look into the company MYC4 who provides micro-credits to entrepreneurs in Africa. A network of local providers screen the people who would like to obtain a loan and local lenders handle the financial transactions. The bidding process is based on a Dutch auction principle, which basically means that the more investors interested in investing, the more favourable the terms the African business will get.

Another way is to donate money to organisations such as Hand-In-Hand who educates women in India, South Africa and Afghanistan on how to read, write, run a business and act as micro credit banks. Then they themselves make the tough decisions on who’s going to get a loan to expand their business.

Maybe I should benchmark against these organisations regarding how to design efficient selection processes?