Root Cause

I have no idea why, but I got two books about trees at Christmas. One called “Gastekar och väckefuror”, a title impossible to translate since it refers to old Swedish names for special trees with mythical powers. 120 trees are described, all with a history of its own. They are beautifully illustrated by Nils Forshed.

The second book is written by Johan Tell, and is called “Träd kan rädda världen” (Trees Can Save the World) where the theme is very much the same as in “100 Ways to Save the World”. After reading it, you really feel like planting a tree and build a wooden house. More than half of Sweden is covered by woods. This means that we are dependent on importing food. Food that might grow on land recently converted to farm land from woods. Suddenly my soya beef does not taste so good anymore when I see the pictures of the “green deserts”.

My mother has also written a book about trees. Or rather about the storm Gudrun that in 2005 devastated many of the woods in the southern part of Sweden where my parents live. 300 million trees died during those two stormy days. When I came there a couple of weeks later, it was a very strong experience. Although I was just a visitor, I felt my heart break. Trees are so much more than just trees. They carry hope. Hope for a better future.

One of the pioneers within Appreciative Inquiry is Malcolm J Odell. He has worked all over the world and has developed ways of getting good results without the fancy stuff like flipcharts, videos and computers. When describing how an appreciative approach is different from a problem-based, he often uses a tree as a metaphor. Often we identify something that is wrong. This is the trunk of the tree. Then we go on to find the causes for the problem. They are the roots. We then move to identifying the consequences. These are the branches in the tree top. However, we can do exactly the same but instead of focusing on the problem we can formulate what it is we would like to have or have more of. Instead of looking for causes and consequences for sick-leave, we can look for the reasons why people are healthy at work and see what that can bring to the organisation. If you want to see the difference, divide a large group into two smaller ones and let them each work on one kind of tree. It will become evident to everybody which group will have more fun, come up with more constructive ideas and feel more committed to actually implement them.

Root Cause is a nonprofit organisation in Boston supporting social innovators and educating social impact investors. They work in close collaboration with New Profit, a venture philanthropy fund that provides financial and strategic support to selected social entrepreneurs and their organizations to help them create widespread impact. Their signature partner is the Monitor Group, funded by Michael Porter and they also work together with Robert Kaplan, why, of course, balanced scorecards are used for developing performance indicators.

I visited Root Cause and New Profit in 2007 and were amazed by the way they work and what they have achieved. They have inspired me a lot in my work with Stensund. But I still can’t help thinking about what they might accomplish by selecting another tree to work from. And what Sweden as a country could achieve by focusing more on collaboration than on competition. Trees can save the world.


Merry Christmas

Last week, my friends in the UK AI Network asked me how come Santa Claus lives in Finland. My prompt response was that Santa lives in Lapland, a region that is shared between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia but that the Finns were much faster in understanding the power of branding. To be politically correct, the name Sápmi should be used instead of Lapland, but the Sámi people have some way to go there in changing that misconception.

However, perhaps it is only natural that Finland is Santa’s home. American scientists have discovered how Santa uses nanotechnology to grow presents under the Christmas tree and how he uses the time-space continuum in a clever way in order to make it around the world in such a short time. Since the Finnish government have spent much money on The Finnish Government Agency for Innovation and Technology, this high level of technology can only be expected. Nevertheless, it is apparent that Santa has a rather strict IPR policy since nothing has been distributed as open source. I’m sure that The Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment would be more than happy to use Santa’s device for keeping track of who’s been naughty or nice.

In contrast, European researchers have recently embarked on a non-technical but still very interesting project. The “Explaining Religion” (EXREL) project “seeks to understand both what is universal and cross-culturally variant in religious traditions as well as the cognitive mechanisms that undergird religious thinking and behavior”. The project is funded by the European Commission and some of the sub-projects seem to be applicable to explain even the strong universal belief in Santa, but also the slight variations such as if he really goes down the chimney: “Religious recurrence and variation”, “Creative thinking and religion” and “The role of systemic reinforcement in religious variation”. However the most promising project is “Simulating future trajectories in the domain of religion” since it will predict to how the Santa faith will develop, something the Finns should be especially interested in from an investment perspective.

The close connection between religion, innovation and regional development has been pointed out by the Swedish author and science journalist Maja Hagerman. This relationship might be hard to exploit by the chairman of the Swedish Humanist Association Christer Sturmark, who himself is an ICT entrepreneur. But you never know.

Merry Christmas, believe it or not!


Augmented Reality

The book “Not On the Label” by Felicity Lawrence inspired the Swedish journalist Mats-Eric Nilsson to write “Den Hemlige Kocken” (The Secret Chef). He has now released a sequel called “Äkta Vara” (Real Food) and I do recommend reading them both, although in reverse order. Why? Well, one of my chef friends said that he was afraid to read the first book since he suspected he would become heart-broken and not want to cook any longer and I think he’s on the spot right. You need to see that there are good alternatives to factory produced food containing additives with suspect origin and effects.

Regarding the glutamate debate it is quite interesting to see that The Swedish National Food Administration describes it as harmless and natural existing. However, the point that Nilsson makes is that we should be careful eating food that has been produced and processed in such a way that the natural flavor has been lost (if it were ever there).

Augmented reality is part of the ubiquitous computing area, where live real world images are enhanced with graphical computer overlays. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could walk into a grocery shop and just immediately see what food is good for you since it was highlighted by your glasses? Ideas like these are not far from becoming reality since researchers from all over Europe team up to develop for example mobile augmented reality, such as the IPerG project.

However, I think there is a lesson to be learned from the history of food regarding what might happen when mixing the real and the artificial. Bounce, cohesiveness, denseness, gumminess, heaviness, moisture absorption, mouthcoating and uniformity of chew are all examples of parameters of mouthfeel. This is the way that the food and drink industry tries to capture aspects of what we consume, as a means to replace the real (and expensive) with the artificial (and cheap). One of the fundamental aspects of programming is that it requires everything to be described in detail. But do we want to always have our experience reduced to distinct entities? What about enjoying something in a holistic manner, where the result is something that is more than the sum of its parts? And what about the risk of making people so used to the artificial (has happened with vanilla ice-cream) that they become skeptical to the real thing?

Recently four women founded the company Sjölunda Gård and started to import ecological food to Sweden. They have launched ecological candy having all the bounce, denseness and gumminess you can expect, and it tastes really good as well. In contrast to many of the big brands with names designed to make you associate to small-scale local production (although the food is made in giant factories) there seems to be a real farm. Although the products are imported, the barn is used as office and store-house. I also like the way they make use of Facebook to keep in touch with the growing numbers of customers, and that they have the guts to include a Youtube video from a fan.


The Colour of Money

In the book “The United States of Europe”, author TR Reid points out that the creation and deployment of the Euro is an astonishing achievement. Although I’m living in a country that does not really embrace this notion (we still have our Swedish “krona”) I must say that I’m impressed too, but also somewhat wondering about what the EU money is spent on.

This is why I was glad to learn about the European Commission’s call on governments to jointly develop a strategy for international cooperation in science and technology. This Communication is one of five policy initiatives planned by the Commission to follow up the 2007 Green Paper "The European Research Area: New Perspectives".

It will also be interesting to follow what the newly established European Institute of Innovation and Technology can achieve. The first areas covered by the institute are likely to include climate change, renewable energies and the next generation of information and communication technologies which is great, especially when combined (although I have already stated what I think of the concept “green IT”). Let’s hope they also keep an open mind regarding how to collaborate with the world outside Europe.

The Swedish government is also concerned about the climate change, and has proposed an increase of the research budget for the next couple of years. They also want the universities to become better at commercialization and provide funding for the development of supporting infrastructure. However, I think there is much more to the collaboration task than commercialization and would have liked a broader discussion on this, especially taking an international perspective.

International commercial collaboration to support the global development has taken an interesting turn with Bono’s initiative (RED). This is a business model created to raise awareness and money for the Global Fund where some of the world's most known brands team up to produce products branded (RED). The colour red was chosen because it is a sign of emergency. Also Danish MYC4 has the colour red in its logo, indicating perhaps the emergency of investing in small African businesses. This interesting opportunity for everyone to become an investment banker was recently recognized by The Times.

Maybe some of the EU and Swedish research funds could be used to investigate how the next generation of ICT could enhance the collaboration between business and non-for-profit organisations?

Now, if you are really interested in the colour of money I recommend taking a look at Colourlovers. Watching the movie with recently deceased Paul Newman might also help. Or the video clip below by Hollywood Beyond.
Tron ej, vad håglösheten viskar till er,
att striden är för hög för er förmåga,
och att den kämpas ut väl er förutan.
Vad mänsklighetens härlige ha sökt
sitt hela sköna, rika liv igenom,
väl är det värt att sökas av oss alla.

Esaias Tegnér, Epilog 1820