Nobel Thoughts 2010

Andre Geim's speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2010
“Human progress has always been driven by a sense of adventure and unconventional thinking. But amidst calls for "bread and circuses", these virtues are often forgotten for the sake of cautiousness and political correctness that now rule the world. And we sink deeper and deeper from democracy into a state of mediocrity and even idiocracy. If you need an example, look no further than at research funding by the European Commission.”
Ei-ichi Negishi's speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2010
“The final reward for any researcher is to see his or her lifetime of work extend beyond academia and laboratories, into the mainstream of our global society where it can breathe hope into the world.”
Dale T. Mortensen's speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2010
“The three of us are honored to be singled out. However, I am reminded of Isaac Newton’s great quote, "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." This sentiment better than any other underscores the fact that science is a collaborative endeavour. Every great achievement is but a small peak in the mountain range of contributions. With this thought in mind, I close by thanking our teachers who played an essential role in our intellectual development, our colleagues who collaborated with us along the way, and our families who supported our adventures.”
Mario Vargas Llosa's speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2010
“Dear friends, now I can propose the toast I had promised. Let us toast to Sweden, that strange kingdom that seems to have performed, for a privileged few, the miracle of turning life into literature and literature into life.”


Go 50-50 With Branson?

If you have read tone of the earlier editions of Richard Branson’s autobiography “Losing My Virginity”, I strongly recommend picking up the latest version. Although demonstrating an early flare for social entrepreneurship through the start of student councelling service in the late 1960ies, Branson has later developed a sense for combining business and environmental issues. This is manifested not only in the non-profit foundation Virgin Unite and The Elders, but also as a part of the business strategies in many of the Virgin companies as can be seen in the sustainable development report.

I hope all schools of entrepreneurship, including Branson’s own, the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, put this book on their curriculum reading list. It has it all: stories of how to design and develop businesses, its impact on friends and family, daring adventures and tragic accidents, intricate intrigues, global peace work, fighting AIDS, TB and malaria, and so on. Although the book is, of course, only one side of the story it nevertheless made me understand better why Branson was awarded a knighthood in 1999.

I’m also very fond of the Virgin website with its cheeky approach to everybody wanting to discuss business prospects. A recent opportunity for keen and innovative bloggers was recently launched: become a guest blogger av Virgin.com! As I haven’t yeat found out how to compete with all these talented young people who know how to make full use of all the nifty technology available, I make a point of declaring that the deal is not fair and not in line with Virgin policy. If I’m to be a guest blogger at Virgin.com, I think it’s only fair that Sir Richard contribute to lenamholmberg.blogger.com!

We Want Peace official video supported by Virgin Unite and The Elders.


Furnish Stories

Last month an article in my daily newspaper caught my eye. It was about a newly formed design company called Design by Leftovers. Together with other artist they give life to old furniture, but the refurbishment does not stop there. To each chair, wardrobe and sideboard they make up a story to go along with it. Meet Lola, the jazz singer from New York, or Charlotte, the shy rider, or Tiffany or Vera or… They call their furniture pre-loved, a term I like a lot!

I wish they had been around when I had my armchairs restored a couple of years ago, because then the design might have become a little more daring than the chocolate brown cloth they are wrapped in now. However, with respect to stories they are full of them since one was bought by me for my first own real home and the other was purchased by my parents for my Grandmother’s last residence, a room at a nursing home.

Not only furniture is remade in this fashion. The song “All by Myself” is for many people associated with the movie “Bridget Jones’s Diaries” (and many think Celine Dion is singing, when in fact it’s Jamie O'Neal). However, for me it brings back memories of my early years when I borrowed my sister’s Eric Carmen record and sang along this tune. My favourite though, was and is Everything. Come to think of it, I don’t think she got it back. And lucky me I can still play it, because I bought an excellent NAD stereo back in the 1980ies when the CD technology was quite new but hadn’t replaced the gramophone record yet. Still going strong. Still loved.


Acting Entrepreneurs

Last night one of the TV channels showed an old interview from 2004 with Hugh Jackman. It was from the show “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and James Lipton asked the questions.

I didn’t know Jackman had a background in musicals, but there was also many other new things I learned. I vagely knew about the Alexander Technique as a way of becoming more relaxed in your movements, but I had not put it in the context of English upper-class behaviour as Jackman did. When doing the “Kate and Leopold” movie, he had to take classes in how to act as a gentleman. He pointed out that the manners require you be not stiff at all but as a way of being very agile but also polite and really listen to others. To be present and aware. Mindfulness.

In schools in Sweden today it’s really popular to talk about entrepreneurial learning and teaching where you focus on what you need to learn to become an entrepreneur. To me, the pedagogics is very similar to problem-based learning (check out this teacher’s approach to entrepreneurial maths). However, maybe this needs to be combined with more theatre lessons where all the entrepreneurs-to-be learn how to better observe other people (and perhaps also animals) in order to really get to know them, and also become better listeners. Very good competencies for successful entrepreneurs wanting to co-produce products with customers and to be really good managers.


So You Think You Can?

My absolute favourite competition is “So You Think You Can Dance”. With millions of American teenagers calling in to vote each time and with spin-offs in more than 15 countries, I’m sure it’s a huge commercial success although it has fierce competition from shows like America’s Got Talent. It has a number of nifty features such as the young ambitious dancers from all over the US and with a background in all kinds of dance, the talented choreographers and the competent jury and a very tall and brainy hostess. And it is often breathtaking beautiful. But it has many other qualities:
  • Selecting the contestants based on both talent and coachability, and making them dance solo, in pairs and in ensambles.
  • A passionate jury focusing on constructive feedback and not afraid to show their emotions.
  • Clever combination of jury and audience voting.
  • Good mix of music, where new talents are introduced (for example SYTYCD 4 featured Lady Gaga’s first televised U.S. performance.
  • Good use of social media with a website as its hub but with a presence all over the place.
  • Interesting combination of competition and foundation, demonstrating a higher purpose (developing dance throughout the US/world) for example through announcing a national dance day.
  • Excellent scenography with lovely costumes, make-up, lights, camera, editing… and an enthusiastic audience.
  • A very good start for the contestants’ careers not only through the TV show but with the following tour together with former stars.
It would be so cool if I could find a way to implement just a tiny tiny bit of all this in “competitions” I’m involved in! What if for example research funding could be distributed not only according to an expert panel’s opinon but in combination with votes from the research community?


Feeding Black Ducks Bullshit

A mallard-loving friend of mine told me about the Black Duck Test. At first, I thought he was talking about Black Swans, but apparently he was referring to a much more common kind of event. Rumor has it that the Black Duck company is well on its way to do a Google. That is, to be so successful in branding that the product name becomes the general one for a phenomenon.

A Black Duck Test is used when, for example, an investor wants to get a grip of to what extent Open Source code has been used in a piece of software and what licences apply. The use of Open Souce can help developers find a way around the "software iron triangle", by reducing cost and time but not features. However, if badly managed in terms of origin the code can be nightmare if you want to sell the company and the investors want to do a technical due dilligence.

From London Spring 2008

In Sweden right now, it's not possible to open a newspaper or watch TV without being bombarded with political messages. General Election Day is September 19 and it's going to be a close fight between the two blocks, with red-green and centre-right coalition. However, since this is Sweden, there's little difference between the blocks where everybody agrees upon the ambition to keep the welfare state and that more companies and entrepreneurship are needed. The major disagreements concerns what taxes to raise and lower. The established parties are also united in their strong detest of the anti-immigrant party, and I sincerely hope we can keep them out of the Parliament.

It's interesting to see new kinds of services in relation to the election. All parties have been inspired by Obama's use of the Internet, and are now freely experimenting with various kinds of social media. But there are other examples such as the media companies who have started blogs where citizens can ask for verification of political claims such as Faktakollen. You can also get the major party leaders as cut-out dolls, although I'm afraid I don't think they'll make it to Stardolls.

However there's one important service missing. In politics memory is short. For example, the Socialist Party which usually is very pro Keynes, is now complaining about the way the current government has been running the finances where lots of public spending has been used to keep unemployment down. So what I would like is a kind of Black Duck Test for party manifestos, where it can be checked to what extent parts have been taken from older ones or even other parties', but also to what extent the negation of current politics can be found among former critique of others. Now, that would be a service I could engage in!


In Bed With Jeremy Northam

All frequent flyers have their own tricks to fight jetlag. Mine is to use audiobooks. It might result in having to listen to the book many more hours that planned but it works well with me. It fills your mind and in contrast to a book, you don´t need to have the lights on.

I have just finished listening to ”Brideshead Revisited” excellently read by Jeremy Northam, one of my favourite British actors. According to a review of this and its predecessor read by Jeremy Irons, both have their merits. Could it be attributed to the fact that both actors attended the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School?

However, the very best audiobooks according to my taste are the dramatisations such as the Paul Temple mystery series, for example The Madison Mystery, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club and Elisabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Then you bring a full cast to bed and not only a Trollope!


Feast or Famine?

As a vegetarian, I thought it would be a good idea to attend the Land introductory session at the Tällberg Rework the World conference. Here several projects were presented, addressing better use of land such as the Jagritikullu initiative empowering women through providing better energy sources for cooking and Idesam focusing on deforestation in the Amazon. But what really caught my attention was this video from the  Multimedia Institute on the Environment University of Minnesota because it had such a powerform format and message. I'm happy for our decision to serve vegetarian food at the FOKUS Innovation conference June 16-17 in Göteborg!


From Good to STaR

After visiting Boston, I picked up a Harvard Business Press book while waiting at Dulles for the plane to Frankfurt. It turned out to be a very lucky choice indeed: "Strategy for Sustainability - A Business Manifesto" by Adam Werbach. In this book several of my favourite theories are joined in a neat way. So if you like Jim Collins, Martin Seligman and Marcus Buckingham, this is an excellent summer vacation companion.
"There is only one bottom line - the profitability of a corporation. If what a company is doing for sustainability doesn't lead to sustained cash returns, then the company's strategy probably needs to be rethought."
Here you can learn more about Goldman Sachs "GS Sustain" that shows relationships between cash return and sustainability, how to set your own Personal Sustainability Project, how to work with models such as STaR and TEN in order to set your North Star goal, how to avoid green blindness, structure your networks, and use MacGyver as a role-model in product design.

The book is filled with examples from companies like Nike, Walmart, Seventh Generation, McDonald's, Boeing, Clorox, Dell,  and Proctor & Gamble. Most of them large established companies focusing on consumer products. I hope his next book will focus on how to help small startup B2B companies, but I'd be surprised to find them on Saatchi & Saatchi S's client wish list.


Economic Gardening

At the NBIA 2010 conference, one topic was “economic gardening” . This concept was developed in 1989 by the city of Littleton, Colorado an alternative strategy for economical growth. It initially was based on research by MIT’s David Birch, who suggested that most new jobs in any local economy were produced by the community’s small, local businesses. With concepts like “seed financing” working with startup companies and incubators fits quite well into this metaphor. So does the notion of an innovation ecosystem.

With its emphasis on helping small companies to grow, “economic gardening” is in stark contast to the previously more dominant strategy “economic hunting”. This concept focuses on trying to capture successful entrepreneurs from outside and bring them to the community.

To quote Mike Chitty, which tribe do you belong to – The Hunters or The Gardeners?
From Boston
The picture is taken in Boston, a wonderful city where both flowers and businesses seem to thrive.


What's In a Name?

Friends of mine have recently launched ventures with very appropriate and exciting names. One of them is Sharea, which can be described as a combination of file sharing and a potluck supper. People are invited to come to a certain place (area) and provide something (share): a story, instructions or advice. No entry fee, as long as you provide knowledge or creativity. The first Sharea event will take place in Göteborg 21 May and already more than 100 people have signed up. True to its inherent characteristics, the concept is placed under a Creative Commons licence, why it can be replicated throughout the world. Awesome!

Another is TrampolinStory, focusing on digital storytelling. One very special kind of story, often used in organisations is the springboard story, and in combination with digital storytelling it becomes even more powerful. According to Steve Denning

“A springboard story is a story that enables a leap in understanding by the audience so as to grasp how an organization or community or complex system may change.
A springboard story has an impact not so much through transferring large amounts of information, but through catalyzing understanding. It enables listeners to visualize from a story in one context what is involved in a large-scale transformation in an analogous context."

The third is Recorded Future, introducing the first temporal analytics engine. It makes it easier to relate temporal concepts like “tomorrow” and “next week” to specific dates in order to see trends in data regarding historical and future events. Since predicting the future has always been high on the agenda for humans, the idea of even having it recorded must be thrilling.

All these three ventures make use of video to explain their business. Still, the name says a lot too.


Justified Poems

When travelling on the underground in London last week, I found my eyes drawn to Anne Stevenson’s poem “It looks so simple from a distance...”. Apparently the London Underground has paired up with a bunch of culture institutions bringing poetry to the commuters and done so successfully since 1986. I say successfully since according to their website, the ninth edition of the book, "Poems on the Underground", has sold more than a quarter of a million copies since it was published in 1999.

I suppose that this mix of providing free samples on the underground and on the web together with selling books is a great example of Chris Anderson’s theories regarding how to give things away in order to make money.

The series “Science Poems on the Underground” celebrates 350 years of the Royal Society. They have a really clever way of integrating scientific papers into modern media.

Planning a conference on innovation and sustainability, I might just look for inspiration here... Perhaps a competition on innovation poetry rather than business plans?


Cognitive Proximity

Last week there was an article in SvD commenting on the fact that now more than 50% of the top Swedish female business board members think its time to introduce a law regulating the proportion of men and women in boards. This is a rather big increase since last year when 68% still believed that this inbalance and misuse of resources will adjust rather quickly by itself.

I think that the majority of the comments made to this article are written by men. And the arguments are the usual suspects. One of them I find particularly interesting, since the consequence of the argument is really not a compliment on the intelligence of male board members. The argument goes like this: To have boards requested to consist a certain amount of women is not a good idea, because the women recruited would feel bad about being incompetent and not being able to contribute. This argument is based on a number of interesting assumptions. First, that there is an absolute and universally agreed definition of what competence is needed for each bord of directors. Secondly, that all the men already in all the present boards have this competence and should not be replaced. Thirdly, that very few women have this competence. And so on. But it is also based on a notion of feeling sad for the men still on the board because they will have to take on a totally incompetent woman. Like they would pick just anyone from the street just to fill the quota!?! That I would find insulting if I was a man.

Of course there are plenty of women more competent than many of the men now holding positions in boards. One of the reasons why is that boards seldom review what competence is needed for the company right now, because it is only natural for people to hang on to power. This means that if boards are forced to take on more women they will take the trouble to go looking for the competence needed, and if they take on a broader perspective on knowledge and look a little bit further than they usually do they will find plenty of people to choose from. Sometimes they can be found in a neighbouring country, which is even better from a diversity perspective. This is what has happened in Norway and Finland, who has already started to pick competent Swedish women to their boards.

So, of course there will be a competition for the best, as it always is. And then boards and chairpersons need to work on how to attract the women they want. That will be a challenge since for example tools like www.styrelseplatsen.se that support board work also relentlessy reveals who is active or not in reading, commenting, adding material and so on.


White War

It is claimed that the wars to come will focus much on the control of water. For me personally, the control of snow is much more likely to spark a conflict although hopefully not as serious as the white war in Italy.

Close to where I live is an illuminated running track. With all this snow this winter, it is naturally (I think) to use this track for skiing, which I do. However, people walking and walking dogs use the track as well. Which is fine with me because there is plenty of space for both walkers and skiers. What makes me want to start a war is when people (and their dogs) walk in the ski track, although there is a perfectly good walking track through the snow just beside it.

I just can't understand how they think. We don’t share the same values. Where I come from, ski tracks are holy and you never, ever step into them unless you are severly injured and need to get home as soon as possible. So I don’t know what I will do if I catch one in the track. Perhaps I should read more of Huntington to understand the demographic and cultural developments and reflect upon whether I will be part of a minority or not. I suppose that has to do whether we are facing global warming or a new ice age...


Oral Sadism and The Categorical Imperative

A column in the Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri caught my eay with its title “The Kitchen Has Become Our New Bedroom”. It quoted an article written by the Hoover Institute researcher Mary Eberstadt called “Is Food the New Sex?” where she argues that we now have stronger moral issues related to food than to sex.

I have no idea why, but this made me think of a book I was given a really long time ago by a former boyfriend called “Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality”. I still have it and it contains some really funny articles from the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity. When I googled to see what has happened to this fine publication, at the top of my list I found quotes from Google Scholar…

A recent debate article by famous health-oriented people in Sweden also made the connection between sex and food, by pointing out that porn magazines have lower VAT than vegetables. However, none of the bloggers saw the Hoover connection. I’m on to something…


Life is What Happens

John Lennon (and others) said that “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans”. After writing my 2009 summary and also transferring photos from my computer to my new TV it struck me that portraying my life as consisting of more or less exotic journeys really wasn’t to give it the right perspective.

In my computer I have lots of photos from workshops with many of interesting persons, from walks around my green hometown, from visits to my parents’ lovely house in the country, cosy family gatherings, from various activities with friends around Göteborg, from Frisksport meetings and activities (such as skating, see picture below).

What is missing completely is documentation of all the endless commuting between Göteborg and Stockholm as well as Mölnlycke and Lindholmen, the numerous although still too few aerobics classes, the weekly jogging tours, a few running competitions, lots of TV-watching, much less cleaning, washing and ironing, all too much shopping, reading newspapers (especially now that I’s subscribing to both GP and SvD), books and magazines (More Intelligent Life is one favourite) and so on.

Future etnographers will not lack material with all the new technology available and creating an endless river of blogs, videos, podcasts and so on. But will they truly capture people’s lives? Would we recognize ourself in future descriptions?

Or present ones, come to think about it. For more than 20 years, I have subscribed to National Geographic (one shelf left in my yellow cabinett). I just love looking at all the great pictures (some taken by Dewitt Jones), the clever use of graphics and reading all these stories. Some years ago, there was an article about Sweden. It gave me a totally new perspective. Not on Sweden, but on how biased all articles are. I didn’t like the article and thought it portrayed just a tiny fragment of the Swedish culture and not perhaps the most interesting one. I didn’t want this to be the only impression non-Swedish readers were left with. And then, of course, I realized that most likely all the other articles are met with the same kind of reaction from the people living in the areas exposed.

One idea would be to have a random alarm set every day, urging me to take a picture right then and there. That album would then be the true recording of that year. Or maybe that’s a project for an etnographer? Of course, this is not a new idea and there are already products on the market. So, what are we waiting for!?!