Quick Reflections – European Futurist Conference, Lucerne (26 – 28 Oct 2008)
I spent last week at the European Futurist Conference in Lucerne. The conference was a good platform to network with interesting futurists from the universities, public adminstration and private companies. Most of them were from Europe, with a handful of us from Asia.
Day 1 of the conference was rather mundane, the only spark being a presentation on The Illicit (Deviant) Economy by Nils Gilman from Monitor Group. The BRIC presentations in the morning, IMHO, were rather superficial and merely sketched an overview of the economies. Perhaps it was because we in Singapore were very familiar with China, India, and to a smaller extent, Brazil and Russia. The sessions could have been better called BRIC 101 instead of offering any keen analytical insights. However, many co-attendees found the BRIC sessions very interesting. There was some animated discussion amongst the BRIC representatives on the use of traditional economic indicators (GDP, GNP, productivity etc) as the benchmarks for a city/ country’s economic success, and if we should move towards new indicators to that capture happiness and well-being of a place (eg. Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index).
Day 2 was much better. We started with a session on Europe consumers 2030 and their perceptions on values, products, income, education, security and so forth. The survey results were tracked by European countries. I got the sense that whilst Europeans were aware (and acknowledged) the fast growth of developing countriest, the competitive threat was less imminent than what we feel in Singapore (being in the hotspot of Chinese and Indian growth). There was a certain ‘yes I know China products are everywhere, but I’m not overly concerned about the rise of Chinese economy’. This confidence (or misplaced nonchalance?) was also felt strongly when I chatted with some Swiss investors. They were very certain that there was no way China or India would overtake Europe (Switzerland) for many years to come. Those economies, in their view, had a lot more to learn and catch up in terms of quality of growth and products and services, before surpassing Europe.
Day 2 also saw some practical sharing of foresights work in established companies. Of particular mention was the presentation by Bayers Materials AG, and how it continuously used foresights research to innovate new products. Google shared on its innovation culture (the 20% free development time, hard-nosed evaluation by numbers, peer-based reviews). Those steps were well-documented in HBR articles, so nothing new there. What was interesting, though, was that Google managed to re-create the same innovation culture in Switzerland/ Europe, as that in Mountain View, USA.