Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Amsterdam: Summit for the Future 2005

Amsterdam: Summit for the Future 2005

This week I am attending the Summit for the Future 2005, organized by the independent Club of Amsterdam. They invited me to be one of four keynoters, which I did at the conference opening today.

The Club of Amsterdam has been an extraordinary force for exploring the future in the past two years, establishing a great network and conducting several conferences. Their basic philosophy, that the future ought to be explored in four arenas: the commons (environment, health, etc.), technology, spirituality, and values is bold in asserting a holistic approach to the future.

The theme of the Summit is what it will mean to move Europe toward becoming a Knowledge Society, and stated goal of the EU.

This conference follows through on core philosophy. Each topic stream includes content presenters and a “philosopher” to assist in discussion. The opening session had interludes with musical performances between speakers, a nice touch, performed by Marcus Weiss.

There were three keynoters besides myself. International business consultant Tom Lambert spoke on the need to decrease the rich-poor gap in the world if we are to flourish in the future. Vladimir Petrovskiy, former Director General of the UN in Geneva, told the audience about the importance of the knowledge society goal to the future of Europe. I suggested that the European shift toward a knowledge society is the continuation of the larger techno-economic-social revolution of our time, leading to a shift in the nature of work, retirement, home, learning and business processes. Further I urged the audience to listen to the future as it calls us to shift to the next energy era, become learning societies, shift to no-waste manufacturing, rationalize the global labor force, and re-kindle the idea of space ship earth, that we are all in this together for the long haul. Finally, Wendy Shultz, formerly with the University of Houston Clear Lake and now an independent futurist in the UK delivered a talk on the power of and need for preferred future vision, complete with quotes from Polak. It was a talk I could have done, and which captures the spirit.

Later there were breakouts into “knowledge streams” like energy, entertainment and media, health care, science and technology, business services. I attend the Sci-Tech breakout, which had a reasonably good discussion of how to increase innovation in the EU. They were right in describing how this might be increased within University settings or things like the MIT media lab. But, the group on this day neglected to mention the importance of educating young people.

Over-all a couple of distinct impressions emerge. First, the European speakers take a much more global view of everything they address, in contrast to the US, which is so generally myopic. Second, in both formal and informal discussions, I heard many Europeans express a lack of confidence in their own cultural ability to risk, a key component in creativity. This lack of confidence is overstated generally, I think.

Europeans would do well to notice all the innovations they already lead in, including cellular technology, some digital entertainment, energy, smart solutions to transportation, and many more, most especially simply knowing how to live satisfying urban lives. I think they sell themselves short, at least on this first day.

As a part of this, I was surprised to hear so many people staunchly defend the quality of American universities, and also the quality of risk-taking and entrepreneurship in the States. In this, I think the conference participants overstate these U.S. attributes, as they fail to see how far we have slid from these kinds of ideals and attitudes.

Finally, today no-one asked a single question about Iraq, the re-election of the current president, or his bellicose inauguration speech. I was disappointed in that.

I came here thinking that in Europe lays the future. So far I continue to think that is true.


Brenda Cooper said...

Nice article, Glen!
There was a bit of news today that supported your conclusion that Europeans think more globally than Americans. President Chirac proposed a modest "world tax" -- and that the proceeds be used globally to fight AIDS.
A world tax is a pretty fundamental move toward a more global view of government. I think we need to go exactly there - whether or not this is the vehicle - to create the funding and singleness of purpose necessary to help solve world problems, and AIDS is a good first focus. Poverty and/or lack of education might be equally good choices. Interestingly enough, the public radio piece where I heard this seemed to be of the opinion that the idea was purely political. If so, it was political brilliance and, in my opinion, bravery.

Glen Hiemstra said...

I had not heard that about President Chirac and a proposed world tax for aids. That would be laughed right of most parts of Texas, that is for sure.

But here in Europe they are thinking globally, and they are more used to collective action for the commons.

Some amazing stuff at the Summit for the Future today, and I will get some more down soon. Amsterdam is, as always, a wonderful city to visit.

Jan Karel said...

Dear Glen, I for one, don’t think we euro’s as a whole do underestimate ourselfs (maybe we Dutch do) but if you look at the French, the Italian and the Spanish...well most think their heaven sent or at least their country is, and maybe its true?...:-) Maybe it's because were not different states bound together by one nation? Ok we’re all Europeans and now have the EU, but that’s new and we’ve never been attacked as EU for instance, so the feeling is different i guess.

About world tax and financials, yesterday there was a comment of the president of the RaboBank (2nd bank in Holland) in the news.
He predicted a rapid decline of the Dollar in the next years, and not 1 but 3 almost equal currencies who will replace the Dollar as THE world currency..The Dollar,The Euro And.. The Renmin Bi (Chinese)...