Monday, May 28, 2012

The fascinating story of plastic - for better or worse

Another great talk from the Long Now Foundation's series of seminars on longterm thinking:
Susan Freinkel, a journalist, presents the story of plastic. Fascinating, informative, and ultimately disturbing, Freinkel tells how quickly this material has conquered the earth. When Titanic sunk, no part of it was plastic. Today, most of us would be very seriously challenged to get by even a few minutes without using something made of plastic. It's everywhere, and unfortunately it ends up accumulating in nature, in oceans and landfills, where it breaks down only very slowly.
If you have an hour or so for listening, this podcast will fill you in on the state of plastic.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

China: Getting old before they get rich

Getting old before they get rich, is a sentence that’s popping up a lot about China. If you want a quick overview of just how dramatic and fast the ageing of the Chinese population is, this article in the Economist, ”China’s Achilles heel” is a good place to start.

Among the facts are:
Shanghai is believed to have the lowest fertility rate in the world, just 0,6 in 2010 – way below the 2,1 rate which is necessary to keep the population number stable.
A fast rise in lifetime combined with rapid urbanization and the one-child policy means, that the number of old people is growing, and the number of young is dropping much faster than in the west. By 2020 it is expected that a third of Shanghais population will be over 60 years old.
The 4-2-1 families of four grandparents, a couple and their only child has become the norm, and obviously this will become a considerable burden on the lone child soon.
China is not prepared.  The systems of pensions and healthcare cover only a fraction of the population. Just adapting the physical infrastructure to accommodate elderly is a huge task. 

How this plays out at the personal level is well illustrated by this BBC program”Assignment: Too old to get rich” – which portrays how elderly in Shanghai get by. Some are faced with climbing the stairs to the 8th floor because there is no elevator; some are ashamed because their spouse is becoming demented in a culture that often sees dementia as a form of mental illness. Others join the crowds of elderly in IKEAs cafeteria, sipping coffee and hoping to meet a companion.

One obvious conclusion: there is vast potential for Danish companies to deliver expertise on how to support an ageing society. But the solutions need to be really cheap.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Socializing kids to see themselves as co-creators

Entrepreneurial spirit is not a Danish characteristic. Our culture tends toward the less risky, less offensive approach to life. Much has been said about the need to make our educational system instill a more entrepreneurial culture, and train kids to see starting a business as a real possibility. The discussion often includes the need for leadership.
In typical Danish fashion I would like to suggest another line of thinking: maybe we should go broader. Perhaps what we need is to educate kids to become participants and co-creators, to show initiative, to assume responsibility and contribute – as opposed to passively accepting what ever we are offered in a role as receivers, consumers, and clients.
Once we have that kind of culture among kids, I’m confident that entrepreneurs will emerge. Also, we would have the foundation of a democracy that is not just a matter of saying yes or no, but one in which we see eachothers as participants and co-creators.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sommerhus for sumpere

Af og til er det svært at forstå hvad man ser. I Vollerup, nær Kalundborg, er 6 sommerhusgrunde til salg, men jeg kan ikke rigtig forestille mig, at nogen skulle få lyst til at købe dem. De ligger midt i en sump, som det fremgår af billedet. Der er vel en kilometer til vandet, og der er masser af fine, tørre sommerhuse til salg i området til finanskrise priser. Hvad tænker ejendomsmægleren på? I don't get it.

The business of organizing civil society

The German ride-sharing service ”Mitfahrzentrale” turns out to be a really good example of how a little bit of commercial organization can mobilize resources in civil society that would otherwise be wasted.

I used to hitchhike quite a bit. You would find a good place to stand, maybe hold a sign with your destination, stick out your thumb and hope for a ride. It’s a cheap way to get around, it makes better use of all those empty car seats on the highways – and it allows for all kinds of great meetings and conversations among strangers.
But it’s pretty unpredictable for both riders and drivers. You may end up with a jerk beside you. You never know how long the journey will take, and as a driver, it’s not likely that the rider will offer any payment. Should anything happen, you probably will have no idea what the identity of the other person is.

A ride-sharing service takes a lot of the uncertainty out of this. You go online, post where and when you are going (e.g. Hamburg to Kolding, Thursday afternoon) or you browse the list of rides that are offered by drivers who will take riders.
There’s a set price, so the driver can recover some of the costs (and the ride-sharing services gets a cut of that), and the users of the service are registered. In some cases there are reputation systems, so you can asses the person you will be riding with beforehand.

The point here is that by adding a minimal level of commercial activity, you can make the sharing of resources much more attractive and easy. There are great resources that can be mobilized in the non-commercial realm of civil society, but a lot of the potential is never realized, because of uncertainty, inconvenience, opaque circumstances etc.

This points to a very interesting area of new businesses: providing the framework to harness the potential and resources of civil society.
Generally, I believe we will see a lot more hybrid organizations in the future, where commercial and non-commercial players interact, resulting in the creation of a lot more value than if the game was only pure commercial or pure non-commercial. 

There is a lot of discussion about "gov 2.0" and what the appropriate role of government should be. One of the slogans is to move "from provider to enabler" - in other words, that the government should focus on creating the necessary conditions, infrastructure and framework for productive interaction among companies and citizens. 
That is exactly what the ride-sharing service does. It doesn't deliver the driving, but enables people to get around in a more efficient way. 

What should we tag this with? Collaborative consumption, mesh economy, social networks, enabler/provider, frugal solutions. There is a lot going on. 

A cheaper, stronger state

Interesting challenge:
In the future, governments will need to have more influence, but at a lower cost to tax payers. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Insights from IDEO

Anyone interested in innovation can probably find inspiration in the brief online newsletter, Patterns, which IDEO publishes. It's a great place to stay updated on the latest buzzwords. Most recent issue is about Gamification, other recent topics were "Serve the people", "Social media bolstering big brands" and "Care and repair".
Lots of good stuff, easily accessible.