Monday, July 29, 2013

Systemic approach for emerging societies, Vietnam, 2013

When a year and a half ago the Chairman of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS), Alexander Laszlo, invited me to lead the team for designing the programme of the ISSS World Conference, I accepted the task with utter respect and curiosity, without assuming or having a vision where this task would lead us/me. It was a challenging but exceptionally enriching experience, particularly from three key aspects:
1. managing a global project (team members came from all continents),
2. the launch of our new book about the InCo Movement, “The Magic of Contribution”, in Vietnam and
3. an exceptional experience in Vietnam through the people, the projects and the opportunities Vietnam sees for its further development.

Photo: Vietnam the design team
Source: Vibacom

I will address all three points, but let’s first cover the ISSS conference and the core messages that created a space form me to act upon:
  • Systemic thinking and systems science are becoming the mainstream thinking; they give a solid support for the development of a new eco civilisation.
  • Systemic thinking is emerging in the direction of systemic consciousness and the systemic self, with understanding of the significance of an individual as an active and autonomous part of the whole.
  • There is a growing emphasis on intelligent relationships and balance between the collective and the individual, wherein systemic thinking can be very helpful.
  • We are witnessing a shift from planning activities to shaping conditions and environments permitting the birth of the new.
  • Leaders and managers are faced with an important challenge of shifting towards ensuring an environment that permits unpredictability, introduction of elements of surprise and diversity, an environment that permits forming personal views without predefined frameworks of thinking and reasoning (or as now former Chairman of ISSS, A. Laszlo, highlighted in his closing speech, "the contribution of systems sciences to the development of a thrivable planet is not in planting the seeds but in preparing a fertile field to ensure healthy crops”).
  • Our future is in integration, co-creation, understanding our interdependence and active involvement on local and global levels.
The underlying message of the ISSS Conference in Vietnam can be summarized with a single sentence: "Be the system you want to live in." 

Managing a global project

A. The Team: the virtual team I accepted to manage was a rather large one. Initially it even appeared unmanageable. However, after a few Skype sessions, in which we consolidated our expectations, understood the goals with which the team members entered the project, consolidated terminology and clearly defined the project's framework, the work commenced. Today, on the final day of the conference, I can confidently say that that the structure and content of the Conference supported the activities on the floor and allowed a sufficient space for socialising and establishing personal contact, while constantly changing the conference dynamics.
Members of the team: Alexander Laszlo (President of the ISSS), Jacqui Wilmshurst, Pamela Buckle Henning, Barbara Widhalm, Kathryn Bottrell, Todd Johnston, Palma Vizzoni, Karri Winn, Will Varey, Ockie Bosch, Irma Wilson, Violeta Bulc (Coordinator of the Conference Design Team), Nam Nguyen (Coordinator of the Conference Organization & Logistics team), George Por (Coordinator of the Collective Intelligence Enhancement Lab team), Stefan Blachfellner (Coordinator of the External Communication & Coordination team), Jennifer Wilby (Vice President for Administration and the central reference point for the official ISSS activities)
B. Advantages of managing a virtual project: a virtual project can be managed from one's office (or living room sometimes); the time used for meetings is more efficiently spent (after two hours, concentration starts dropping, so meeting usually don't last more than two hours); all notes and comments are recorder live and simultaneously amended and supplemented; if you get too tired or if you have other obligations, you can leave the session quickly.  
Disadvantages of a virtual project: participants' concentration is more difficult to maintain (in order to improve the efficiency of telecommunication lines we often turned off video and one could feel that the members were performing additional work on their computers, which affected their focus on the discussed topics); entering and exiting teamwork sessions was a matter of a single click, which was problematic at times (lesser discipline); there is no direct personal contact (no direct flow of energies), which affects the level of spontaneity and creativity. Challenges of leading a global team: big time differences and consequent problems with scheduling meetings (e.g. late night in Slovenia and South Africa, early morning in Australia, middle of the working day on the west coast of the USA); ensuring consistency within the team (attendance, engagements, involvement), coordinating all the comments and contributions of the virtual team members, sensing the team atmosphere and being able to intervene when the discussion ventures too far off the topic or becomes too time consuming, etc.
More about the conference:
Local news:
C. Innovative achievements: I found it very encouraging that in spite of the comments above related to the management of global projects, we were still able to find innovative solutions, break through patterns of behaviour and understandings. We genuinely had fun while working. It needs to be said however that an initial meeting of six team members in Linz in the spring of 2012 significantly contributed to the process, because we have a very clear basic directions and points of references for our teamwork. The key innovative contributions to the Conference in Vietnam (compared to the previous ISSS conferences) were the following: 1) planetary speakers (systemic scientist from around the globe participated on-line and significantly contributed to the understanding of the development of systemic science and systemic thinking in different parts of the world);
2) first-hand experience of a living laboratory on the island of Cat Ba (with systemic approaches where the entire economic and social development was restructured for the good of its inhabitants, tourism and natural environment protection)

Photo: Island Kat Ba
Source: Vibacom
3) participatory approach for defining the leverage points of  the emerging eco civilisation and capturing the key challenges of its formation;
4) the structure of the programme (several morning and evening activities aimed at participants' reflection, exchange of experience within smaller interest groups, contextual daily focus topics, etc.);
5) the process of shaping the programme of the Conference (evolutionary, participative, co-creative approaches);
6) additional important innovative activities were developed around a creation of a virtual IT support tool for participative integration and cooperation (CIEL – collective intelligence evolutionary lab);
7) another new event was the parallel competition of students from Vietnam and Australia in a virtual game – Ecopolicy.

Launching “The Magic of Contribution” book published at the 7th anniversary of the InCo Movement

Launching a book at a global level, with a 30-minute presentation at the global ISSS conference and with praise from the audience, was an exceptional experience. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the book and everyone who open-heartedly accepted its key messages:

Photo: Launch of the book, Vietnam
Source: Vibacom

Photo: Front page of the e-book
Source: Vibacom

The Vietnam Experience

I felt a composed excitement when I was preparing for my trip to Vietnam. I knew I was setting off towards an important experience in a country I knew little about. However, at the same time I felt that I was going towards a familiar vibration. Now I know why.

Photo: Violeta Bulc, Island Kat Ba
Source: Vibacom
The experience was unforgettable. Exceptionally kind and delightful people. Very professional participants with expert knowledge. A nation of over 80 million people quickly developing in the direction of its virtually unlimited potential – natural and human potential, the country’s ambitions, history and future.

It is a country of scooters, but it is also a country of high sensitivity to interconnectedness and interdependence, yet simultaneously increasingly open to individuality. The mix of socialist spirit, which gave me a sense of familiarity, and their sincere desire to place their country shoulder to shoulder to China, Indonesia, India and other important regional players in the development of Asian economy, create an impulse of the new age and hope, and create an environment for development of multitude of technological, business and social innovations.

In terms of tourism, Hai Phong has not reached its full potentials; however, it is already a strong economic and political centre of Vietnam. It also has rich cultural heritage. The inhabitants, unaccustomed to tourists, are curious but non intrusive. Walking in the hustle of streets overflow with scooters, pedestrians, cars and cyclists and feeling safe and welcome were truly a delightful experience.

Photo: Buddhist center
Source: Vibacom

Photo: TK wiring
(it is difficult to believe that high-speed communication
 is possible with such installations – but it is!)
Source: Vibacom
From the aspect of our project, it was quite refreshing to learn that the highest political leaders were so open and respectful towards a system thinking and system science. They use it very successfully for restructuring their economy and society as a whole. A significant role in this has been played by prof. Ockie Bosch and dr.Nam Nguyen from the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Photo: Hai Phong leadership
(the establishment of the International
Association for systemic science in Hai Phongu)
Source: Vibacom

Photo: V. Bulc, Mr.Thanh, a member of the
Committee of the Republic of Vietnam and the party secretary
Source: Vibacom

In general, the streets of Hai Phong where we spent a week are like a giant anthill – people, trade, restaurants, animals and the weather socialise and cohabitate. They together create a great example of emerging conditions for development of sustainable innovation ecosystems.

Photo: Pulse of the Market
Source: Vibacom

Photo: Selling fruit at The Market
Source: Vibacom

Vietnam is a destination I would certainly recommend.

All the best, Violeta

Additional links:
How can we cooperate
Where we can meet global

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Responsible innovation from The Hague

Things are changing.  All over the world Universities have started asking themselves a similar question: “Are we teaching our students the right things?” In addition, more and more companies are saying that they have to re-program young people before they can start participating in the innovation processes and ecosystems in a useful manner.

Along the same token, engineers are asking themselves “How can we ensure that our inventions and innovations will be used responsibly?” And it is not only about tools and models and processes. As  Jeroen Van den Hoven, the keynote speaker at the conference, has pointed out “…the key question for each innovator should be, which of the grand social challenges his/her innovation is helping to resolve”. So, are we all wrong? I realized that I should be asking myself a different question. Which are the indicators showing us that the world is changing, that it is evolving, moving on? So, instead of searching for wrights and wrongs I started to listen, even when I was giving my presentation, I was listening more that speaking, to the audience’s body language, people’s eyes, and their comments/questions.  Before I share my observations, let me first share with you the comments about the conference made by its organizers.

Photo: Ronald Ortt
Source: Archive Vibacom
V: So, what has prompted IEEE and the ICE associations to organise the yearly global event on responsible innovation and entrepreneurship? Dr. Roland Ortt: “Both of the associations had innovation on their agenda. So, we decided to join forces and to address the topic together. So, after exploring the subject we became aware that there are many unaddressed issues around the innovation; besides the happy and glorious stories there were many less successful ones. There are many trail and error cases in the field of innovation, especially in the invention phase; there are losses, bed investments, and failures on all levels of organizations and in all phases of innovation life cycle. We are constantly searching for the borders and at the same time we try to be socially responsible, too. We wanted to address that. I was also inspired by a story of an author that was invite to write about the greatness of innovation for an American magazine. He found out that not all of the innovations out there were brilliant. He also pointed out some of the side effects of innovation. Because he did not show only the glory of innovation, his article was rejected, never published. So, you can see how this topic of responsible innovation evolved. It came naturally. “

V: What do you want to achieve with the conference?
Dr. Roland Ortt:
“There were 3 types of goals that we were after:
1) the organizational goal  (connect together 2 different communities - ICE as an European organization and the IEEE crowd is an old engineering organization - addressing the topic of innovation, normally scatters over many different fields),
2) the content goal (to raise the awareness about the need for responsible innovation),
3) the structural goal (to launch an European based conference that brings people together from all over the world and has a sustainable future; at the same time we wanted to offer not only presentations but also workshops that would bring academia, public servants and businesses together at the same table).”

Photo: "A different view of the world"
Source: Archive Vibacom
The conference was really full of presentations from all over the world, opening up many interesting, general and specific topics in the field of innovation. Here is what I have learnt and re-confirmed:
  • Responsible innovation is becoming a serious topic in engineering circles: even though that you can hear comments like engineers are here to solve technical challenges, or army is holding back many excellent technical solutions that people could benefit from, the overall atmosphere was very much in favour of responsible innovation and entrepreneurship, and systemic thinking; all three should be included as part of engineering education programs all over the world.
  • There are many similar challenges appearing all over the world: like, how to engage people in an effective bottom-up approach, how to increase the level of responsibility, how to shorten the development cycle and make it more responsible, how to recognize the real needs that have a long term effect, how to bring ethical and cultural characteristics into product development, etc.
  • We are still not really making a lot of effort to learn from each other; we are still mostly informing each other about what we do, and less search for possible solutions that might exist around the world. We still try to re-invent everything by ourselves. However, when we do that, we often imbed in our solutions the old mindsets and the old mental architectures, missing an opportunity to learn from the global pool of knowledge that already exists out there.  In other words, there is a really interesting opportunity for cross-structural exchange of challenges and solutions. I strongly believe that it is time to connect better and use effectively all the knowledge and experiences that we have as a global community, to address at least the common global challenges.
  • I can see that with globalization and open systems more and more challenges are becoming non linear, and unpredictable in a sense of established understandings of co-dependencies. There is a need for a new type of educational systems that are sensitive for the new conditions and opportunities. Education that will equip people with knowledge about systemic view, about sustainable innovation concepts, about the consequences of development. Education that will encourage people to create new, sustainable visions for the ”flat” world we live in.
  • And some additional messages:
a.    Focus on pains: “Build a team around the key pains. Responses from your customers are not the end of your product story”,
b.    Recognize the true nature of entrepreneurship: “Entrepreneurship is not about management”. There is a large difference between the knowledge and tools that one needs to master to be a successful entrepreneur, comparing to those that one needs as a successful manager. One of the most harming steps in the entrepreneurial path is to push an entrepreneur to start the new business by writing a business plan; similarly harmful situation appears when an entrepreneur does not step away when the company is big and matured enough to be lead by a manager,
c.    Resource based product platform: “Resources are an input factor for a product platform development. At the same time product platforms are important part of company’s resources. For a development of products it is good to have a resource based product platform to act efficiently and quickly.“,
d.    I-Schools: There is a realm of new skills, competences, concepts, and models that we need to support the emerging world of innovation. The new concepts like, ”design thinking”, “agile software development”, “lean entrepreneurship”, “systemic thinking”, etc.”, as stated by Nathan Furr, are emerging faster in practice than in academia; they are challenging the educational systems to refocus and follow the needs of people,
e.    Content alignment: There is an increasing need for joining the world of values, norms, ideas, ethics, and principles, together with the world of artefacts, architecture, materials, standards, and systems into a common solution for the core issues of our society,
f.    Mass innovation: there is a growing need for mass innovation, collaborative networks, and spontaneous engagements, when new challenges appear. When I presented Vibacom’s experiences and the InCo findings I realised, that in many circles they still do not differentiate mass innovation and collaborative networks. However, with a growing need for the bottom-up innovation and the already accepted needs for collaborative networks, the world is gradually moving towards a development of mass innovation ecosystems.
Mass innovation – a critical number of people (more than 30%) from an organization involved in innovation processes.
Collaborative networks – two or more people involved  in cooperation.
(Vibacom, 2012)
And I? One of the most important reasons for me to be part of this global conference was to share my views and to see what others are doing; to position my work within the global community, to learn and to allow others to learn from me. I am grateful for the invitation. And I can say, that in Slovenia we are challenging the right borders and contributing valuable experiences and visions to the global family of progressive knowledge. I re-confirmed that we are jointly moving towards the visions of a thrivable planet.

The Hague 2013
Source: Archive Vibacom
Let’s continue with our contributions, and the openness for cooperation and co-creation.

Let me end this issue of Aktualno 2.0 with the key message from the Dean of Leiden University from his welcoming speech, “We need to become stronger in visions and weaker in boundaries”.  How true.

Oj, Violeta

Additional links:

How can we cooperate
Where we can meet global